I want my kids to play sports. I think sports have incredible benefits for kids and young adults and I think sports are…what’s the word…FUN!

Unfortunately, it’s easy for us parents to get sucked into the hype of “you have to start them at 3 because Tiger Woods started at 3.” It makes us feel like we’re doing something wrong if we don’t get our kids into the right sport at the earliest possible age. I’m starting to think I’m being negligent in my duty as a parent to increase future scholarship chances by not having both boys (ages 4 and 6) in a minimum of 2 team sports by now.

Why this push? Why the need for so much so young? Why the parental guilt for not pushing your kids into team sports as soon as they are potty trained?
Am I the only parent who wants my kid to be an athlete but who also wants to put the brakes on?

My sports background has taught me a ton. I started playing tennis at 3 years old, skiing at 3 ½ and was fairly proficient at soccer by 5. My parent may have pushed us into skiing a little but they never forced any of the sports on us. Nobody in my family played tennis, I saw Tracy Austin on TV and told my mother I wanted to play that sport.From the time I was 10 years old, my parents, siblings and friends took turns driving me to tennis tournaments all over New England almost every weekend; we could be in Rhode Island one weekend and Maine the next. But my mother always gave me an out. I never had to do it, it was always my choice, and it always took at back seat to school obligations.

With my own sports experiences and working with kids later as a coach and as an instructor at an unnamed high level tennis training facility, I learned amazing life lessons but it also taught me was what happens when you push too hard.

I saw many parents push their kids too long, too far. I saw girls get hurt, I saw parents get crazy (we almost had the police called to one high school soccer game with a certain rival), I witnessed girls wanting some rest while parents refused to let them take a break, I saw parents pour tons of money in camps/programs for kids who didn’t want to be there, I saw extremely talented athletes just throw their hands up and walk away. Even I had my breaking point too. After playing all through college (and enjoying it), I was done. I took 4 nice tennis rackets and beautiful tennis bag and just simply threw them away – sure that I would never want to touch a tennis racket again (that is changing now and I am really missing it).

That’s what I take into account today when I look at my boys.

My oldest son (A) is almost 7 years old. He has an incredibly athletic body. His strength is unbelievable. I’ve had parents ask me what I do with him to work with his strength, I’ve had parents marvel at how he can pull himself up on something by his fingertips or how powerful his running is. I’ve even had a coach from an opposing wrestling team come over to me and say “wow, his (ab) strength is amazing, I hope he keeps the upbeat attitude and never quits.”

So, I feel like I have this little athlete, so I need to foster it, right? I need to do everything in my power to help him develop into the amazing athlete that he’s destined to be, don’t I?

I wanted him to find a sport he’s passionate about. I want him to always have something that keeps him active year-round.

I put A in T-ball. He was bored to tears and couldn’t sit still.

We tried soccer for a summer. He hated it.

Pic owned by H. Robinson

Pic owned by H. Robinson

He doesn’t want to run after a ball, he wants to be climbing obstacles link an American Ninja Warrior.

Pic owned by H. Robinson

Pic owned by H. Robinson

This winter, despite our complete lack of interest or knowledge in the sport, we tried wrestling. We figured it would help him work on channeling the energy and develop some self-control. Holy crap, it’s an intense sport to watch. It’s far more nerve-racking than I imagined – and I am a veteran of an individual sport.

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Something happened through this wrestling season that made me slow down a little. He got killed in almost every match. With his body mass, he is wrestling kids who may be a year or two older, a year or two more experienced, and his strength alone can’t save him from real wrestling moves. I also found myself getting frustrated that after giving his full energy every single practice and every single match, he doesn’t look like he has improved from Day 1 of practice. I found myself thinking “wow, this must not be the sport, he hasn’t learned a thing.”

Last week, I sat him down to talk to him about not being discouraged and not giving up. He was baffled. He was not discouraged and had no intention of giving up.

That’s when it hit me.

He’s 6 years old.

He’s not 12 or 16 or 25. He’s just 6 years old. He’s younger than the 2nd and 3rd graders that are really starting to get the competitiveness and becoming more coachable due to maturity. He’s a 1st grader who just wants to burn some energy.

This past week, I went to sign him up for lacrosse with an actual team instead of the “here’s a ball – here’s a stick” clinics but he was too young. When a parent suggested that I just fudge his birthday by a year, I had a split second where I considered it. I wanted to put him in baseball this Spring instead because he launches balls off the bat when we practice at home, but he has zero interest in playing catch right now and would definitely hate sitting on a bench for more than 30 seconds.

Then, I started to realize I don’t want to push it. I don’t want to push him. He can start team sports at 7, 8 or 9 and still catch up to his peers. I spend hours watching college and pro football and hear so many stories about guys who didn’t even consider playing football (or whatever sport) until they were 16. And I don’t even need to think that far ahead, to college scholarships or professional sports…talk about pressure.

I want both boys to have an activity as much as possible without overwhelming them too soon or putting them into something totally over their heads. And I want them to find things THEY like, not that I’d think they’d be good at. The turning down lacrosse was a big step for me. I quickly shifted my thinking from “oh no, now he’ll be behind all the other kids” to “maybe next year he’ll be more mature and ready.”
The reason I saw so many friends quit certain sports, myself included, was when “it wasn’t fun anymore”. I want my boys to enjoy what they do.

For now, instead of feeling like I need to throw them into the competitive team sports realm, I will get them off the couch at home and play our own neighborhood pick-up games and mommy/son games of catch, you know…for fun.

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