My son used to play a sport (sometimes two) each season when he was younger. There was a time he enjoyed it and couldn’t get enough. But as he got older, those feelings started to fade.
I’ll never forget one Saturday morning when my son was in the 5th grade and he had an early basketball game. He had been up past his bedtime the night before because he was also on the ski team which met on every Friday evening.
I had to wake him up early in order to be at his 8am game on time and he was throwing a tantrum like he did when he was a toddler; something he never did. Despite him acting this way, I still made him go and play. He’d told me over and over he didn’t want to go but I wouldn’t listen and didn’t feel his reasoning was enough to skip a game.
He had a miserable game. He wasn’t happy with how he had played and he cried in frustration on the way home. I should have let him sleep in a bit and miss the game, I know that now. I’m still not sure why I felt so strongly he should go and play.
He was trying to let me know I was pushing him too far and I didn’t listen. That was the last year he did the ski team and played basketball. I hated that he gave up playing ball– I missed going to his games and watching him practice. We had even bought him a basketball hoop for Christmas and there was a time when he loved that. I hated seeing sports disappear from his life.
His wanting to participate in sports dwindled completely over the next few years and I fought his desire to leave organized sports. I am a huge believer that kids benefit from team sports for many reasons. But the more I pushed, the more he withdrew.
Eventually, I decided I had to let it go because it was clear this wasn’t the way my son wanted to spend all of his free time. After I stopped forcing him to be involved in certain things, he was happier.
Sports or other extracurricular actives aren’t for my son because it’s not who he is. He gave a variety of sports a fair shot and he wasn’t having fun. And if you ask me, being a kid should be about having fun most of the time. I know he can be introverted like I can and I hate to be pushed to do things when I don’t want to, especially in front of a crowd. It can be intimidating, exhausting, and suck the joy right out of you.
I could tell he was starting to resent having to get up early and play basketball and he was also starting to resent me for making him play.
Since giving him the time and space to do his own things, find out who he is, and explore his own hobbies, my son become much happier. Giving him control over his time has left room for him to do activities he loves like lifting weights and riding his bike. And that’s all we really want for our kids: for them to find “their thing” and be happy. If I had continued to push him to attend games and practices he didn’t want to, not only would it be doing him a huge disservice, his lack of interest would have hurt the rest of the team and affected those who really want to be there. Not to mention how potentially damaging it would have been to our relationship longterm.
As a parent, I’ve learned there is a difference between encouraging your kids to try things and forcing them to do something they really don’t want to do. Sure, there have been times I’ve signed my kids up for something they said they didn’t want to do and they’ve ended up loving it and were thankful for the experience.
But if they’ve tried it and said it’s just not for them, I listen. The time will come all too soon when they have to do things they don’t want to do like clean their house, pay their rent or mortgage, plunge their toilet and clean their gutters.
The teen years are hard enough with all the other changes they go through. Teens don’t need to be forced to do something they dread. And it’s also opened my eyes to new and different activities I wouldn’t have been interested in had I forced them to keep playing team sports.