A Parent's Perspective on Children's Sports

As much as I advocate exercise of all types, I am perplexed at times by how to support my child in his athletic endeavors. As a parent, I want Luke to be good at sports, and also enjoy them. I don’t want to push too hard, but I want to encourage enough. I want him to do what he likes, but I hope his passions and talents align.

My contemplation of this issue was spawned by my usual forgetfulness and lack of organization. Luke wanted to play football this fall instead of soccer, but by the time I got around to registering him, it was too late to sign up for either sport. Though Luke took the news without the slightest of concerns, I have been quick to find other sports and/or activities to fill the void. This has prompted me to evaluate sports participation on a number of levels and I am curious where other parents stand on these issues.

How many is too much?

Kids seem to participate in so many more sports than when I was a young girl. I’m not sure if there are more opportunities available than 30-umhum something years ago or if parents today are more obsessed about their children being included in every activity and/or sport humanly possible. (Or perhaps worried about them being left out?) I fully support my child participating in a variety of activities to find out what he wants to pursue longer-term, but I also think a little down time is healthy, too. If he’s participating in a sport, lesson or event every single night at age seven, is that good for him? I’m just not sure where you draw the line.

Passion or talent?

I could tell from the word go that Luke had a natural disposition to mountain biking. He’s got a knack for snow skiing and is a great swimmer, too. But he has been a little slower to develop hand/eye coordination for sports that require this skill. What I don’t know is how much these skills change over time. When I watch his soccer or basketball games, there are always one or two kids who stand out far beyond the rest of the field. And likewise, there are a handful of children who are simply not cut out for the sport. Luke is right in the middle, leaving me equally as perplexed as what to encourage. Even if Luke is not a star player at whatever sport, I want him to enjoy it. Does this mean we let him play what he wants, even if he’s not so good, or only encourage him to pursue the sports at which he excels?

How much should our tastes influence him?

I just told Luke the other day, “I’m so glad you like mountain biking because it’s one of my all-time favorite sports.” So yes, I am delighted that he excels at this sport and likes it, too! (That said, I may be setting him up for dangerous down hills and jumps in the future). I don’t enjoy watching soccer as much as basketball because I grew up playing basketball, understand the rules and could really teach him. Yet I don’t want to let my lack of interest influence his choices. For all I know, he might be the next Michael Phelps, even though I have never so much as attended a swim meet.

What don’t we know?

A friend who plays on my tennis team has a child currently receiving a full ride to the University of Washington as a triple jumper. How do we recognize talents in a sport with which we might not even be familiar at all? Not only might our children find a passion, but that passion might also foot the bill for schooling one day! How could we not like that?

When does the fun become too much work?

I’m scarred by reading the book Open in which Andre Agassi describes with great resentment the extent to which his father pushed him as a child to play tennis. Is the joke on him because this is what it takes to achieve greatness? I seriously doubt there’s an exceptional athlete out there who hasn’t worked hard to excel at his sport. I do think we can push our children so hard that they lose interest or get sick of a sport; in fact, it happened to my spouse. He got a full scholarship to play soccer in college, but was so sick of the sport at age 18 – he turned it down. I want to find the happy medium, but sometimes don’t know where to look.

Melinda Hinson