I never played organized sports as a child, for a variety of reasons. Mostly this was because I have the athletic ability and coordination of wet linguini. The times were different, though. This was the early 1960s. In my day kids could, and did, play a form of baseball in the front yard with a deflated beach ball.
Today, it seems that suburban parents get nasty looks if their kids aren’t constantly in organized activities. Take my godson Nick, who is seven years old and crazy about all sports.
His favorite is hockey. His parents take him to practice at 7:30 on weekend mornings. They take him to games on Friday nights, when they are both exhausted. He lives near the Detroit Zoo, and last year was in a league which had playoffs and tournaments– for six year olds -- in places like Flint and Muskegon.
Last year, his parents spent more than $2,000 on everything from equipment to ice fees. I don’t know how they do it, and it seems clear that any poor child would be priced right out of kiddie hockey.
His mother, Alice, a writer in her early 40s, told me she was vaguely uneasy that things are so structured these days, but, as she said, “that’s the way things are now. And they make you feel like a bad parent if you say your kids are just out playing.”
That doesn’t mean sports have prevented Nick from being well rounded. Back when he was four, he used to stand in his driveway and sing the American and Canadian National Anthems before imaginary hockey games.
One day, after the Olympics, he asked if I could teach him the Russian National Anthem. I said yes. But not quite yet.