In the summer of 2009 my daughter Conley joined the YMCA co-ed soccer league. One of Conley’s teammates was a boy named Hayden. Hayden’s mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, aunts and uncles all gathered every Saturday morning, decked out in burnt orange, to cheer Hayden on. But Hayden hated soccer. When he was chosen by the coach to join the game, Hayden clung to his mommy and screamed in terror. His foot didn’t touch the ball the entire summer season. Hayden’s family cheered mightily for the other teammates and never criticized Hayden for his lack of participation. Based on their enthusiasm, you would have thought Hayden was the star player of the team. He was far from it. I didn’t expect to see Hayden on a soccer field ever again.
The Fall season rolled around and Conley was on a different team. One crisp Saturday morning I happened to glance at the opposing team. I see Hayden. This time his team colors were lime green. Quickly I spotted mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, aunt and uncle on the sidelines with their lime green gear hooting GO HAYDEN WHOOP WHOOP! Ten minutes into the game the coach called for Hayden to play. He walked onto the field without mommy and his foot connected with the ball twice. YEA HAYDEN! THAT’S OUR BOY! GREAT JOB! Then he quickly escaped the field. Still not an eager player, but much improved since the first season.
Then the winter season approached. This was Conley and Hayden’s third season playing YMCA soccer. About the third game of the season, who did we see on the opposing team? Hayden. This time he was the starting player. When the whistle blew, Hayden was the first to the ball. Score! A few minutes later, score again! I was so thrilled for him, I started rooting for Hayden’s team. I had tears of joy running down my face. Score again. Score again. Hayden scored 5 goals this game and annihilated my daughter’s team. I was fine with the loss.
After the game I approached Hayden’s family. I want to tell you not only how proud I am of Hayden for doing so well today and having so much fun, but I really want to commend you for never giving up on him. You encouraged and supported him just as much when he sat on the sidelines in tears as you did when he scored 5 goals. Most parents would have given up on him long ago – but you didn’t. From one parent to another, thank you.
Participating in team sports with my children is like a parenting science lab for me. There are 10 kids on a team at the beginning of a season. When any of the kids are like Hayden and are not mini David Beckhams, the parents disappear after two games. This accounts for at least 3 of the parents. Then another 1-2 drop out because their kid is not on the winning team or the parents are too lazy to get their kid to practice during the week. There are 3 more parents whose “encouragement” comes in the form of criticism, threats and verbal assaults You will get in there and play right now or we are going home! If you don’t get your act together you’re getting a spanking. I didn’t come here today to watch you moan on the sidelines! Out of 10 players, only about 1 or 2 have parents instill their children with positive reinforcement – whether they are a Beckham or a Hayden.
4 Tips to Helping Your Child Enjoy Sports:
1. When your child wants to sit on the sidelines and not play, it’s OK! When my daughter has her “moments” I simply say, “You don’t have to play, but we are doing to cheer on your teammates and encourage them to do well.” When I take my focus off my daughter and put it on the game (enthusiastically) she usually turns around and asks to go back in the game. If you pack up and head to the car, you have taught your kids that it’s OK to quit and you lose the chance to teach them about what it means to be part of a team.
2. Sports are supposed to be fun, self-esteem building opportunities for kids. If you are critical of your child’s lack of participation, they will never, ever enjoy the sport, you will shatter their self-worth and resent you in the process. Negative reinforcement might work for 10 seconds, but it is devastating for the long run. Always use positive reinforcement with any activities your children participate in.
3. Not all kids are natural-born athletes. It’s the parent’s job to identify where a child’s strengths are. Sometimes we push our kids into a particular activity because it’s our dream, but not theirs. Some kids are not suited for contact sports – so golf or tennis might be a better option. Could you see tennis champ Rodger Federer on a football team? And some kids have a greater talent for art or music rather than sports as well. Just because the cool sport in your community is football, hockey or soccer doesn’t make you or your child inadequate if he/she isn’t fit for these sports.
4. Play sports every day at home – between the games and scheduled practices. If your children spend most of their playtime watching TV or playing video games and then are thrown into a competitive sporting environment on Saturday morning, it will probably shock their system. Anyone in any living environment can turn their home into a “sporty” atmosphere. Stand with your feet 2-3 feet apart and make soccer goals with your legs. Celebrate like crazy when your child scores. Turn your kitchen into a mini soccer field. Hit a tennis ball against any wall. Throw a baseball with your kids. I’ve realized it’s not the end of the world if a picture frame here or there gets broken!
Patrick Snow, author of Creating Your Own Destiny and father of two teenage boys, says, “I believe that sports is nothing more than an activity which keeps kids out of trouble and through this activity kids can learn about teamwork, respect, discipline, hard work and determination. My two sons are very different. One has thrived in sports and the other has little interest in sports but might be the most humorous person I know and wouldn’t be surprised if he becomes a comedian. As parents we can’t push sports on them, we must help them discover their passions, and then slightly encourage them to pursue their individual and unique passions whether they are sports related or not.”
Give your kids the chance to experience many types of sports and activities. Utilize positive reinforcement at all times. Identify where your children’s strengths are. Most importantly, have fun along the way!