By Guest Blogger Allison Chapple, MS/EdS, LPC, NCC
Recently at my neighborhood pool, some moms and I were talking about the upcoming school year and the inevitable question was raised: “What sports are your kids playing this season?” Everyone chimed in about soccer, lacrosse and flag football except for one mom who replied, “My son just isn’t interested in anything. I give up.” She half-smiled and shrugged her shoulders. She went on to say that they had exhausted every option and she and her husband have just accepted their son is just not an athlete. Do you relate to this mom?
In a community which offers an amazing variety of athletic activities for kids (which seems to include every child in town!), it can be discouraging to feel like your child is the only one not interested in being involved in an organized sport. The reality is that nationally, by the age of six, 60% of boys and 47% of girls have already been on an organized team. The flip side of that statistic is that by age nine, 43% of kids have already quit organized sports and the number increases to 75% by age 12. There are many reasons kids quit teams: they might feel bored or intimidated, they might get injured or burn out, it might feel too competitive, they might feel self-conscious or have performance anxiety or feel too shy to talk to the other players. The fact is, some kids just don’t have an interest in sports of any kind AND THAT’S OKAY!
We all have read the benefits of being on a sports team: learning how to work with other people, building confidence and discipline, teaching respect and social skills, developing positive body image and self-esteem and, the obvious, regular physical activity. It is a great idea to have a child who is not interested in an organized sports program try other activities that build some of those skills such as scouts, art, acting, music, or robotics, just to name a few ideas. The sky’s the limit! Self-confidence comes from feeling good about who we are, and there are many other ways to tap into confidence that have nothing to do with sports.
However, movement is an important piece of the puzzle in being a fully “well” person. When identifying why your child has been resistant to being part of a sports team, it might be helpful to go through some of the reasons why kids drop out of sports listed above. It might be that while your child has tried soccer and lacrosse teams, he might enjoy tennis or running which are more individualized and could help him develop his own personal athletic skills. There are also various sports leagues in our area that are less competitive and focus more on the fun of being out there versus scoring and winning.
If you’ve figured out that your child just doesn’t enjoy anything about sports, she might be more likely to have fun doing active things with the family such as hiking, going to a rock wall climbing center, going for a bike ride on the greenway, hitting tennis balls at the park, or simply playing family tag in the yard. Maybe your child would love skateboarding or martial arts or training for a fun run with mom or dad. Or, invite a friend for your child to take to the trampoline park or to have a Nerf gun war in the back yard. Come up with a plan for your child each week to include movement and put it on the calendar. Perhaps Tuesdays and Saturdays are the days that work best to do something active together. Mix it up each day!
The key as a parent is to have patience with your child. Not every kid is going to be the next Lebron James or Serena Williams. As much as it pained my athletic and competitive heart, my own child refused to join our swim team even though his younger brother competes. I had to remind myself that there were plenty of other ways for him to stay active this summer. He has had a great time playing basketball on the adjoining court during swim team practices and meets or just leisurely swimming around in the pool. He just wasn’t into the intensity of swimming laps and long meets and it was important for me to take a step back and think about his personality and interests which are very different than his brother’s (and mine!).
The last point to remember is to help disconnect exercise and body size and weight for kids. Kids are growing and shifting in their bodies constantly! Exercise should never be a punishment or a chore for kids or simply about burning calories. The goal is to help kids find activities that make them feel good in and about their bodies for the long haul.