Madame Butterfly


Ready, set...lay off, Mom?


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.

O.k., maybe Dara Torres is a bit intense. But can you believe those abs?

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?

83 responses to “Madame Butterfly

  1. Pull it back! Be passive!!!

    Your kids will not remember the coaching point you gave them in ANYTHING…sports/choir/dance/drama/schoolwork. They will remember how you SUPPORTED them unconditionally. I have learned to let go! This coming from a Minnesota hockey mom of 2 girls! On a team that plays a non-conference schedule to have the best competition because “they are a state contender” every year. Did I mention my eldest (Freshman) the introvert is a GOALIE!!! My other daughter (8th grade) is all in for the social part. Which was FINE until she hit the high school team where they really have to WORK!!! She does it. My husband and I just don’t know how long she’ll keep the fun in it. Hockey is not a sport you can just show up for. BUT…my only 2 things I ask for now. #1. If you commit you complete. #2. Have fun.

    I do not critique. I do try to engage in conversation.
    1. Always wish them good luck before games – in person/note on the counter/text
    2. Hugs after every game
    3. Let them know there isn’t ANYWHERE else I want to be but supporting them. Sports/drama/choir/robotics…it doesn’t matter. Just give 100% attention when they are competing.

    My questions to attempt engagement:
    1. What was your best play today?
    2. Was there anything that you wanted a do-over for?
    3. How did you feel tonight?
    4. Did you have fun?
    5. Are you ready to do it again tomorrow?

    My husband and I are both united on this. NO critique. Let them navigate the the conversation. If they don’t want to talk, we don’t.

  2. Ah, le sigh. I was raised in a household where the oldest of us three was a nationally-ranked high jumper by age 16… which was a blessing and a curse. I have 4 kids, 12-21 now. Hubby is a music teacher; we also did music in our home, but athletics was primary due to parental pressure. I always felt like a disappointment – and it seemed my dad (the big pusher of athletic dreams for his kids) was always shopping for a sport I could excel at. I remember playing gold on a par 3 9 hole when I was in my early twenties and he kept crowing about how straight I could hit the ball… and I could see his wheels turning.

    Anyway, my first two had very little to no interest or aptitude athletically, though they both do other things well including music. My third (only son) is a natural athlete – lean, nearly 6′, and a hard worker who excels at anything he’s willing to work at (piano, trumpet). He is in 10th grade and suddenly announced he wanted to go out for the track team to do the jumps. Do I fantasize about what he could do if he applied his normal work ethic to his athletics? yeah. Do I hope he got some of the genes from my side that might help? Sure. It’s probably a good thing I work full time and can’t run to every meet, because I might suffocate him. It’s hard to find the happy medium – I sure as hell don’t want to be my Dad, and I want him to do what he loves, but is it wrong for me to want him to love it and to do reasonably well at it?!

  3. There is so much to love about this post and I feel like I lived through this. I have two children. One was naturally gifted in the water and worked hard, the other who worked her tail off to be just above average. They each played an important role on their team. My son, one who was always on the podium and my daughter who captained her team and valued that role. They respected and learned from one another. Good luck in trying to settle back and watch it unfold. It’s beautiful and good luck to Amelia in her pursuits.

  4. I have always thought successful parenting, in all things, looks a lot like coaching; correct form, give them tools to succeed and then get out of their way and let them perform.

  5. Great to hear she has that dream The trick is to manage expectations versus reality. And if the reality is she is elite enough to compete she has to pursue it if she wants especially if you have the means to support her. Good luck and we all need to keep following our dreams no matter our age.

  6. My daughter is Amelia’s age, and missed the swim team this year because we are going overseas on a vacation that we have been saving for for most of her life. She is bummed. She is the best natural athlete that I have ever known, and I am saying that as a fellow athlete and not her mom. She’ll be at least 6′ and lean, so she is just gifted for this sport. She knows about the USA Swim Team tradition of rings tattoos, and has already told me that when she makes the trials, I will be getting one too on the inside of my right wrist to cover up a scar I have there. We are a non-tattoo family, but she knows us well enough to know the rings would be the one exception. I know that our family as a whole works better when she is in the water three or four hours a week – – she is calmer, concentrates better, is kinder – – – but I am so torn about what she will miss out on if she competes at that level. I take a lot of comfort in the fact that no Olympic athlete that I have ever met feels any sadness about what they didn’t do while going after a dream, and they all feel gratitude for their families for helping them. It’s going to be a crazy ride if she really goes after it, but at least it is indoors because the seasons we spent as a soccer family for my non athletically gifted son (runs like a geriatric man) were hell here in the rainy PNW.

  7. Let kids do what they seem interested in (even if it’s chess club) and let them tell you when it’s time they quit. Keep up the good grades during the school year and that will help get them a scholarship to college.

    You could always “suggest” what they try next.

    this is from a mom of two high schoolers that swam butterfly when I was a kid
    I’m just happy that mine are “drown-proofed”, not super athletic swimmers,
    Carolyn in NC

  8. We make sure to expose our kids to lots of different activities and let them gravitate to what most appeals to them. This way we’ve done swimming, gymnastics, dance, cheerleading, ice skating and more.
    My oldest, now 10, has taken to figure skating (like her mom. I won’t lie, I’m thrilled). There’ve been times she’s lost interest and has sat out for months at a time but she’s come back to it on her own and has since developed a passion for it and as a result has progressed beautifully.
    It’s such a fine line between encouraging and pushing and it’s hard to let them lay off sometimes but I do my best.

  9. I love this post. My oldest daughter, who will be 11 any minute now, has been playing soccer and taking swim lessons since she was 4, here in Colorado too. As she grew, you know the soccer gets more intense, both from the actual play and the parents and coaches. This summer she had the opportunity to go with her coach and team into a more challenging (more expensive, too) league. She resisted and moped and grumbled about the impending change. I had openly been encouraging her to consider switching to cross country in middle school this fall instead, with daydreams of us running together, wind in our hair, laughing and high fiving. She finally just broke down, crying, and said she didn’t want to do any of that. She wanted to get out of soccer for a while, not run, and try swim team instead. I felt so terrible for pushing her in a way that I thought was gentle but obviously wasn’t, but so proud that she’s taking a risk on something completely different and *her own thing.* I firmly believe, though, that it is the confidence she developed by being in sports that is helping her try something new. Besides, her 7 year old sister has started running with me now! 🙂

  10. All the answers above are very interesting and wise, and I have only one small thought to add that I didn’t see above.

