I spoke to my mom, dad, aunts, and uncles, and learned what school break used to be: a time when families could get together and relax, a time that they had off to travel and escape their usual responsibilities. "Break," after all, is defined by The Free Dictionary as “to vary or disrupt the uniformity or continuity of [something],” suggesting that "a break" means a pause in the normal routine. But I’m not sure if that's what school break is today.
Today, school sports continue, uninterrupted, through school break - along with the expectation that students continue to participate in practices and games over the break. This often interferes with families' travel plans or time together because students who miss school sports practices or games during break are punished - this often takes the form of being benched (not being able to play) for several games after they've returned to practice. This bothers me. I think we all need to review the perspective that we’ve taken on this issue. Sports are an important and positive thing, but so are traveling and spending time with your family over break - so why are we forcing students to decide between these important and positive things? Doesn’t it seem twisted that students get punished for going on a family vacation or traveling off-island to visit family over break if that is their choice and they miss a sports practice? I mean isn’t break designed to give families an opportunity to travel?
In reflecting on this issue, I think it's important that we ask ourselves why this change has taken place. Why do sports schedules now continue through school breaks? Perhaps this is a result of increased media attention for sports or more recruiting of young athletes from high school, but whatever it is that is driving this movement needs to be addressed. An article from the New York Times titled “There’s No Off in This Season” responded to how parents should react when their child's sport begins to threaten their vacations, weekends, or religious practices. The article argued that many parents are afraid to question this new status quo because “parents are so insecure, they feel like whatever other parents are doing, they have to do.” However, the article went on to say that “the role of a parent is to be the mature one, not the immature one” and that “parenting is not a popularity contest, the role is not to fit in.” Although the piece acknowledged the importance that sports have in character-building for students, it argued that when sports “takes on an outsized role, when it works against school, family or faith, then sports has taken on a role it should never have had. Sports is a wonderful thing to do for kids, but it should be kept in its place.”
I agree with that. During my soccer pre-season sophomore year, I had an appointment to go to the Swiss consulate in New York to get my Swiss passport. This meeting had been made nearly a year in advance and getting this document had the potential to open up immeasurable opportunities for me later in my life. The trip would cost me two pre-season practices - it seemed like an obvious decision. Nevertheless, I was punished for a quarter of the season for missing those two practices. Does this mean I made the wrong decision? Am I a bad teammate? Would it have been the right choice to pass up an opportunity for me to have a Swiss passport in order to make it to two pre-season high school soccer practices? This makes me question the existing policy for missed practices during break. Is it perhaps too extreme? I mean, what are the benefits of punishing students for missing practices and games during a break? More recently, this past fall, I skipped visiting my sister at college during “Family Weekend” for fear of a similar situation occurring. Does this make me a good teammate?
Of course, if I had chosen to go to the beach instead of attending practice, or simply didn't feel like going, it might be the appropriate action for the coach to bench me. After all, when you make a commitment to be part of a team, it has to be taken seriously. I agree with that. But the coach should have the ability to use his or her professional discretion to evaluate the reasons for the absence of a player. Not every absence should be handled in the same way. At school, if you miss class for an acceptable reason and are unable to complete an assignment on time, it is possible for you to get an extension without being penalized. Shouldn't this carry over to sports?