Inside: TikTok user Alli of @bloominonbridge says we should bring back rec league sports like we had as kids.
As an 80s kid, I grew up playing rec sports. “Town League” some called it. This level of play was perfect for me because—and this is not an exaggeration—I have not a single athletic bone in my body. I played town league softball for years, and I don’t think I ever hit the ball or made a play. I also dabbled in soccer for a short time and had a similar level of contributions there. Softball though—that was the big thing in our family. My sister played. My dad was our coach. And my mom kept score. Even my grandfather was there, recording all of our games with a giant camcorder on his shoulder. After the game, my dad often took the team out for pizza or ice cream, and we had team pool parties at the end of the season.
It didn’t really matter that I wasn’t good at softball (at least it didn’t matter to me) because I had fun and experienced core childhood memories that have stayed with me to this day.
Now, I’m raising my own kids—two of whom are like me and aren’t naturally athletic, and one who is super sporty and excels at most physical things he tries. And it’s because of my own childhood experiences, and watching my three kids of varying athletic levels and interests, that I can relate to so many points made by Alli of @bloominonbridge on TikTok.
In her video, Alli shares an experience a lot like mine—she “played” soccer but her role on the team was pretty minimal. “When people would ask me my position, I literally would say ‘benchwarmer.'” (Same, Alli. Same. Also were you known for doing the occasion cartwheel in the field like I was?) But it’s this next part that really hit home. “I was not good, but I loved soccer. And I loved my friends on the team. One of my best friends to this day is someone I met playing soccer when I was in 5th grade.”
That was my childhood. That was softball for me. And it was the best.
Town League Sports Provide the “Fun” Kids Need
Alli then goes on to share why, having had the childhood experiences she did, she wishes we could bring back rec league sports (meaning the town leagues that are run through the recreation department). First, Alli addresses the devastating truth that kids don’t have time for much fun anymore. With maybe one or two short recesses and a lunch that barely allows them to shovel down a sandwich, it’s hard to find time to “play” at school. And also, if kids do play town league (like her son does), even that isn’t fun like it used to be.
“My son plays town baseball,” she shares. “It’s town baseball. It should be rec league baseball. But it gets treated like it’s club baseball. Like travel baseball. Parents can be crazy. Coaches can be crazy. The tryouts are insane.”
She does go on later in the video to say that highly competitive youth sports are great—for some kids. No one should take those leagues away from kids who want to play at that level. But what about the kids who don’t? Kids like Alli and me who just want to have fun and not feel unnecessary pressure to compete, train, and win tournaments at seven years old? And as a mom to two kids who are definitely “rec” level kids and one who is on all travel try-out teams, I absolutely see the value in both types of sports.
“Sports are what everyone used to say are what keeps kids out of trouble and what keeps kids on the right path,” Alli says. “Yet all we’ve done is take them away from kids.” This right here is the whole point. Without low pressure town league sports, regular non-athletic, or semi-athletic, or maybe even super athletic kids who can’t afford the fee of club or travel sports don’t get the opportunity to play. Also, for some kids, that rec or town league sport might the only positive thing going for them through those grueling middle school years.
Rec League Sports Allow Kids to Try Different Sports
And, the other issue Alli brings up is how detrimental to their wellbeing it is that kids today can’t play a variety of sports and have to choose at an early age—something we can very much relate to in our household. Our athletic kid is almost 11 and has already “chosen” his sports. He plays hockey and baseball. Both are try-out travel teams and a huge commitment, both financially and time-wise. There is no time for him to play basketball or volleyball or football or even join a kickball league, even though he’d very much love to. (He did play soccer and basketball when he was younger but the last couple years have been these two sports only other than backyard pickup games with friends.)
In order for him to keep up with his peers at the level of hockey and baseball that he wants to play, he’s learned that he has to commit this early—a reality we wish wasn’t true, but one we’ve come to accept. And some kids don’t even get to do that—they chose one single sport at a young age. We’ve dug our heels in and said that no, he has to at least play two and have all the experiences that come with a winter and summer sport.
But again, without the rec leagues who might offer a regular season that’s only 6-8 weeks long, all kids are left with are highly competitive schedules that might not leave time for other choices. And for lots of kids who aren’t ready for practice on Mondays and Tuesdays and games on Wednesdays and Thursdays every week, does that mean they don’t get to be on a roster at all?
In the end, her point is to bring back rec league sports because they offer a fun way for kids to play sports in a lesser competitive setting, make friends, and meet new people in their town. And, all kids deserve the experience of playing on a team and gaining the life skills that come with that—teamwork, relying on each other, picking each other up when they’re down, cheering each other on, and being a good teammate. Also, kids learn how to respect and listen to other adults as well as how to lose with grace and win with humility, shaking the hands of the opposing team, saying, “Good game.”
All kids deserve the childhood memories and life experiences that come with youth sports—the skilled athlete and the girl doing cartwheels in the outfield. And I am forever grateful that I had the chance to do so as an 80s kid who was that girl.
Bring back rec league sports (the real kind) so all kids can play and know how it awesome it is to be part of a team.
For an additional resource to help you through the challenges of raising teens and tweens, we recommend The Emotional Lives of Teenagers by Lisa Damour.
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