    I teach 5th and 6th graders and have seen my share of student athletes. The one recent case that broke my heart was of a 12 yr old who had been doing gymnastics since the age of 3. Given that in our town the program was very demanding ( 9 to 20 hours a week), she had never done any other sports. When she injured herself badly (after many smaller injuries) her parents and dr. decided it was best not to continue. Had the parents pushed? A little, I think, but mostly the sport was the center of her life, and one of the ways she defined herself as a person.

    She went into a long period of reflection and soul-searching, missing her training, her coaches, her team, and not knowing what to do with herself. As well, she found the idea of starting with a new sport intimidating, as most kids her age in other sports have been practicing for a long time, and she would have to practice with younger children (hard to take at that age).

    The moral, to me, was not to put all your eggs in one basket. Sports are important, but they aren’t everything. Had she also tried piano, dance, figure skating, or swimming, she might have found it easier to make the transition.

  11. I was just listening to a podcast while out running this morning and Matt Dixon – Ryan Hall’s new trainer who took him to his PB in Boston this year – was talking about swimming, how kids swim so much so early and how they all burn out on it by the time they’re 18 (UK) or 22 (US). I’m sure they don’t all do that – but I think you really have to work hard on separating your own feelings about your abilities (past or present) and let your daughter do her thing. It sounds like she’s doing great – having fun but not taking it too seriously – and it seems about right to me for a girl her age. And the fact that she’s handling it with such aplomb is a credit to you too – by the way…

  12. Dimity,
    Such an interesting post to read. And like many others, I’ve thought about this too. I reground myself by asking myself, “What is my big picture goal?” And the answer is that I want my kids to be physically active so they can be healthy. I don’t know how you instill drive and passion in anyone, if I did my oldest would be more of an athlete herself. I just keep up the positive reinforcement and support all my children’s practice times whether individual or team. This summer we tried talking about what goals we might want to achieve physically (my oldest is 8 also) and what we would need to do to achieve them. My two older ones set one of their goals to run a mile without stopping, so every morning I would say, “Should we go for a run?” Somedays they would jump at the chance, other days they passed. My 8 year old reached her goal rather quickly, but has lost interest since then. So, she’s working on other goals, being able to do the splits and practicing dribbling a basketball. I think my kids are learning the big picture goal; part of being healthy is being active and this can be fun. Being one of the best isn’t what makes it so important for me, but I can’t always say I feel confident in my decisions. I let dance be her number one choice and it would be last on my list. My girls don’t have the same competitive drive I had as a child, and I can’t make that part of their personality. I try and work on what I can do, support and encouragement. Ameila in my mind is already ahead of the game. She has a great mom as her role model! Best of luck to her and you! And thanks again for the thought-provoking post.

  13. I think kids have to find their own path. If she wants to give competitive year round swimming a try–why not? My daughter started swimming year round (and playing the violin) at 8 years old. She is 17 now and swims every day for 2 hours and plays her violin for 2 hours. She has decided to pursue the violin but still loves swimming and will likely continue as an adult. She is amazingly fit, content and well-balanced in her life. I have seen the good and bad of competitive sports through her experience. It seems the parents that have a big “goal” for their children and drive that goal end up creating problems. If it is her natural passion she will follow it and own it. IT IS AN AWESOME LIFETIME SPORT. Best of luck to her.
    p.s. my daughter started as a butterflyer and is now a long distance freestyler (1km+).
    p.p.s. old college friend of Sarah!

  14. PERFECT!! This needs to be published in Runners World, or another Rodale publication. Seriously.

    So you’ve touched upon what I considered one of the most difficult areas of parenting … how hard do you push?

    Have you seen that new show – Dance Moms? I have lived that, plus Soccer Dads, Football Dads and Horse Moms, Music (piano, violin & guitar) Parents, among others. Having raised 4 children who are now ages 15 – 21 in a competitive world (and don’t forget all the spelling bees, knowledge contests and DECA), your article is right on and raises the question – How much is too much?

    Unfortunately, I do not have the answer. At one point in our life when $ was much more plentiful, we literally spent thousands on horses, tack, pretty clothes, etc… until we asked ourselves, how many trophies does a 10 year old need? Do we really want a 2nd mortgage to pay for a horse (upwards of 20,000)? When our daughter was given the option of a pricey quarter horse show vs. Disney land, which do you think she preferred? Now having said that, I firmly believe that all experiences make us into the person we are & that child is a very confident, mature individual who excels in everything she does.

    We had another child, although very talented in sports, was just much more interested in what flavor of ice cream would be available after the game and who’s house they were going to play video games at later …. he could play the violin by ear and was invited to fiddle competitions, but wasn’t interested because his friends weren’t going. He was much too social and far too laid back.

    In the end, I hated being a pushy power mom, it stressed me out wayyy too muchand I was really bad at it — thank god for running, I would go for miles to ‘burn off steam’. We decided that although we think our children are super talented and intelligent, for the most part, we are just thankful that they are healthy, active, and painfully average.

    That being said, if your daughter has talent and enjoys it – go for it … who knows? And all those thoughts, good and bad, racing through your head, will keep your mind super active through your long runs!!

    Good luck – thanks for the positive post — I would REALLY like to repost this to a few select “Walls”, but the ones that really NEED to read this, sadly, never will!!

  15. Hi Dimity,

    Interesting post!

    Lately I have been swimming with this guy who was actually in the Olympics (triathlon, not swimming) . This guy does not compete anymore, but he still has a passion for working out. This is the thing that is striking to me about the guy-he recognizes that working out and being fit is what is important to him in the long run. Doing it is more important than being good at it. Help your kids find things they love to do, so they will keep doing them.

  16. My oldest was into gymnastics for while and started to train for the team at the age of four. By 6, she had to decide what she wanted to do. Part of me wanted her to do it because she was so good – but that would have meant that was it – gymnastics and pretty much nothing else. She loves too many other things right now – so I let he make the decision – she chose to play soccer and basketball and softball. And it’s fun watching her do all of those too – but I kind of miss the gymnastics – and I think it’s because its what I always wanted to do….

