My son used to play every team sport he could. We were constantly running from activity to activity, and he loved it. He wasn’t afraid to try and do things, even if he wasn’t very good at it – he just wanted to have fun and would get out there and do his best.
Sometime around the sixth grade, he noticed he wasn’t the best at most sports he played. I could tell it bothered him and he went from a boy who loved being with his friends and playing baseball or basketball for the love of it, to a very self-conscious child who felt like he didn’t measure up.
It was heartbreaking to watch, and it wasn’t long before he stopped playing everything and didn’t want to join any teams despite the fact all his friends played. He just wanted to quit team sports.
Of course, I encouraged and pushed him, and tried to make him see the importance of still doing things he loves even if he wasn’t the best, but nothing worked – he was done. I could have forced him to play anyway and hoped that one day he would thank me instead of looking back and see it as a time when he was forced to do something he hated, but I didn’t want to risk that.
If my parents had done this to me as a teen, I would have been uncomfortable and hated it. Besides, it never would have given me the space to discover things I loved on my own like working and teaching aerobics.
I always thought my kids would be involved in organized, team sports through high school, I think we all do to some extent. It has become such a huge part of our society—so much so there are times when we see other families headed for a game, or a Facebook post about a student winning their track meet, and it makes me wonder if I should have pushed him to stick with things further.
And there was a time it triggered something in my son because, too. I could tell he felt like he should be going along with all of his friends even though he fell out of love with it. The thing is, we can’t teach our kids to have their own voice, follow their own path while sending the message they should be doing something because everyone else is.
And I’m glad I didn’t push. It wasn’t long before he wanted to learn how to downhill ski, and now he goes all the time. He started showing an interest in biking, so we signed him up for a bike building course which was more exciting to him than hitting a home run.
He goes to work with his father during school vacations and during the weekends and is learning the plumbing trade. And for a few years now, he has been diligent about working out and lifting weights. He even cut out sugar this winter and has inspired other kids in the class to start doing the same after seeing his results.
These things my son loves to do have helped his self-esteem and given him confidence. No, we aren’t going to sporting events, he isn’t winning awards or trophies, he doesn’t get credit or recognition, and colleges won’t look at these activities the way they would if he was a varsity basketball player, but I don’t care and neither does he. Because when our kids are in their element, that’s all that matters.
There is so much out there for our kids to explore. Some of them don’t find joy in team sports, or clubs, and there’s something to be said for that. If they decide it’s not for them and focus their attention on finding something that sets their soul on fire, it gives them room to consider other options and hobbies.
It’s important to show our kids they can be who they want. Life is too short to be involved in something that doesn’t feel true to you. My son is happiest when he’s on the slopes with his father. He is much happier than he would be if I forced him to be on the basketball court and that’s what they will keep; that’s how they will figure out who they are — by following their heart and passions. It’s okay if what excites them doesn’t fit into a box or can’t be measured by keeping score.
And as parents, it’s okay if our kids aren’t going along with the crowd, we need to give them the time and space to figure out their passions on their own.
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