Watching from the sidelines

John played baseball this spring. I have somewhat mixed feelings about the youth sports culture. He really enjoys baseball and that makes me happy. However, at three times a week, it ended up being a big time commitment for our family. Since homeschooling gives us a lot of free time it was doable. I know that each year will require more and more of a time commitment and I’m not completely sure how I feel about that.

If you have kids in sports you know that by default you end up spending a lot of time on the sidelines watching and hanging out with the other parents. With this baseball team, the other parents were very nice. We were lucky to have coaches and parents who weren’t overly intense or crazy about the game. Most of the other parents knew each other from school or previous sports teams and although they were all friendly I felt sort of like an outsider all season. That’s not a terrible thing, as homeschoolers, we’ve somewhat made a conscious choice to be outsiders.

This morning I read an interesting editorial about Little League and community by Mike Semel in The Washington Post. In it he makes the observation:

The sociologists say we’re spinning in isolation. They are concerned that we belong to fewer clubs, that we go to church less often, that we don’t hold block parties or picnics. That may be true, but the sports our kids play have taken the place of all that.

I realized this morning that the reason I’ve felt like an outsider is that Little League isn’t my community. It’s an activity that our son enjoys and that we are happy for him to do. We like the people. But they aren’t our people.

I wonder about replacing community provided by church and neighborhoods with sports or even school. As a Christian, I strongly feel that being in a community of believers is important. I know not everyone has had a good experience with church. On a non-religious level one of the things that I appreciate about the church community is that it brings together people of all ages and at different stages in life. That might be disappearing in mega-churches as people are parceled out into groups like Young Marrieds or Singles or Retirees, but in our very small church it’s still very true.  H. and I have been attending our church for 23 years (him) and 16 years (me). We met there, were married there, had our children there. There are people at the church have personalities that just don’t click with mine. There are people I just don’t like. But as part of the same community, I’m committed to them. And they are to me. We have something beyond ourselves keeping us together.

I don’t know if that’s possible even in the greatest school or on the best youth sports team. By design, these communities will be formed of people of similar ages and at similar stages in life. Singles and retirees don’t typically hang out at Little League games. It’s easier to avoid the parent you just don’t like at baseball practice for a season than it is to deal with someone who you clash with year after year after year (especially when you believe that you are commanded to love that person as yourself).

I don’t think real community can only happen in churches. Neighborhoods and towns used to provide it before people became more mobile.  I think as humans we long for community. I think we’re made to be in relationship and we find it where we can. And even though I’m not entirely sure it’s healthy to have community that is primarily centered on kids, I am glad that people make their own communities and find it where they can.

And I’m grateful that they welcome us in, even if we are outsiders.

3 thoughts on “Watching from the sidelines

  1. The tags on this post cover some of my favorite topics: “Christianity, community, kids.”
    As both a social thing and conversationally, I really like what friends call the “meta-conversation”, and I may be messing up the concept, what I take it to mean is a discussion which takes into account the philosophical, or larger questions of life itself. So, when we talk about kids, it’s not just what they do, but I really get into conversations about why do they do what they do, and towards what end should they be led? Our sports “community” is adequate for the former, but our church community is more inspirational for the latter.
    Father’s Day was yesterday. It’s always on a Sunday, and it seems to also always fall on what would be one of our “small group” Sundays where we’ve advertised and committed to offering an opportunity for fellowship and, well, community. I came up with the idea, and A agreed to hosting a movie (The Sound of Music) and dinner (ordering chinese). We had our usual ton of kids here and it was a slight mess to clean up at the end, but ultimately I was satisfied at the day because we again had hosted an opportunity for conversations about… Christianity, community and kids.

  2. I am not a Christian but I was raised in a Catholic church with a strong community and I think you are absolutely right that a faith community is unique, not the same as baseball, school, or neighborhood communities, and hard to replace. We chose our neighborhood in part because of the residents’ strong commitment to maintaining a multivarious, strong community. But that kind of place seems rare.

    • Fanny-
      I think it is rare, sadly. I wish our own neighborhood was more of a community than a place to live. It’s great that you have that.

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