  17. I can (as usual) relate to this post, in terms of the how much/how little to push anyway. I have also really enjoyed reading the many responses. We also have a talented 10 year old (multiple state Q times) swimmer — he needs little encouragement, generally has a great attitude about being in competition with himself (though talking him down after a recent DQ was a challenge), and he rarely complains about going to practice (less than a handful in 2 years), All we ever hoped for was to start a life-long habit of physical fitness. I’ll call this luck. Our 8 year old daughter – athletic talent TBD – has also joined the team. She constantly complains about going, but again, we want to establish that we do something to stay active and honestly, with four kids, having multiple kids in the same sport is saves time (and money). Knowing how much to push her is hard…I know that I wasn’t pushed to be active as a kid and spent a lot of years overweight and inactive. I try not to agonize over this — If I don’t push, will she quit and sit on her butt? If I push will she complain about me in therapy in 10 years? Will she do that anyway? The joys of parenting.

  18. Sports! So, I never have thought of myself as particularly sporty… although I’ve certainly dabbled in swimming, gymnastics, soccer, and running. Daughter isn’t interested in athletics, but husband and I insisted she learn to swim and ride a bike. Swimming she enjoys, biking terrified her. I – mellow mom – FREAKED out many times by her bike riding balking, like you wouldn’t believe. (Don’t worry, I was also quite positive and patient much of the time too.) And I’m not even a big bike rider. Anyway. We didn’t push other sports, although I had dreams of cheering her on at games, because she wasn’t initially interested so it didn’t seem to make sense. However, this past Spring my daughter was encouraged to join Fall soccer with some of her 6 and 7 year old girlfriends. Husband and I realized with worry that at nearly 7, we better sign her up now, or risk her ‘getting too far behind,’ to ever catch up. (As it is, since she has a young birthday, in order to play with her grade she’ll be playing up with the ‘U8.’) Where is this coming from? We almost didn’t sign up for fear it would be a disaster. We are signed up and practicing 2-3 times a week now (with and w/o group) and I feel like Helicopter Helen at practices. And although I played soccer as a kiddo and was into it, again, I don’t even consider myself super competitive. FORTUNATELY, she is actually enjoying learning to play and also loves team camaraderie. Something about the combination of sports and your kids can really get you!

    If I was to give advice, I guess I’d say:

    1) Push just a little. My daughter would have never asked to play soccer, but now she is really enthusiastic. Then again, we know too much pushing is not good. So push. but just a little.

    2) Try not to give it too much worry/thought. Remember the little things we freaked out about when they were babies that were so no big deal!?

  19. You keep answering yourself over and over and you truly know what to do. Encourage and be excited for her, but at this point let her set the pace. If she is truly talented her coaches, team-mates, and other parents will let her know. If she finds joy in competing and striving for the win she will nurture that herself and you will be there beside her helping her make her dreams come true. If she is happy being active with friends and can develop a life long enthusiasam for being healthy then cherish the positive affect you have had on her.

  20. My daughter’s are 12, 8 and almost 7. My 12 year old daughter was on the YMCA swim team up here in Duluth starting at age 8 until she turned 11. She inherited my “early puberty” and got her first period in May of 2010. She didn’t want to deal with tampons, and who would at age 11. I let her take last year off, but she really misses it – but still doesn’t want to deal with the female aspect of it. Her school up here also doesn’t have a pool, so it’s going to be the YMCA or nothing, unless we change schools. I’m encouraging her to go back this year, and we’ll deal with the feminine issues along the way, either sit out or keep trying the other “options.” I am walking the line between being somewhat forceful because I know she’ll miss it if she gives it up now, and letting her find her own way. She also took up soccer last year and is loving that as well. My rule is that we all have to be active whatever the season – what it is you do is up to you, but we all have to move, end of story :). My middle daughter loves to swim, hates to compete, she’ll never swim on the team, but my youngest daughter is very excited, just lacks the ability at this point – next round of swimming lessons start next week!

    1. My rule is that we all have to be active whatever the season – what it is you do is up to you, but we all have to move, end of story 🙂

      Michelle – I love this line, thanks for this! I think we need to instigate this at my place, where we parents struggle to make moving a priority, since neither of us had that as a background. Will definitely keep this quote in my mind as our 3 yr old gets older. Thanks!

  21. Tough one. No easy answers.

    I have a really talented swimmer on my hands as well. He’ll be 8 next week. He’s able to compete with the big-boys (qualified for 10U state meet in the 50m breast). We’re “gentle nudgers.” My husband was a competitive swimmer. He doesn’t want our little guy to get burned out, so we will likely NOT go to states this year (even though our son wants to). At the same time, swimming is a huge commitment. You can’t go to swim practice once a week or even “just” during the summer and expect to be able to compete. Needs to be year round. That’s ROUGH during the winter. His swimming is outdoors year-round. He’s NOT a happy camper in the winter and we’ve gone round and round about letting him quit when the going gets tough.

    I would kind of embrace your daughter’s casual attitude right now while continuing to encourage her. I’m here to tell you that the flip side of it is ugly. Our son is getting UBER-competitive. He was completely dominating 8U for a while, but there’s a kid on his team who has recently come head to head with him in all 25Y events. He’s gotten second (by less than .5 seconds) in recent meets with his teammate, and we’ve had to talk him down from the ledge.

    You can’t win. Just go with your instincts and try to take cues from her the best that you can. Good luck.

  22. I have 2 super proud sport memories of my daughter (and she is only 6). The first is the very first time she played soccer on a team (she was 4). It was so darn cute and since she was my first I couldn’t get over how sweet those girls were. I hope I will always remember that feeling. Most recently we ran a 5k with her. It was a pretty big 5k and she ran most of it and did amazing. I could not control my emotions as we came near the finish line!! It was my favorite run ever!! Not fastest or farthest but wow to watch my daughter do something a lot of adults couldn’t do is amazing. (also the fact she was doing our current sport!!) We haven’t run with her much since as she hasn’t asked to join us…maybe one of these days she will want to run with us again.

  23. I am in the same place with my oldest – 7 yo daughter – and swim team, though I was not a strong swimmer. My husband, on the other hand was a great swimmer – still is. And we’re both competitive. So when we see our daughter beating out the other 7 yos and 8 yos, we get excited for her and also coach her on how she can get faster. I do feel a little nutzo and reading all these comments has me thinking I need to chill out and let it be my daughter’s competition, not mine. If she wants to swim over the winter, she can. If not, that’s fine too. Right now – at 8 – it’s got to be about having fun.

