When we first learn we are going to have a baby, we spend hours thinking about what they are going to look like and what kind of personality they will have. We think about all the activities they can be a part of and dream that maybe they’ll be talented enough to get a scholarship! We wait (im)patiently through the first year of parenthood when the baby can’t “do” anything. (This is sometimes hardest on the dads.) When the baby can finally sit up and start walking, the balls and sports equipment comes out. There is so much more they can do! In our sports-minded culture (some may say sports obsessed), parents teach children basic sports skills at a very young age.
As soon as a child can kick or throw a ball, parents look to sign them up for an organized sport. There are so many options! (That’s a little weird right? There is this entire industry created to cater to the parents of 3-5-year-olds who can’t wait to get their kids into a sport.) How do you ever know what to pick? Many parents make the decision for their child. They sign them up for a sport without really knowing what they were getting into. Case in point was when we signed my four-year-old daughter up for soccer. One of her favorite teachers was going to coach a co-ed soccer team for 4 and 5-year-olds. She loved this “Coach” so I thought it was a great way to introduce her to team sports with a man that she already knew well (and whom we knew and trusted). My daughter seemed to love going to practice. She ran up and down the field, learned to kick a ball and enjoyed being with her friends. At that time, my son was a year old and had just started to walk. So, while she was practicing, we were walking all over the park trying to find anything that would hold his interest for 45-60 minutes. (That was certainly something I had not considered – how exhausting it would be to “entertain” the other child while one practiced. Let’s just say it was good exercise for me but exhausting on hot afternoons.) The time came, and the team was ready for the first game, they had practiced and somewhat knew the rules. But as soon as we were on the sidelines ready to go, my daughter grew roots and would not budge. She did NOT want to go out on the field! She hugged our legs, refused to budge and even shed a few tears. What was going on? I was not prepared for this scenario, I had no idea this was even possible. I didn’t expect her to be a super star, but I thought that she would at least go out, run around and have fun. I had no idea what to do. She sat with us on the sidelines for most of the game and eventually she gathered enough confidence to go out on the field for a couple minutes. This went on for a few games and by the end of the season, she was out there running around, looking at the clouds and picking grass just like many of the other kids on the field. In hindsight, do I think she was ready to play a sport? Honestly, I don’t really know. I think it was a good experience for her, but when we asked if she wanted to play another season she said no. (And we respected that.)
I talk to a lot of parents who ask, when is the right time to get my child involved in sports? This is a great question because I think you should ask yourself if this is the right time. In the case with our daughter, I didn’t give it much thought from that perspective. The opportunity presented itself and I jumped at it because that’s just what kids do, right? I fell into the trap like a lot of parents who are so excited to sign their kids up that they just do it. Now, having years to reconsider and witness hundreds of young kids playing sports, I think it’s important for parents to answer a few questions before signing their child up for sports:
These questions may seem very basic but based on the behavior of the parents that I’ve seen, few parents ask themselves these questions. Your children can greatly benefit from playing sports, but you need to make sure they are ready before you sign them up. Have a conversation with your child emphasizing the reason to play is to have fun and then let them decide what they want to do. One last thing, remember this is supposed to be fun for you too, enjoy watching them play.
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I started writing this blog because I wanted to have deeper conversations beyond "How are you?", "Busy", with other parents. Over the years I've shared personal stories, articles, authors and topics to facilitate conversations with parents about the joys and the challenges of parenting.