I forced my son to play soccer. By Keri Fisher for's "Bad Parent" column.


I forced my kid to play soccer. by Keri Fisher

March 26, 2009

“It’s too hot,” Declan whined at the first practice.

“It’s too cold,” he whined at the last.

In between, my four-year-old son proffered every excuse in the book for why he couldn’t play soccer that day, despite having begged me to sign him up for it. His socks were falling down. His jersey was too big. He didn’t want to play.

But I wouldn’t let him quit.

“You have to finish the season,” I told him. “You don’t have to play ever again, but you have to honor your commitment.”

We suffered through that season, me getting angry, him getting upset, and for about twenty minutes each week he’d actually get out there and play, running after the ball with a huge grin on his face.

I have no illusions about Declan’s athletic ability, or lack thereof. He’s small and skinny, prefers tuxedos to track suits, and would sooner run a puppet show than run a mile. But I still want him to be active and learn to play team sports. I want him to have fun. And I think he will have fun, if he just gives the sport a chance. How can he possibly know he doesn’t like the game if he doesn’t give it a chance?

Jodi Slepian’s seven-year-old son, Max, begged her to play basketball last year, but after the second class wanted to quit. “I told him up front he had to at least do his best and try,” she says. “I had to hire a babysitter to go in with him and keep him motivated, while I watched with his sisters.” To encourage him to finish the season, Jodi promised Max a trophy. That, coupled with a lot of motivational talks, got him through. “He is not too into basketball now,” she concedes, “but is SO proud of that trophy!”

Most of the parents I spoke to agree that teaching our kids to finish what they start is paramount. “I definitely believe that if we commit ourselves to soccer, or baseball, or whatever, we will continue until the session is over, even if the kid doesn’t like it,” says Dana Kapustin, mother of three, “We just won’t sign up for it again.”

Biff Sturla, the president of Lower Merion Soccer Club in suburban Philadelphia, where my son (reluctantly) played last fall, disagrees. “Why would you want your child to participate in an activity that they don’t enjoy?” he asked me when I told him about Declan’s soccer experience. “It’s great you signed him up and gave him the opportunity to participate and play,” he said. “He let it be known that this was not fun for him. You should hear his message.”

Stacey Levitan took those cues from her six-year-old son, Jacob, who hated soccer after going to just three games. “[We] decided not to make him keep playing, but we were nervous about the message of quitting mid-season,” she says. “In the end, the message was that we respected his right to decide that he really didn’t like something. Soccer was just clearly not his thing, and he hasn’t become a quitter because he stopped doing soccer.”

But how old does a child have to be to know what he wants? How can Declan know that he doesn’t like soccer if he hasn’t fully committed himself to playing?