  24. Swimming rules! All three of my boys swim for our local swim team during the summer. My husband and I are the head timers (which isn’t fun, but so much better than working the bullpen and having to line all of the kids up before races). Our kids also play soccer, baseball, basketball, and hockey. Most days I walk a fine line between super soccer mom and secretly hoping they would all ask to quit everything. With “select” clubs starting teams at age of 5 and knowing our highschool teams have 90+ kids trying-out for 15 spots, it’s hard not to go “hard core”. But for every meal we’ve eaten on the run, skipped workout session, and missed hours of sleep, I know my kids are creating life-long friendships and gaining valuable life lessons in the importance of dedication, determination and how hard work pays off. My husband and I figure we’ll get to rest again in about 13 years 🙂

  25. WOW! It’s like we are riding the same brainwave. Mine is only 5, but I have high hopes! I am open with her teachers/coaches. I have the potential to be a “helicopter” parent. I would prefer to be a “satellite drone”. I do not watch practices (mostly because I am two lanes over). I ask her teachers/coaches to share issues when they want my intervention and to keep small instances to themselves. I ask that they share the good stuff, so I can gush and be supportive with overstepping my boundaries. Our swim team gives every parent a “book” on how to be a sports parent. The forward is by Amy Van Dyken. We try all sports, but she must learn how to swim and continue to take lessons. We live in Arizona. She does Tae Kwon Do with Daddy and swims with Mommy. She tries new sports with Park and Rec and groupons:) I did sign her up for diving lessons and was THRILLED that her dive looks like a start;) Anyway… I approach school and sports with a coaching analogy… I am the head coach until my quarterback can call her own plays. When she tells me it is time to quit, we will call a team meeting and make a team decision.

  26. I have the opposite problem. I was a competetive swimmer, and my kids don’t show interest, and that kills me. It’s tough to know when to push, and when to let it be up to them. Our rule is one organized sport and one “artsy” lesson at any given time. That way we avoid overscheduling, but with three kids, it stays plenty busy! Good luck!

  27. Dimity ~ I so love this post and reading others responses because it reminds me that I’m not alone in this struggle. My almost 9 yr old son has discovered a love for lacrosse (much to my husband’s joy since he played in college and plays in an “old man’s” league now). After the spring season was over, my son declared “I want to be the best lax player I can” and begged us to send him to lacrosse camp. So he’ll be attending two different camps for a wk each this summer. I want to support his interest but also want to make sure he’s balancing this with other interests. I also worry he’s embracing lacrosse because it’s a sport his dad loves, which has given them something else to bond over. My parents always supported my brother and I but allowed us to take the lead…I’m hoping to do the same.

  28. This is such an interesting post. Part of my fear of turning into a helicopter parent on the sports front stems from my own lack of childhood/adolescent interest in sports. I had no motivation to do them, was afraid of looking stupid, quit any sport I tried that I wasn’t good at right away (basketball, soccer, cross-country are all on that list)…and so didn’t discover that I love running until I was an adult. I ‘d love it if my kids didn’t waste that much time.

    But on the other hand…I DID discover, on my own (which is the best way), that I love running (not that I’m good at it, but who cares? the vast majority of us aren’t Olympian material, regardless of how and whether we were pushed). And I know that had my mom or dad tried to push me into sports I would have resisted even more than I did on my own (if that’s possible). So I’m going to let my kids try anything they ask to try but do my best not to push them in any direction. “Try” is the operative word there. I’d like my little preschoolers to turn into running buddies someday too….:^) No matter what, it will sure be interesting to see who they DO turn into.

  29. I am totally there. I think I look back and think maybe if my parents had pushed me just little more I would have aspired to greatness. Then I think if they had pushed more I would have pushed right back by quitting. Honestly, I am just delving into all this as a parent as well and it is difficult because each child has their own personality. My oldest (8) is not self-motivated or perseverent so we have to push him to do everything otherwise he would be a lump on the coach. My 2nd (6) is just trying to do what the oldest is doing so she is super motivated, but then shy in big social settings. The other two are too little at this point, but their time will come. My husband and I are trying to really watch for their motivational triggers. Is it success in the sport? The social aspect? Team? Individual? It is overwhelming! Like Dimity said, I just hope that we can figure it out in a healthy way so they don’t end up in therapy twitching whenever they see a pair of running shoes or a hockey stick!

  30. Dimity, as I am not quite there yet with worrying about pushing my kids into sports, I CAN however speak from experience when I say if she is meant to be a swimmer, she will be a swimmer. I started swimming competitively at the age of 9 and I was a disaster when I started. My first race ever was the 100 yd freestyle and I tried to get out after 3 lengths because I thought I was done. My coach had to stop me from climbing out of the pool urgin me to get back in the water. It took me almost 3 minutes to finish. I wore the swim cap with the seam going from ear to ear and my goggles were pressed so hard against my eye sockets I gave myself raccoon like bruising! Anyway, all three of my sisters and I were swimmers. We all had different strengths and weaknesses. My youngest sister, who was afraid to even put her face in the water, became the best swimmer out of all of us. I was lucky enough to continue my swimming career into college where I swam as a walk-on my freshman year at a Division I school and by my senior year, I was on a full ride scholarship.

    I am probably not making my point clear, but basically I think if SHE wants to swim she will swim. That goes for any sport she tries. My father pushed my sisters and I pretty hard because he wanted us to be the best we could be and all of my sisters and I had different responses to his encouragement. Only two of us continued swimming beyond high school. My youngest sister far surpassed my accomplishments and I am proud to say she was an NCAA All American at Texas University. I think it depends on the child’s personality to determine how much “pushing” they can handle. But I have to admit, the thought of one of my kids choosing a path of chlorinated water and lane lines gets my heart pumping! I am biased… I love swimming and I am so happy I grew up knowing what it was like to be a female athlete. It is an experience I will never forget.

    I wish you the best of luck with Amelia and I hope she finds that swimming is the right fit for her. Whether or not she is the next Dara Torres or Mary T. Meagher I am sure she will find there is so much more to swimming than learning how to perfect her flip turn or setting a PR in her IM. It has been years since I touched the wall at my last swim meet and I cannot remember my fastest times, but I DO remember the friends I made and all the fun I had along the way!

