The DadBall Era: Confessions Of A Free-Range Sports Parent

The Thinking Parent’s Guide to Free-Range Sport Parenting
It’s all the rage around here of late, this “free-range parenting” style. And I’m very much on-board with it! Always have been. I’m so on-board, in fact, that I’d let my kids jog down State Road 67, alone and barefoot, to Gray Brothers to pick me up a country-fried steak if they were so inclined.

The problem is, they are not so inclined. Not even close. My kids are lazy as hell, and not just when it comes to jogging down to Mooresville to fetch me some dinner. If it weren’t for me helicoptering over them and demanding that they put down their iPads and just go outside—to go forage or panhandle or shoot harpoons at each other, I don’t care—they would NEVER, in fact, put down their iPads and go outside. That is how disruptive these terrible demon-tablets have become.

So I’m the Bizarro Free-Range Parent, kind of (I guess?). I’m constantly hovering over my kids insisting that they go out and experience the world, explore and roam free and live the hobo life for a spell, maybe! Ride the rails, kids! Go west … to like Avon or wherever, and then come back because you have to be home for dinner! Don’t forget your stabbin’ forks!

They never actually ride the rails, of course. Or go spelunking. Or fish using dynamite or other rad, old-timey stuff like that. No, they just meander through the neighborhood behind our house, hopefully seeking adventures and taking risks and trapping game, but more likely bumming hits of “Minecraft” off their friends’ iPads—I can’t say for sure. Not that I mind all that much either way. They’re up and out of the house and because we don’t live in a 1958 Norman Rockwell painting, that’s probably as free-range as it gets on the Northside of Indianapolis these days.

Now when it comes to sports, I’m even more free-range. I’m the naked, commune hippie of free-range parenting. (LET THE MOONS OF NEPTUNE BE YOUR SPORTS BALLS!) The kids can do bull-fighting if they so choose, or they can protest it in Madrid. They can play Murderball or golf or soccer if they want. Or not. They can shoot hoops in the driveway until 4 a.m.—and I’ll even rebound for them—but only if they want to. They can live and breathe sports or be repulsed by them; it is entirely their decision. Although it does not ring well in the hyper-competitive ears of the Carmel Pups or C.Y.O. #SportsDads, I stay out of it unless I’m asked. Then I’ll do whatever they need. My kids determine their own level of interest in whatever sport they choose, if they choose one at all. The way I reckon, if they LOVE it they’ll want to play it constantly and they’ll naturally get better at it and want to play it more–with or without my cajoling. If they don’t love it, nothing I do will change that; making my daughter go out and shoot 6,000 jump-hooks in the snow, for example, won’t endear her to basketball or, more importantly, to me. Quite the opposite, really. It’s my job to expose them to all kinds of sports and then stay out of it until need be. I refuse to be the Earl Woods to their fatally maladjusted Tiger.

Now, this laissez-faire approach is good for many things, but raising Olympic-caliber third-grade tennis players or whatever is not one of them. So far, my kids have chosen to sort of like playing sports … but not enough to practice them a whole lot or excel at them, and that is fine by me. They seem to somewhat enjoy watching Colts and Pacers games with me … but usually not unless they’re there live, in the building, eating $216 nachos and/or it’s a playoff game.

Sure, there’s a part of me that wants them to love sports on their own like I did—to love the teams I loved—but there’s a bigger part of me that knows now that sports are, in the end, stupid and irrelevant and not a billionth as important as schoolwork/not being a jackass to people. Those two things require hourly interrogations and monitoring and shake-downs of their rooms, the exact opposite of free-range parenting. They require Gitmo-style parenting, and I’m very on-board with that too, for better or worse.

In 20 or 30 years, we’ll see if my strategies proved wise. (Fingers crossed!)