Finding Fun on the Field

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Just in time for the start of a new school year, it's decision time in my house.

At issue? A fall sport for Ian to participate in. I should confess right now that I am indeed a proud mother but under no illusions that I'm training a future Buckeye football star. Instead, I'm following the path my own parents treaded with me and my

three siblings - keep kids busy on the playing field or in the gym, and off the streets and out of trouble.

So far, Ian has consistently chosen activities like flag football, swimming and basketball. These are great choices in my mind because I understand the rules of each game. In my heart of hearts, I'd love him to get into soccer, which was my sport of choice, but then again, it's not about me.

And therein lies the real issue, says Steve Locker, who runs Locker Soccer Academy in Powell: "Parents need to create an environment where kids play on their own terms."

From his vantage point, Locker says too many parents are looking to youth sports as a training ground for college scholarships instead of an opportunity to just have fun.

"Over-programming is a growing problem with parents putting in two or three activities at the same time," Locker says.

A better option, says this avid soccer fan, father and coach, is to enroll children in recreational leagues as opposed to the highly competitive select leagues. It will keep children engaged and enjoying sport for years.

"More than half of kids leave all activities by the age of 13 because of burnout," according to Locker.

There's also something to be said for simply allowing our children to create their own fun. Locker tells me he sends his own children - ages 9 and 10 - outside to do anything other than soccer: "Go ride your bike or your skateboard," he tells them.

There is merit, he says, in allowing children to play on their own terms without adults structuring everything for them.

Ouch - that piece of advice hits close to home with me. I'm notorious for scheduling every minute of every day. It's what my own mother did with us and we all turned out OK (relatively speaking).

But this season, we're going to give Ian some room to tell us his terms for after-school activities. There will be one caveat - the activity cannot include video games and must be physical.

In the end, whether he decides to play football, soccer or even something new like lacrosse, as long as he's having fun, so will I.