    1. Jenny: thank you for your perspective and great story. My memories, like your’s, of swim meets are of friends and eating M’n’M’s and just the vibe of being on a team and spending the day at the pool. I love that she’s made friends through swimming and hangs out with them, instead of resting, as I’d rather she do, between her races. Congrats to you and your sisters and your swimming accomplishments…growing up as a female athlete is definitely not to be underrated.

  31. It’s so hard, you want to encourage your kids but not push them…you want to give them every oppurtunity to achieve everything they are capable of…without over doing it…so hard. I try to encourage my kids to experience everything (I can afford) hoping that they will find that one true thing that they love and excel at…without “making” them try it. I also worry about the “am I doing enough”! You’re right though, kids who are going on to play sports in high school and college start when they are three, play on travel teams etc. If your kid doesn’t start then he will never be able to compete against those kids, make the high school much less college teams. It’s just hard figuring out what is right and good for your kid and what is pushing them! My son played soccer since he was 3, played on travel teams etc, I never made him join he always said he wanted to play. We had to make a hard decision to stop in junior high b/c his soccer was getting in the way of academics. He was at soccer two nights a week until 7:30 and then every weekend, practically year around, he was good but he was not a star athlete…but he is an academic. We had to make a choice, the entire family, about what was the best course for him, we chose academics. It’s hard being a parent these days…and it’s hard being a kid. We just have to do the best we can with what we have to work with today…and not look back!

    1. Thanks for the great perspective, April. Definitely a factor: what is best for the family. It’s easiest to think of Amelia now, but when Ben (5) get a little older, his sports and schedules (and honestly mine too: I think of Saturday mornings as MY time to run) will also have to factor in. Sounds like we’re in the same boat: trust your gut and do the best you can.

  32. Great food-for-thought. Great post. I grew up the daughter of a couple of frustrated athletes who had many issues, including the regular need to live vicariously through their children’s accomplishments, and to insist that nothing we did in any arena was ever good enough. My older sister was nationally ranked in the high jump in the mid 1970’s in her teens, and I was never going to be her, but my parents (esp. my dad) kept trying us in all different sports, trying to find our true sports calling. I remember going to play golf at a little par 3 near my house in my early 20’s with dad, and him telling me that I could hit straight and I should really try to turn golf into my sport since it looked like I had potential. Because my academic and vocational accomplishments were simply not enough. I guess.
    So, due to being a 2 working parent family and economic stress for many of the early years, we chose to focus on music (DH is a music teacher) instead of sports. We could teach them instruments for free. The competitiveness of the sports also turned us both off, though today (4 kids 16-7) I am sorry that my 13 year old, who would love to learn tumbling, can’t find a novice class to save her life. I hate that we’ve evolved into this hypercompetitive cultural phenomenon where only the early adopters have a prayer of excelling in sports/dance.
    Do I have the thoughts about “maybe this is my child’s calling”? Oh heck yes. All the time. In and out of sports. I wish my kids would run with me – so far only DS10 does, and only sometimes. Speaking of DS10, he is a born athlete, and has always been dying ot play baseball, since he was 3 years old. I feel awful that we, as parents, looked at the baseball playing landscape and said “no way.” But after watching my sister (athlete) pour tens of thousands of dollars into her son’s hockey career (which ended when he didn’t get picked up for a jr minor league team last year), I just can’t go there. So we are now, with economic stability and a reduced working schedule for me, pursuing more sports for the kids on a purely recreational level.
    I was also highly influenced in this decision by this article and the series that goes along with it:
    In short, it says that spending years pursuing a sport to get a scholarship ain’t worth it.
    I agree with other commenters who say that her desire should lead you. And I completely understand your thoughts and feelings, and questioning your decisions after you’ve made them! You will find the “right” path, and you will subsequently always question it! I know b/c I do this all the time. 🙂 Thanks again for a great post.

    1. Thank you for your thoughts, Alison…especially the ones about your parents. I don’t mean to sound unkind, but that’s the last impression I want to give my kids: that they have to win in order to be winners in my mind. Oh, it’s all so confusing, isn’t it? I also hate that it seems you have to specialize so early…but that it may not pay off. Hockey is another sport I’m steering clear of: honestly, just the investment you have to make in equipment (and the long hours in the ice arena) are enough for me to say no thanks.

      1. Oh yes, absolutely, the dysfunctional stuff about having to be winners… yikes. You? Someone? Said just have fun and do your best. I woulda killed to have had that said to me once. Just once. Wondering if I’m just subliminally avoiding all of it by saying I’m too busy or I don’t like the competitiveness… or what have you. It is SO hard. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I hope your DD8 continues to enjoy it (because we know that sports are sooo good for us in so many ways) and that you don’t spend too much time questioning your decisions! 🙂

        One other thought… the best employees I’ve ever hired in 20 years of hiring folks for analytical/marketing positions are the ones who either stuck with an instrument long enough to major in (instrument) performance during college OR who were scholarship athletes at any collegiate level. They have the best work ethic ever and are usually on the brighter side of the spectrum. So maybe that’s a good long term reason to encourage it?

        1. Allison, it’s good to hear someone else who sees all these hyper vigilant parents and questions where on earth it came from! My oldest is 14, has never been particularly athletic, but decided to go to lacrosse camp at his new high school to try something new and meet a couple guys before the year started. I was so happy about his attitude. My younger son IS athletic, but is hesitant to devote to all these travel teams & such because of the time commitment. He likes to just go out and play on the field and in the neighborhood with the other kids.! And both my husband and I feel that is a good thing. I just wish all the other folks out there felt the same way. Let’s let kids be kids.

  33. I grew up in a small town in Iowa. My only choice of a competitive sport as a child was softball. I swam like a fish but the closest swim team was 40 minutes away and not an option. Because it was a small community, I played everything in high school–the ultimate generalist. So the youth sports culture of today is very foreign to me. My oldest daughter is 9 and would be in every sport if there were enough hours in the day. But we have managed to focus her on gymnastics and soccer. We found a gym that has a team but practices about 1/2 the time that an elite gym does. It is a perfect balance–competitive but not a primary focus. She has also stayed in rec soccer but has supplemented it with indoor and 3 v 3 invite squads. It seems to work for now. I feel that we have just lucked into a lower-key environment but my advice would be to talk to parents with kids in different swim clubs to figure out how competitive/free flowing the program is.

