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When Is Enough Enough?

How many extracurriculars can one freshman handle?

When the idea of playing for the freshman football team first came up, my stepson, J, went back and forth several times before deciding whether or not he was interested. Most of the conversations ended with “probably not,” partly because he’s already got multiple other time commitments as he begins his high school journey, most notably as part of both the marching band and jazz ensemble.

That’s probably more than enough for any freshman to do. J, though, decided midsummer that he was going to participate in the off-season weight lifting program and then give football a shot.

Over the first week or so of practice, his days have been very hectic, to say the least. He’s up at the crack of dawn for football, and he’s at school into the evenings for band. Where he plans to fit school in is beyond me, but I guess where there’s a will there’s a way. 

A couple of days ago, he mentioned to my husband—his dad—that he wasn’t sure he was going to stick with football. It’s not easy, it takes up a lot of his time, and he’s enjoyed a lot of success with his baritone saxophone—including All-Suburban honors last year. J wasn’t pushed into playing football, but his dad also told him, as we’ve told all of our kids, that once he started something he should see it through. Unfortunately, reality is reality and there are only so many hours in the day. 

So they came to a compromise: Give it a little time. School hasn’t started yet, so there are no issues with his grades. After their talk, my husband had sort of resigned himself to the idea that J would probably walk away from football. As long as he gives it awhile, he reasoned, he should be able to make an informed decision as to if he feels he can manage two, full-time extracurricular activities along with school.

Then something bad happened. Well, bad may not be the right word. Perhaps “bad” is a better way to put it.

Innocently enough, my boys, one of their friends and J all went out back to throw the football around the other night. J is older and bigger than my 8 and 9-year-old boys, so despite his dominance over them and going—as he likes to put it—“all beast mode” on them, his dad and I never thought much of his shenanigans in the backyard. Then, on a whim, his dad picked up the football and told J—who has been working out as a wide receiver with his team—to run a route. Or two. Or 20.

Pass after pass, whether under-thrown, over-thrown, whatever, J was jumping, sliding, reaching, changing course, you name it, and catching just about everything his dad threw at him. I shared the feelings I could see my husband experiencing, those of shock and heartbreak.

“Every time I over throw him by 10 yards, he changes gears and goes and gets it,” he said to me between throws. “There may be a lot of kids like that on his team, but I sure don’t see that very often. I don’t want him to quit. Not yet. I didn’t realize…”

Uh oh.

He lost me after that. You see, my husband is a sports writer and an even bigger fan. High school football being one of his biggest passions, and even though he hasn’t pushed that on J, my mind wandered toward ‘What will he do if J quits?’

If J ends up walking away from football, I think his dad and everyone else around him will understand. Band comes first. It always has for him, and it always will. And he’s good at it, so nobody even begins to question it. But what can you do as a parent when you are stuck between “I didn’t raise a quitter” and making it look as though you’re living vicariously through your children?

It’s his decision, that’s for sure. But while trying to walk that fine line between “It’s up to you” and “You’re too good at this to walk away,” how can a parent make sure they’re not pushing too hard?

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