I recently read this article about a mom who wants her kids to be athletes. I have to admit that I bristled as I read the article, first and foremost because the author begins the piece by making a negative statement about a child. Not about a hypothetical child or about general childish behavior, mind you, but about a specific child. She called him “socially awkward” and related that to the fact that his mother does not want him to be involved in sports.
Now, to be clear, I disagree with both mothers in this article. I find it close-minded and judgmental of the non-sports mama to believe that only negative lessons could possibly be learned through sports. I find it equally close-minded and judgmental, however, to believe that the only place to learn the six lessons outlined in the article is through organized sports.
I grew up in a sports family. The second oldest of eight active kids, I practically grew up on a baseball diamond. I was involved with gymnastics and diving (preferring them to team sports; I guess you could say I was “socially awkward”). Among the eight of us, our family sports also included soccer, football, dance, track, basketball, and baseball…so much baseball (Fun Fact: My family, through some strange promotional stunt, was actually named one of French’s Baseball Families of the Year in 1996. I think we won some free mustard.)
The athletes in my family ranged from the recreational to the collegiate. But we were more than *just* athletes, as most athletes are: We were involved with band, competitive academic teams, Student Council, volunteering, environmental clubs, and peer mentoring. There was a class clown and a Prom Queen among our ranks, as well as a “Life of the Party.” We were, as individuals and a collective unit, well-rounded.
And that’s what I want for my kids. But I’m still not going to push it on them. I’ll stand beside them, supporting them, in whatever path they choose.
We started out assuming that our kids would play team sports. We signed up our oldest child, Evan, for PeeWee Soccer not once, but three times. And it was terrible each time (my husband and I were pretty slow learners, I guess). Evan, though very active and coordinated, does not want to play on a team. He is an introvert and shies away from attention. Well-meaning coaches and parents on the sidelines cheering him on drove him into a complete panic. He’ll happily play whiffle ball in the backyard, shoot hoops in the park with his buddies, or join his dad on the golf course for fun, fitness, and friendly competition but he has no interest in playing team sports. And I am perfectly fine with that. In fact, I’m so proud of him for taking the path less traveled: nearly all of his friends play on the same baseball team in the spring and join the swim team in the summer. It doesn’t matter to Evan. He knows what he likes and what he’s comfortable with. He’s not going to be swayed by the pressures of his peers. (For now. I’m not naive enough to think that we’ll get off this easy forever!)
And as for those six lessons learned through sports that the author outlined in the article? I agree with her. I think involvement in sports is great . . . for kids who want to be involved with sports. For kids who don’t, I think those life lessons will still sink in.
Maybe my child will hone his leadership skills as class president. Or maybe not, because, you know what? Not everyone needs to be a leader. While it may be true that most U.S. Presidents were involved with sports, not everyone is cut out to be president. (To be honest, I wouldn’t wish it on any one of my kids.)
I watched my child worry and fret over an upcoming school musical. On the day of the performance, I watched, a lump in my throat, as he mustered up the courage to, not only sing in the first-grade chorus, but step up to the microphone and recite his memorized line with poise and confidence. I recognized a look on his face that matched his expression after he jumped off the edge of the pool into the deep end for the first time last summer. This year, he says he’ll attempt the diving board! That confidence came from time and practice, not on a ball field.
As for emotional regulation, we’re still working on that one. What 7-year old isn’t? But I’m pretty sure he’ll experience enough character-building failures to make up for the times he doesn’t strike out by not participating in team sports. It’s a part of life, after all.
I do agree that participating in team sports is a great way to build skills related to teamwork. In my opinion, though, so is participating in group projects in a classroom, or working together as a family.
Even if I was a Team Sports Mom, I’m not sure that I would place a strong sense of worth on the “coachability” of my child; teachability, yes. I want my kids to be open to new ideas, different ways of looking at an issue, and to have a willingness to accept the fact that they are not the Knower of All Things. But that doesn’t have to come from a coach, or even exclusively from teachers. “Teachability” comes from developing curiosity (ask lots of questions, be exposed to different people who hold different viewpoints) and humility (you don’t know it all).
I want my kids to have good friends, of course. I want them to surround themselves with kids who make good decisions, are motivated to succeed, and who are respectful. I just don’t agree that positive friendships are more likely to be cultivated on a team as opposed to elsewhere. Sure, high school athletes are expected to uphold certain ethical/academic/social standards as the “face” of the school. That doesn’t mean that the non-athletes are druggies and drop-outs (or that all athletes are squeaky clean). I wasn’t an athlete and tended to hang with the over-achieving/nerdy crowd (remember? Socially awkward?). I had the best group of friends in middle and high school that any parent could want for their child. They were such good friends,in fact, that we’re still friends today. And it didn’t take a single practice or championship game to foster those relationships.
My bottom line is this: What works for your child and your family may not work for mine. Share your experiences, share your lessons learned. That’s why we read (and write!) these articles. A respectful disagreement or healthy debate should be okay among parents. What’s not okay is for an adult to make fun of a child, even if that child or that child’s parents are making choices that you would never make for your own.
And, for what it’s worth, socially awkward kids can turn into pretty amazing adults. I’m looking at you, Bill Gates.
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This post was written by Sarah Harris exclusively for BonBon Break Media, LLC.