    We have a neighbor that was a professional baseball player and his 8 y.o. plays on a team with kids whose fathers include another major league pitcher, two minor league players and 4 college ball players. And the kids missed the talent wagon. Or did they? Michael Jordan did not make his varsity basketball team the first time that he tried out. Kids mature at a different rate and the average kid at 12 might be the superstar at 16.

    1. Oh, good factoid about MJ. Did not know that. I love the term generalist…good thing to keep in mind for sure.

  34. I struggle with it every day with my middle child. He is 14 and was blessed with the PERFECT running body. He is tall and slim (5’9″, 120 pounds). with long legs and abs of steel. Watching him run is a thing of beauty. Seriously. He is grace in motion. But he has no competitive drive and no motivation to train. It makes me crazy. All I want is a Freaky Friday moment…if I had his ability, I could win races with my compeitive drive! So it is tough not to live vicariously and force him. I am trying soooooo hard to just be supportive and proud and NOT think “running scholarships”. This parenting stuff can be no fun!

  35. We gently nudge by practicing w/ them, making them attend every lesson/practice, and get excited for them. I also ask them what is the most important… to have fun. My 6 time Ironman brother wrestled in HS. He hardly ever won matches but I remember my parents encouraging him to do his best & have fun. The determination & self discipline he learned during those wrestling yrs led him to triathlons and I know my parents’ support built a strong foundation for his self esteem. Hopefully, my 5 yr old twinnies will enjoy sports as much as us 5 kids did.

    1. Sports are all about learning how to set a goal, then work towards it incrementally. to win and lose and do your best no matter what. Doesn’t matter if you’re an Olympian or JV QB. Your parents got that, Danielle–and you clearly do too. 🙂

  36. My two oldest girls are on the local YMCA swim team. They are both pretty good and I do admit to pushing my oldest just a bit more because I know she has untapped potential. She is like your daughter, very laid back and doesn’t have a competitive bone in her body. She truly doesn’t care if she comes in first or dead last. What I try to do is follow their lead. They swim year round with just a few weeks break between seasons. But it’s because THEY want to. If I mention taking a break from summer team they cry and say no. (this makes me happy,lol) But I like to think if the time comes they no longer want to swim, or want to only swim on the winter team, that I’ll be okay with that. I think pushing too much will lead them to hate the sport. Sometimes we all need a break, even from something that we love.

    1. Sometimes we all need a break, even from something that we love.

      So true, Reagan, so true. Thanks for the helpful comment.

  37. What a great post and something all mothers worry about. My oldest is only 3 and I already worry about this. We signed her up for gymnastics this summer because I thought she would enjoy it and be good at it. She really did enjoy it and she has the perfect amount of energy and this great little limber body for gymnastics. After her first class, even though I knew it was ridiculous, I found myself wondering if this would be her calling, if someday she would be a great gymnast. But mentally and emotionally she wasn’t ready for the class, so we are pulling her out early. I think (hope) that I will gently nudge my children to pursue the things they are good at, but I think it’s more important that they pursue the things they are passionate about. So I want to give them plenty of experiences and let them try all kinds of different things, instead of put them in dance class or baseball or whatever is the norm at age 3 and make them perfect that one sport.

    Growing up, my parents didn’t push me at all, gently or otherwise. I never played recreational sports, so by the time I got to high school, I didn’t have a sport to try out for and I never got up the courage to try out for one anyway, since I had never played any of them. Now that I run, I wish that somebody had gotten me into running when I was younger. But even the coaches didn’t “coach” me. No one ever said I could run/walk until I built up the stamina and strength to just run. I thought you were just supposed to be able to run a mile or three and too bad if you couldn’t.

    Sports aren’t for everybody and maybe they won’t be for my kids, but I do want them to be active. So I will try to be a good example and I will gently nudge them to try out different activities available to them.

    1. Sarah: sounds like you’ve got a good grasp by skipping the class right now. Yes, being active is what it’s all about. Easy to type, harder to grasp and believe. Glad you’ve found running, and I am certain your daughter will follow in your active wake, no matter how that will look.

  38. My oldest son is now 19, entering his sophmore year of college. My other two children are 15 and 13, boy-girl respectively. My two boys decided that they wanted to play baseball on competitive teams. My older son lasted until he outgrew the league and went into high school. He played baseball on the freshman team and by his sophomore year found that he wasn’t playing very much and that wasn’t very fun. He dumped baseball and went back to soccer. He played on the JV soccer team as the starting goalie his junior and senior year. He didn’t care that he didn’t play on the Varsity, he just wanted to play and to really contribute to a team (benchwarming didn’t count to him). I’m proud of him for letting it go, and doing what was important to him instead of what ‘looked good’. Yes, many parents commented that they were surprised that TJ was playing on the JV team, fortunately I was able to take the lead from son and not worry about what other people thought. This summer while he’s home from college he is playing on an adult soccer league and an adult volleyball league, he loves it because he gets to play and he gets to chose a team that has a similar mindset. He definitely plays to ‘leave it all on the field’ , I have the medical records to prove it, but at the same time doesn’t take it too seriously. I think if I had pushed TJ a little harder he would have stayed with the baseball team, but that’s not who I am. As a result he found his own inner compass, which helps in more ways than just sports. Good luck moms I know it’s not easy, small decisions we make can have a big impact, trust yourself.

    1. He definitely plays to ‘leave it all on the field’ , I have the medical records to prove it. LOL. 🙂

      Your son sounds mature and wise beyond his years. Very cool. Glad he’s found his place in sports.

  39. As a parent and teacher, I see a lot of kids that are pushed…..too hard too fast. It is a delicate balance between allowing for growth/development and being demanding of perfection/excellence. If a child loves it…by all means, go for it but sometimes even kids need to be reminded that they are only human. I see many parents who were not good at a sport as young people begin to live vicariously through their children. This is so sad as the kids feel the need to be great in order to earn a parents’ affection.

    I was never an athlete. I swam because my parents said I had to. I rode horses because I loved it. I got away from anything to do with physical activity in my 20’s and now in my 40’s have become a runner. My kids are all different. My husband and I encourage any interest to develop diversity and set a good example of being active. Children should be allowed to explore as many options as possibe as youngsters in order to find what they are really passionate about….not what mom and dad are passionate about.

    1. Thank you for your valuable teacher perspective. An objective look is always a good thing. Being active is the goal…not fulfilling my unfulfilled dreams.

