Six years ago, I wrote this post, and I thought of it—and the insightful comments it fielded—quite a bit this weekend at the Colorado Crossroads Volleyball Tournament, a massive festival of spikes and whisles and girls in lycra shorts. Amelia, now in 8th grade, is playing club volleyball for the first time. No matter what sport she plays, I'm still torn between pushing (just a little) and observing and cheering. As I gave her a (small) tip about moving her feet after one game, she rolled her eyes at me, as only teenagers can do. "Nobody can ever accuse me of not caring," I replied with a laugh, before she just nodded and headed off to join her team.
After you read this #throwbacktuesday post, I will be thrilled to read additional comments about youth + sports: such a loaded topic, and such an important one. Thanks!
There's only one sport that shares my brain space with running: swimming. I was decent at the sport because my feet, roughly the size of water skis, are great flippers and my wingspan is nearly Jordan-esque when I stretch out for the butterfly. More importantly, I feel a grace and power in the water I've never felt on my own two feet.
When I got to eighth grade, I stopped swimming; I had been on a club team. I wished that my high school in Minnesota had a swimming pool, but we, being the good 'sota school we were, didn't have a pool. We, of course, had an ice rink.
My urge to swim was so great, when I learned to row my freshman year of college, I thought to myself at least once a workout, I wish I were in the water, not on top of it. (We did have the good fortune to flip in the water in the Erie Canal once, during a sleeting rain in March, but that's another story.) I really wanted to get up the nerve to go see the swimming coach and just see if there's any way I could try out for the team, but I could never muster it: what if he just thought I was a joke?
When I get in one of those wistful what-if moods, swimming always bobs to the surface first.
So when I signed Amelia up for the swim team this year, I knew it would be a test of my parenting skills. A test as in to not totally helicopter and not totally live vicariously. She has been blessed with my height and, last year, fielded some praise from her YMCA swim instructor. That's should be enough for an Olympic medal, right?
She's done well in her first season. Her bulletin board is slowly filling up with ribbons--most of them from the butterfly, the stroke I loved most--and she's competed in a few invite-only races, including the one I'm most proud of: an 100 IM where she, the only girl in a field of four, beat two boys.
She could care less about whether she beats the boys. She cares about whether her friends are in her lane; I care about if she's learning flip turns. She is most interested in what's up for grabs at the snack bar at races; I am most interested in where she places. She won't wear a cap; I tell her it'll make her faster. In other words, she's totally laid-back about her swimming, where I'm all she's-the-next-coming-of-Dara-Torres.
"Tell Muti what you did today," I prompt her to tell my mom about her IM awesomeness after the meet. She looks at me with a blank stare, like the swim meet was months ago, not two hours ago.
So what do you do with a child who you want to be destined for greatness? I type that sarcastically, but it's an honest question--and one I'm grappling with. She'll likely never wear a USA uniform, but she's a talented swimmer and she does like it (I promise). Here in Colorado, kids start soccer at age three and seem to have a sport specialty by age nine. Plenty of kids on her team swim through the winter.
I start to think that's what I'll suggest to her, and then think, "She's 8. If she starts staring at a black line year round now, she'll want to quit when she's 14. What if she's good enough to swim in college?"
Then I think, "But what if she has to start now in order to swim in college?"
Then I think, "This year, she'll have homework, she wants to play soccer, she wants to learn how to play the violin, so maybe no swimming this year."
Then I think, "Lord help me, I'm turning into a tiger mom whose overscheduled, overpressured kids will only mutter my name when they're in therapy in 10 years."
As I've surf around the Internet for youth swim programs, I alternate between being intensely interested and embarrassed I'm even looking. When did sports become so complicated? I don't even remember my mom being at my swim meets, let alone trying to push or polish me as an athlete.
What do your mom instincts tell you to do? Do you push, gently nudge or be passive?