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With Kids “Specializing” in Sports So Early, My Late Bloomers Don’t Stand a Chance

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Does your baby like soccer? Or is dance your baby’s passion? Better decide soon!

When it comes to extracurriculars, kids are “specializing” younger and younger these days. There are so many activities for parents to choose from when it comes to enriching their kids’ lives. I’ve got four kids myself and over the course of my parenting lifetime, we’ve tried: soccer, swimming, art, kindermusik, guitar, piano, gymnastics, ballet, and basketball. Want to know the truth? Nothing stuck. They’ve half-heartedly enjoyed classes at best and literally kicked and screamed about going at worst.

My daughter started ballet when she was 3. She quit when she started kindergarten because when she came home from school, she still needed (and took) a nap. We just couldn’t fit lessons in, and she wasn’t physically strong enough for the hour-long dance classes that met 2-3 times a week. Fast forward to around sixth grade when she decided she wanted to get into dance again. Great! I’m happy to support my kids’ interests. But when we got her into classes, we realized that she would have to be with kids a lot younger. The girls her age had been taking lessons for years and were already in “companies” that you had to try out for. My daughter was interested — but not THAT interested. She just wanted to dance for fun, and it was kind of (I hate to say it) too late.

Children specialize so soon, and while this suits some kids, it doesn’t suit all of them. What about children who just want to dabble and see what they like? What about late-bloomers?

Every season I encourage my 11-year-old son to play community sports. He’s done basketball camp and track, but it’s usually a bit of a battle to get him to practice (this is AFTER the homework battle and BEFORE the chore battle), so I decided not to force it if he didn’t want to. This year he got really excited about playing flag football because his buddy’s playing, and they’ve been practicing together. I tried to get him on his friend’s team, but it was too late — the deadline had passed. That’s fine. We missed the boat. Since he was so excited, we looked into tackle football in our area, and let me tell you, it’s hardcore. Reading about the weight requirements and cost of gear was intimidating. It sounded like the pro leagues. He just wanted to play some touch football after school with his friend, not have to deal with “weigh-ins” or being dubbed an “X man” if he exceeded a certain weight. He chickened out, and I didn’t force it because I fear concussions. Next year, when he’s in seventh grade, there’s no flag football available for his age group and tackle football is the only option. Boat missed. Again.

Maybe by now you’re thinking that my kids and I are just quitters who don’t know what we want, but that’s not true. My oldest son decided on his own to join the cross country team his freshman year of high school. Cross country is one of the few sports in my area that doesn’t require early specialization from a young age. To join, you just start running with the team. My son gets himself up and to practice every day. He’s older and he knows what he wants. He’s run varsity since he was a freshman, and his team has gone to state every year. He lettered in cross country and track, has a part-time job, takes AP classes, was junior prom king, and performs as his school mascot. In other words: He found his legs. Quitting soccer, gymnastics, and piano didn’t make him a quitter for life, which is something you worry about as a parent.

Kids get pegged at a pretty young age as athletic (or not), good at math (or not), in the highest reading group (or not). To some extent, it’s unavoidable. But if we could just stay a little open-minded and keep the opportunities coming, our kids might surprise us.

A wise man (his name was Albus Dumbledore) once remarked, “You know, sometimes I think we sort too soon.” Maybe he was onto something.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

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