I have a four year old son. He is very physically active and has great motor skills. Far better at most sports they I was at his age. Most of our friends have their children in sports and like most “soccer moms” they drive from event to event – especially on the weekends. We tagged along to a few soccer games and a number of things struck me during and after the games. The most obvious was that there were plenty of kids there who would have rather been somewhere else and who’s parents were the excited part of the group. There were also parents yelling and carrying on. At their kids no less. This is not right I thought, I have to take a look at this.
By now you are saying “this guy must have been watching a game in some rough side of town” but nothing could be further from the truth. No the problem was not to be found in the surroundings or in the kids for the matter. It was to be found in the parents and their approach at the game. I would be a great blessing if someone would write the “how to get your kids into sports handbook – parents edition”. I could hand them out by the box. Here is the basic problem. Is the kid doing a sport because you expect him/her to, or because they have a great amount of fun when then play? Simple enough question right? Well I asked 10 parents after the game and all of them said, “oh he loves it”. “Are you sure?” I would ask, “how can you tell?”. I got some blank looks and some laughed. “We know out kids”, were the most common answer. Did they I thought.
I next asked the kids one by one, what they liked about the game they just played. I got some rather interesting answers to be sure. “my friend Tommy was here”, “I scored so daddy will be happy”, “I wanted to go home, by belly hurt but I had to play”. Had to play? Why? I asked. “My big brother played and I have to do everything he did”. Ok now I had something to talk about. Lets take a look at why we have our kids in sports at all.
* Outdoor activity
* Keeps the physically active
* Builds strong bodies
* Builds self confidence
* Kids have fun
* Something we can do together
I am sure there are more reasons but these came up more often then any other in my little survey. In this case it was soccer but in the case of Hockey the outdoor element is obviously removed. None the less I feel that the parents intent here was to make the kid get out of the house, not to just be out doors. I mean it that was the case, make him run around the house a few laps. Keeping the child active is a great idea and with so many children being fatter then ever I am all for it.
Again though, it that was all we could take a walk with them or ride our bikes. Why sports? Building of the bodies is true to an extent, but it can also be too much for a child. We have to make sure it is done with moderation. Self confidence. Now here is something I hear all the time. Sure when the kid is good at what they do and when they feel they can overcome problems by trying harder that is good, but what will happen to a 4 year old child who fails? We will get back to this is a moment. Kids have fun. I should hope so, but I saw a few who did not and there are some reasons why. And lastly, we do something together. Something we can both enjoy and be excited about. Fair enough, so long as that is not a one way street.
Lets break down these arguments further. What will motivate us to chose a sport for our children? Our own experience usually. Did we play something as kids. Were we good? I see parents projecting themselves onto their kids by first choosing the sport, then expecting allot from the kids. Often more then they can deliver. I saw a man in a part once who was throwing a softball to a very small buy, maybe 5 years old. The boy kept missing and missing and all the man said was “come on, try!”. The buy tried and failed. Tried and failed. he started crying and his father said “there is no crying in baseball, now hit the ball”. I was ready to take the father aside and show him my size 12 shoe but I thought better of it. We can all see what he did wrong, but can we see a lesser example of the same? Are we doing it maybe without knowing it. Perhaps.
We as humans learn much faster from failure then success so make sure you arrange for your children to succeed the first few times you do something with them. Positive thinking. If they fail anyway, change the thing you are doing until they succeed. I kicked a soccer ball to my son and although he could kick it back, he chose to pick it up with his hands. Instead of telling him that picking it up was bad and thus make the whole thing negative, I showed him how he could throw the ball to my foot and then I did the same. Soon the ball was back on the ground and we were playing like normal. They don’t know the rules, they just want to succeed and they measure that success by your reaction and your praise. If they don’t have any fun with something or just plain can’t do it, move on to something else. Do not push them into some sport because that is what you wanted to do. Let them show you what they want. Expose them to several and observe them. Are they quick at picking up the rules? Can they do it will?
In the end it is most important that they have fun. They have fun if you are proud of them and if they are allowed to succeed. Give them every means to do so and let them lead the way. Not every kid will like soccer because his brother did. Let him chose for himself. That builds confidence.