Is Pushing Your Child To Play Sports Ever The Right Choice?
Is Pushing Your Child To Play Sports Ever The Right Choice? I was talking to a mom recently, and she shared that she had forced her 10-year-old to run track even though he didn’t want to. She explained that he was painfully shy and didn’t think he was a good runner. But now, several weeks in, he was like a different kid. He loved his teammates and was having an overall great experience. The Mom was relieved because she knew it could have been a total backfire. I often tell sports parents to STOP pressuring their kids and to allow them to guide the decision-making process around their sports. But just like all decisions around youth sports, no one size fits all, and each situation is different. Each kid is different. Each family is different.
One of my worst memories
My friend’s story triggered a painful memory for me, which I often think about. When youth soccer teams changed from the school year to the birth year, my youngest (born on December 26th) got the short end of the stick, missing the earlier birth year cut-off by five days. She had to move up in age and try out against the older and bigger girls. She was scared. So much so that she told us she didn’t want to play soccer any longer and declared she wouldn’t go to the tryouts.
Up to that point, she had loved soccer. So we decided to force her to go. But it was awful. When she spotted me on the sideline, she bolted from the scrimmage and clung to my leg so hard, and just sobbed. After trying to talk to her and calm her down for what seemed like an eternity, I eventually peeled her off my leg and forced her to return to the tryout. I literally pushed her back toward the coach.
It felt terrible. I could have stopped it with three easy words, ‘let’s go home.’ But I chose not to. Stopping at that point didn’t make sense. All of her crying and anguish would have been for nothing. I felt I had to see it through, I felt it was the right choice at that moment.
Can something that feels so bad be good?
I know this doesn’t sound very good, and I know I talk and write a lot about what being a supportive parent looks like, and this felt like the opposite of being supportive. In fact, this choice would not have passed my 3 questions every parent should ask themselves before making decisions in youth sports edict. But here’s the thing about parenting, it’s hard. Like the most challenging thing we’ll ever do. And there are no directions; we make this stuff up as we go, and often the right path isn’t always apparent when you are smack dab in the middle of it. For my oldest, I overdid the tough love parenting style, and she suffered because of it. It’s a balancing act that I believe should land almost exclusively on the side of support and not pressure. But this was different because we knew she was making a decision from fear and not because it’s what she really wanted to do.
I did hold the course. My daughter did finish the tryout that night. She got home, and she was so joyous. She had a lightness and confidence that was not there pre-tryout. It was that feeling of accomplishment that only comes from going through something really hard and coming out on the other side. She had faced her fears and conquered them. And that made her feel pretty darn good. And, bonus, she ended up making the team.
I think about that night all the time. Not just because it was awful but because it was also wonderful. That night, I almost robbed my daughter of the opportunity for learning self-reliance, one of the greatest gifts we can give our children. She learned she has inner strength and power she didn’t know existed. Could she have gotten this another way, at another time, or over time? 100%. It was a rip-the-bandaid-off type moment. It was in the trenches and down and dirty. It wasn’t talking, reasoning, and coming to an understanding.
Was it the right choice?
I believe so, but it’s hard to say for certain. I look at it this way, had we let her walk away and not do the tryout? What then? I imagine she would continue to feel fearful and anxious about stepping out of her comfort zone. She might never learn she had what it took to make that team that day and then so many teams she’s tried out for after that. And maybe that feeling translates into her choices later in life.
It didn’t cure my daughter of that fear completely, by the way, but it helped. Occasionally, we still see it pop up in her decision-making. But it has helped me understand how she operates and how she processes change. She needs time to figure out the best course of action and likes to move slowly on decisions. Now we discuss any important choices openly, I ask her questions about her motivation and why she is choosing a certain path, and be there as a sounding board. It involves fewer tears these days, but most importantly, she is in the captain’s seat, and I’m just a passenger.