Ever notice it? How anxious we all are? Our suburban lives are safe and successful, yet we can’t stop freaking out about stuff: kids, school, money, schedules, expectations. Well, we’ve noticed it too—and we’re here to talk us all down a bit. So sit back, take a deep breath and shelve all that fear for a minute… Welcome to the third in a multi-part series: ‘HOW NOT TO FREAK OUT.’
By Beth Hartt
Once upon a time, there was a mom who was anxious to start her kids in sports.
She saw all the signs posted around town for various leagues, even for the youngest ones: baseball, softball, soccer, swimming, basketball, lacrosse … the possibilities were endless! She felt the mounting pressure of introducing her preschool-aged son to sports. After all, if everyone else was starting their kids this young, shouldn’t she? Otherwise her child wouldn’t be able to compete, right? So she decided a great way to dip her toe into the overwhelming waters of kids’ sports would be a preschool soccer camp. Who wouldn’t like kicking a ball around with a bunch of guys from England for a couple hours? Turns out, her kid didn’t. It was not the happy ending she’d imagined.
I was that mom. And it was my son who, despite showing zero interest in soccer, or any other sport for that matter, was forced by me into soccer camp at the tender age of 4. He hated it, every minute of it. And I hated that he hated it. I completely panicked. How could he possibly not enjoy this? It was supposed to be fun and ignite a life-long love of soccer! How will he ever play competitively when he’s older if he doesn’t do soccer camp right now?!
That’s really what it boiled down to: me wanting him to compete with other kids. I mistakenly believed that if he didn’t start loving a sport in his preschool years, his athletic life would be doomed forever.
My son didn’t play soccer again until he was in 2nd grade. When he finally did start playing, he enjoyed his time on the field, even last fall when we switched leagues. But it turns out he’s not a competitor. He’s just not wired that way, and that’s OK. We’ve learned that running and hiking are more his speed.
But I’m still embarrassed by the way I felt that week of soccer camp. Normally I’m not one to cave to social pressure, but I did. I valued the voices around me more than my child’s.
God used it for good, though, the way only God can do. That week taught me to value my children for who they are, not who I want them to be. I love how God made each of them unique, and how he knit them together to make them into the special people they are right now. It doesn’t matter if my children are soccer players or Lego builders, track stars or tree-climbers; they are fearfully and wonderfully made by Him and for Him.
And now here we are at the beginning of a new season and the small talk questions are all the same: “What sports are your kids doing this fall?” Nothing, I tell them, no sports. And their confusion is almost palpable. Opting out of sports is so counter-cultural people don’t know how to respond.
But I couldn’t be happier or more proud of my kids. At 10 and 11, they are well aware of the sports-centric culture we’re immersed in. It would be easy for them to go with the flow and keep playing just so they can be like their friends. But when I asked them in July what they wanted to do this fall, they both said, “Take a break.” My heart sang. We will run and hike together as a family this fall, but we will not be stepping foot on any soccer fields.
I love this quote from Anne Lamott posted on the “We Are That Family” blog a couple of weeks ago:
“Your problem is how you are going to spend this one and precious life you have been issued. Whether you’re going to spend it trying to look good and creating the illusion that you have power over circumstances, or whether you are going to taste it, enjoy it and find out the truth about who you are.” — Anne Lamott
It reminds me so much of the struggles that families face with kids and sports. Does your child really enjoy the sport they’re playing? Or are you feeling pressured to create the illusion that you have control over their future if you have control over the sports they play?
By telling me they wanted to take a step back from team sports this fall, my children have shown me a glimpse of who they really are. They have shown me that they’re confident enough in themselves to strike out down a different path no matter what everyone else around them is doing. My family has been given the gift of time this fall, and I have every intention of savoring it — because I never know what next fall will bring!
So if you’re worrying that your child isn’t showing any interest in team sports — DON’T.
If you’re worrying because your child doesn’t want to play the sport she’s been playing since she was three-years-old — DON’T.
Don’t break under the pressure. Don’t listen to the chatter in your social circles. Don’t bend to the will of your Facebook feed. Don’t shoehorn your kid into a sport just because you think that’s what he or she has to do. Sports is just one choice in a sea of extracurricular options for our children — art, dance, music, chess, computer classes. The possibilities really are endless. Encourage them to try different things, then stand back and watch what makes them happy. Maybe it is sports. Maybe not. But whatever they decide, don’t freak out. Your child is going to be just fine.