  40. I’m a newbie runner and often feel an outsider when reading posts about high mileage and PRs, but this? But this I know about!!! I’m a swimmer who had that intensity when I was a kid, but honestly it didn’t develop until after a few summers as an 8 and under and 9-10er. And while I did well, I didn’t swim in college while others who picked up the sport in junior high/beginning of high school went on to do really well. She’ll be fine if she sticks with summer team for a few years and then starts in the winter when she is 10-12. Seriously. The sport requires a lot of time and I saw several friends burn out by the end of high school, and that was in the 90s. Think 4-5 practices/week. Plus, running and other conditioning in other activities helps swimming, so time out of the water is not always a bad thing.

    To compete in USA swimming age groups and eventually college, it really is a year-round sport with two months off- one between summer and winter, and another between winter and summer. That can be really hard and unsustainable if you start too early. Some of my teammates did another high school sport to mix it up and then concentrated only on the summer or winter season, not both, and they seemed happier and just as fast. Or they just swam for their high school team in fall/winter, swam in an age group summer team, and signed up sporadically in the winter for age group meets- also a good option for better mental health.

    …and butterfly and IM are the best events!

    1. Tina: that helps me a lot. Seriously. She just turned 8, so she’ll be in 8 and unders next year too. She’s got plenty of time. Remember, Dimity, she has plenty of time…:)

  41. I think you follow your child’s lead. Suggest swimming in the winter; if she wants to, sign her up WITH her understanding that she can’t quit in the middle of the season. You sign up for a season, you finish a season. It’s also good for them to try different sports. I sort of had that opportunity: soccer & softball as a youngster, then basketball, track & field, & volleyball as a junior higher. I played volleyball for 4 years and softball for 14 years (including one year in college) before I burnt out. I (like you) wish I’d tried out for volleyball in college but what if I was a joke?

    I wish I’d had more opportunity for swimming, dancing, gymnastics…but I did have some good opportunities to find my niche.

    1. I agree : if she wants to do it, no quitting until end of season. Sounds like you definitely found your niche…and your new one (running) as well.: 🙂

  42. My oldest son (6) is a soccer natural. After his first season, I saw how competitive and out of control parents tend to get. We have been encouraged to sign him up for another soccer club, one that will hone his skills and is MORE competitive. Well, I am sorry, at age 6, I want him to learn the rules, have fun and be a KID. Will that keep him from a full ride soccer scholarship someday? Well, I’ll just have to wait and see… 🙂

    I think your questions are those of all parents at one time or another. We all need to buckle up and enjoy the ride, so to speak. You are a great mom which shows because you are asking yourself all of these questions. Keep us posted on your daughter’s swimming progress!

    1. Nice decision, Beth…a big reality check is that your son is 6, Amelia is 8. There’s ALOT of time between now and high school/college. I have to remind myself of that…time goes quickly even though the days can dragggg…

  43. Awesome post, thanks so much! I am the child of a helicopter dad. He says now he didn’t really push me (I beg to differ) but the end result is I absolutely adore the sport he pushed me in and made it my profession. Already, I find it one of the hardest parts of parenting to let your child grow and learn at their own pace and not compare and not push! In my mind, sports should be fun, played by choice and not taken too seriously too early in life. Love the previous post about the son who found his own dream in ballet. That’s what it’s all about.

  44. I think you do what every other (good) mom does: Make a decision and then question it a thousand times! My Oldest Boy (8) is going to run cross country this fall – his idea. I am super-duper excited because I would love to have a running buddy who I actually love and adore (right now I run alone). At the same time, I have no idea if he’ll be any good and he’s nervous about that, too. It’s important to be flexible but not a push-over (everyone has days where they just.don’t.wanna). Good luck! And great post!

  45. I have a hard time with this myself, daughter is NOT athletic at all, and could care less. We’ve tried every sport under the sun, she’s artistic and creative, which is completely foreign to me.
    She tends to not hate running, which makes me want to push, but then she will hate it…

    1. Hey Lisa–I don’t have that situation (yet…but I may), but I can imagine how it might feel. For what it’s worth, I think the most important thing is for a kid (and adult) to have a passion: something they’re good at and genuinely like to do. It can be sports or drama or music or whatever…it’s just that thing that gives them the confidence and strength and drive to move through the world in a powerful way. Sports are the only way I know how to do it, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a gazillion other ways too…

  46. Oh Dim – I LOVE this post! Our son started swimming in 1st grade – next month will start his 8th year of swimming & High School.
    Because I know nothing about swimming I have had to rely solely on coaches to coach him. Looking back, I think that would be the advice I offer any swim-parent regardless of their background.
    All sports seem to be much more competitive at earlier ages, but swimming is about the individual child – therefore a ‘stand-out’ is only as good as his/her passion is for the sport. We have just noticed a little bit of passion in our son, for the first time, in the last few months. Basically stating, his passion in the past have been friends, Wii, biking around the block, friends, guitar, food, and friends.
    But, MAN, is it hard to bite your tongue when you see a possible Dara (or Michael in our case) right before your eyes!
    Have fun Swim Mom!

    1. Thanks, Shana…I don’t know if Amelia has passion or not, but I do like the idea of letting the coaches take the lead.

  47. Amelia’s looking good. I don’t think it’s too bad to push her. Push her enough to get her to the pool and back off when she’s in the water. She can swing that with soccer, skiing, homework, and violin. It all seems fun.

    Sports in Colorado are serious, right? My 5 yo was the only beginner on the soccer team this year. I’m stressed about what we will do during ski season and how do we keep the kids off a ski team. And, how do you feed a kid that’s in two sports? The impending grocery bill concerns me.

    1. Amanda: too true. I actually worry more about Ben’s grocery bill than Amelia’s. That boy can EAT. Ski season: go for Eldora, instead of heading out on 70. But I will NOT let them be on a ski team…way too much driving, too much $$ equipment, too much potential for accidents. Just my $.02.

  48. Someone once told me that she believed every kid should be on a swim team for at least two years. It develops their strength and confidence in the water (something that is important if you live or vacation around oceans, rivers, lakes, or pools). My oldest was sick of it after two years. My daughter swims on a competitive year-round team (her choice) and has been a swimmer for almost five years. My youngest, who is nine, has yet to learn proper strokes, but he loves the water and I’ll eventually force him to learn to swim properly and possibly join a team for a while. But unlike Andre Agassi’s parents (read “Open”), I don’t think I’d ever force my kids to participate in a sport they didn’t enjoy.

