Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Son's development is one thing, pure misery quite another
Va.: We signed up our 10-year-old son for rec league basketball last year because we thought it would help him shed some baby fat, gain confidence and make friends. It achieved none of those goals. Instead, he was miserable, often crying in the car to and from practice.
I feel strongly that we should take the hint and refrain from signing him up this year, but my husband (a one-time school athlete) repeatedly says failure is part of development. We are worried about our son's body image, and I can't imagine he'll like the sport any better this year. Should I go with my gut and pull him from the roster, or do you think my husband has a point?
Carolyn: Failure is part of development, sure, and kids often resist going to practice even when they love a sport. But crying both to and from is a big deal, as is his crying at age 10, not 5. Pressuring a child into a sport he hates is not going to foster a love of self or sport.
I find it disturbing, actually, that a father would force his post-crying-age kid into a sport that makes him cry. It sounds like torture, not to mention a recipe for weight gain, low self-confidence and social withdrawal. The fitness, confidence and camaraderie you seek come from a rewarding connection to a sport. That internalized reward is what motivates newcomers to persevere through the failure-heavy stages of learning a new skill.
Your son may need activity for his health and challenges for his confidence, but he has told you very clearly that this sport is not the right vehicle. There are so many choices available that I think it would be unconscionable not to explore alternatives, openly following your son's lead.
Specifically, consider individual sports he can learn independently until he feels ready to play with peers. Martial arts, tennis and swimming are three of many that come to mind. Tell him your only requirement is that he choose one athletic outlet that's within your family's ability to provide — even if it's noncompetitive, like hiking.
If he chooses a team sport, then pick a program that has a supportive entry level — and look into private instruction on the side. It doesn't have to be forever; just ease him through the steepest part of the learning curve without the Lord of the Flies contingent looking on.
Anonymous: I was a kid who was not good at sports. Like, worst-in-the-class, worst-on-the-team bad. I tried, but it was never going to happen. When I was young it was okay, but by age 10 or 11, the other kids became less tolerant of it. Eventually it became torture for me, and thank goodness, my parents were fine with my stopping. I think sometimes natural athletes have NO idea how shameful/embarrassing/awful not being good at sports can feel, especially team sports where others can get angry at you.
Carolyn: Maybe, but I don't think there's any excuse for a parent with natural skill (at anything, really) to have that kind of a blind spot. The inability to see others suffer at something just because you love it stems from a lack of empathy, not a surfeit of skill.