A post on Playing to Win called Brains vs. Beauty: Considering Kids’ Participation in Beauty Pageants, Chess, and Football got me thinking this morning. As I started to leave a comment on the post, I realized I was going to say so much that I might as well just write it as a post here at Sports Girls Play.
As the parent of three kids (14, 12 and 9) – all of whom have different talents – I can tell your best laid parenting plans often get changed once you have kids and are in the thick of raising them! I would have never envisioned my kids being where they are today in sports, but I’m glad they are and am proud of each one of them!
As a young child my son was not athletic, confident or really interested in group activities – he would have rather read a stack of books or played cars all day. We tried soccer – he did the season, but wasn’t really in to it. We tried t-ball. Can we say bored out of his mind? Then we gave him ice skating lessons. He took to it – but on his own terms at his own pace. After a year of lessons he was ready to play ice hockey in the recreational league. He played seven years of house league ice hockey and really enjoyed it. He wasn’t interested in the travel league and it wasn’t until he was about 13 that he really started to get the confidence to be a leader on the team. And then they closed the ice rink!!
Faced with the realization that the only sport he had enjoyed was no longer an option, we convinced him to try summer league swimming. Again, he didn’t love it, but stuck with it and slowly improved. He joined the year round team and the longer he stuck with it the more he began to embrace it. He grew 13 inches in middle school so now at age 14 he is 6′ 1″ tall and is able to really use that height to his advantage in the pool. As a result of his swimming experience he was able to try out, make and then score points every meet for his High School Swim Team – an opportunity he would not have had, had they not closed the ice rink. If you would have asked me 10 years ago what sport I thought my son would play in High School, I would have laughed and said, “none.” Instead he has developed the confidence to take on new challenges like the JROTC Raider program. The Raider team trains for and does competitions that include a run, push ups, sit ups, orienteering, rope bridge building, first aid and more. Again, would I have ever guessed this is what he wanted to do? Nope!
My second child, a girl, was destined to be a gymnast in one respect or another. After all, with me being a gymnastics coach, Miss M was always at the gym. She did classes and then went on the developmental team. She loved it and always wanted to do what the big girls were doing. However, as she got old enough to compete, she didn’t seem to be enjoying it as much – she was moderately successful but didn’t have the natural strength that so many of her teammates had. She decided to try swimming competitively while still doing gymnastics to see if she liked it. In her mind, swimming would be so easy – you know, she was a gymnast. Miss M swam but wasn’t passionate about it and meanwhile her days at the gym were becoming more and more unhappy as skills got harder, scarier, and she was trying to figure out if she liked having her Mom in the gym coaching her.
The gym was all she really knew and I think she thought I expected her to be an elite gymnast. So much of her identity as a child was wrapped up in the fact that she was a gymnast and that made it hard to make the decision to quit. But they day she finally quit gymnastics I think a huge weight was lifted off her shoulders and she came to the realization that life goes on and we all still loved her the same – gym or no gym. She finished the season swimming and took a break from gym. By May she came to me and said that she really missed gymnastics and really didn’t like swimming, so could she go back to the gym. This time it was all her – she returned on her own terms and joined the All Star team (and was no longer coached by me). The All Star team was not as intense as the track she had been on before and it allowed her to tailor her routines to highlight her strengths and gave her time to work through some fears while still being able to compete. By December of this year, she was begging me and trying to cut a deal with me to let her add another day to her gymnastics schedule. She has had a very successful season – but it is because she wants it and does gymnastics for herself now. I don’t expect her to stick with gymnastics the rest of her school years, but it works for her now.
And then we have my youngest daughter. By the time she was three it was more than obvious to me that she was going to be way too tall to be a gymnast – not to mention that she was afraid of everything at the gym. Things her sister was doing at 3, she would not even entertain! The one thing I noticed was that Miss N loved being in water. I signed her up for swim lessons and she took to it right away – as long as her face was not in the water. She saw some kids about her age swimming in the other pool and wanted to know what their kickboards were, why they wore swim caps, etc. I explained to her that they were on the swim team and what it was all about. The summer of her sixth year she decided to do the summer swim team. It was a drama filled summer – full of nerves, tears and determination, but by the end of the summer it was pretty obvious to me, that she was right where she belonged.
Over the next few years she swam year round. It became more and more apparent that Miss N is an intense child expecting nothing but perfection in herself. She wanted to win her races and you could see it in her body language and the way she competed. But it wasn’t just at swim – it was showing up in school, at home and with friends. She is intense in everything she does – and puts an amazing amount of pressure on herself. She has been very successful in the pool but we have really had to work on the emotion aspect of the sport and trying to teach her how to manage nerves, her goals and how to handle it when she does not achieve her personal goals. (The benefit – the lessons she is learning from sports are helping her deal with her emotions and perfectionism in all aspects of her little life.)
This spring I decided she needed a change of pace and she is trying something totally different – field hockey. It has been really good for her to be the new one, be part of a team and get some good cross training in. Trying another sport has also helped take some of the pressure off, and at the same time it has helped her realize that she really does love swimming. She has already told me that she is going to play field hockey again next spring, but is getting excited about summer swim meets.
As parents, I think we have to be willing to help our children navigate their own destinies by gently guiding them towards the activities where they will not only enjoy but also flourish. Sports are an essential part of childhood development, however, they are not the end all. Whether your child enjoys sports, academic challenges or beauty pageants, it is our job to support our children, not live our own dreams through them, and to help them “keep it REAL.”