    But then again, the girl’s got talent…

    Go, Amelia!

    1. Loved Open, Katie! What a great book. And agree that swimming is a skill all kids should have. (And go Abby!)

  49. My son was interested in playing a string instrument at age 3. By age 6, he was in a training program with the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra, and then successfully auditioned a few years later. He showed tremendous talent at first, and now he’s content with being a small fish in a big pond (at BYSO) and a big fish in a small pond (at school). We’re not the practice police, he’s passed every evaluation, he’s never been on probation, and he’s medaled in the recitals. Who am I to say that it’s not good enough? He doesn’t want to be a professional musician (now, at age 12) so I don’t push. I haven’t let him quit, as he has exercised his budding adolescent right to be independent. I do make sure he practices every night but I try not to judge the quality as long as he continues to perform well enough to stay in the program. Admittedly, it helps that I’m not a musician. So for what it’s worth, that’s my lesson. I took his lead when he was young, and have not let him quit as he’s gotten older.

    1. Rhonda: another good tale about balance. Making him stay in it, but not being overly pushy. Thanks for sharing that…and so cool your son is such a talented musician!

  50. This is a stage I haven’t hit yet. I can’t wait to see all of the answers.

    However, my dad was a little pushy with me during my high school softball years. I started pitching lessons in the 7th grade, we practiced together every day (that’s no exaggeration, every day) and at my games he was behind the back stop with a video camera. He was intense, maybe a little too intense, but we did spend a lot of time together back then which is something I miss. I was also damn good. I could come back from an 0-3 count to strike a girl out, and she never saw it coming.

    1. That’s a great point, Alecia: the parent time that comes with sport development. Especially when it comes to dads, who often relate to their kids through sports. (And some, ahem, moms too, of course.) I love that you say, “I was also damn good.” THAT is the reason why I think kids should play sports…a self-confidence that you can’t get any other way.

  51. At the young age of 10 my son showed a real talent for ballet. By the time he was 12 we had a lot of people approaching pushing us to allow them to coach him/ train him/ put him into competitions. It was really hard not to get overly excited by all of the praise, enthusiasm and vision other well trained professionals had about his potential.

    I found the book “Keeping Your Kids Out Front Without Kicking Them From Behind: How to Nurture High-Achieving Athletes, Scholars, and Performing Artists” by Ian Tofler M.D. to be just what I needed.

    The best part is that he is now realizing HIS OWN dream. My son became a high achieving athlete/ballet dancer and moved to NYC when he was 15. Eleven years later, he is still there dancing his the very company he admired when he was but a kid. We couldn’t be more proud.

    1. Wow, Terri: that is a really cool, helpful tale. Congrats to your son! I may check out that book…premature for sure, but might help me get things in check.

  52. My husband’s and my requirements for Spud (who just turned 4) are that he learn to swim (life skill) and skate because those are the things you do in school and it wouldn’t be fair to have him be the kid who didn’t know how. Other than that we’re good with whatever he wants to do so long as the costs are reasonable – a huge factor for us right now.

    When I was growing up I did sports at school. No clubs, very few actual lessons. I was in ballet when I was 5, but it didn’t take. My parents put both my brother and I in gymnastics to blow off steam. Swimming I got to where I wouldn’t drown, but had no ambitions to be a junior lifeguard. I’m pretty sure we’ll take the same stance. If anything had ever piqued my interest more than a couple of months I’m sure my parents would have found a way to do it. But as it was I played most sports in elementary school and threw javelin in high school.

    Spud sees us run and wants to run too, so there’s hope there. I’m sure when my husband starts doing triathlons he’ll want to train too. Can’t complain there. Affordable and a family activity. 🙂

    1. Go Spud! Cost is another huge issue…I add up soccer and violin and swimming–and that’s just for one kid. What happens when Ben wants to get all sporty (or I discover his hidden talent? :)) I agree that swimming is a life skill, and skating–or balancing on each foot at one time–is another one, because there are so many cross applications: skiing (downhill and Nordic), roller skating, shuffling in tennis, etc.

  53. My little girly is only 1.5 yrs old right now. All I have decided on is that I don’t want to be like my mom was. She was encouraging – don’t get me wrong – but she wasn’t active at all. So she never SHOWED me how to play a sport or be a good team player. She never SHOWED me what being active was really all about. She would never let me quit something once I started and she always, always came to every single game I ever played but I still struggle with how to be a good team player. I just want to be able to set a good example for my child and I hope with doing that she will want to be active in sports and then I guess I’ll just have to learn as I go from there!

    1. Hey Sarah: I think the most important thing is to just be on a team. So many life lessons—losing, winning, friendships, goal setting, etc.–come from being on a team. Congrats to you for leading by example. Like your mom, I also think not letting a kid quit once they’ve started is important. Obviously, there are times to quit things, but not until you’ve given it the good college try, in my book.

  54. Wow, this is some great food for though Dimity and something I’ve already thought a lot about even though my kids are only 6, 4, and 2. My oldest daughter already seems to be a talented runner and gymnast but I’m hesitant to encourage her too much in the running department because I’m a runner and I don’t want her to decide NOT to do something just because she knows how much I WANT her to do it. I try to hide the part of me that really hopes and wants her to be a runner. Instead I find myself dropping hints here and there about what a great runner she is but she’s only 6 and I know I have time to do the gentle nudge or passive thing with running. But gymnastics or soccer…if I want her to be competitive then I need to let her know that she HAS to decide to take is seriously…I’ll probably push a lot more…with Gymnastics now I just tell her that it costs a ton of money and if she isn’t going to take it seriously then I’ll take her out….I somehow have said this in a way that shows that I don’t care either way (even though I do want her to want it)…this makes her want it for herself more than if she caught on to the fact that I Wanted it more than she did. Okay, enough ramble here…good grief…I don’t even think I answered your question. But I agree that sports are complicated…they start so YOUNG…such a fine line between pushing them early and letting them discover that they want it bad enough to push themselves (kids don’t always figure this one out until it is too late).

    1. Amanda: Thanks for the great comment. I often pull out the money thing–you asked to do it, I paid for it, you need to do it–when my kids are being wishy-washy.

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