I forced my son to play soccer. By Keri Fisher for Babble.com’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?

I forced my kid to play soccer. by Keri Fisher

March 26, 2009

“In my opinion, we should introduce kids to all activities, but let them pursue what they want to pursue,” says Sturla, who has been coaching soccer for twenty-seven years. But what constitutes an introduction? Two weeks? Two months? Two years?

Shari van Eyndhoven’s eight-year-old son, Justin, played soccer for a few years before losing interest this year. “I’d love to see him completely engaged in this (or any) activity,” she said. “But how do you instill that other than exposure?”

I agree, which is why my plan for Declan was to sign him up for everything, then let him choose which activity he most wanted to continue. We started with art, followed by drama, soccer, and gymnastics. I offered up t-ball, karate, pee-wee football. I even offered ballet. Nothing piqued his interest.

“Perhaps he is not socially or mentally ready to participate this year,” suggests Sturla. “Twelve months from now, he will be a different boy with different needs. They change fast at this age.” Kim McDonough learned the hard way to let her son, Cort (now ten) lead the way. “At a younger age, he really had no desire or interest in group activities. We did not push him; however, we did occasionally sign him up for swimming, violin, or soccer and most of the time it was a struggle . . . We learned that he needed more time to mature and feel secure about himself before we pushed him into things that we thought he might enjoy,” she explains. “Cort is much happier that we relaxed and did not continue to push him at such a young age.”

I never dreamed I’d be a pushy mom, the woman standing on the sidelines berating her child for not participating. But I couldn’t understand how my enthusiastic child became a shy, nervous kid on the soccer field. And to be perfectly honest, I was concerned about the money. I spent $100 on soccer, I thought to myself, I damn well better get my money’s worth.

I never dreamed I’d be a pushy mom. Andrea Suh had similar thoughts after her five-year-old son, Carsen, decided he didn’t like the after school art class she signed him up for. “I’m glad he’s able to tell me what he likes and doesn’t like,” she explains. “I wish I hadn’t signed him up for the art class. I could easily have spent the money elsewhere (even on myself!), [but] I don’t blame him for it or make him pay for my mistake by forcing him to go.”

The fact is, the money was already spent. Whether Declan spent each Sunday morning on the field or on my lap, the money wasn’t coming back.

And what exactly was I paying for? The soccer experience? If so, I’m afraid Declan will come to associate soccer with me urging, pleading, and arguing with him to play. I started the soccer season thinking I knew what Declan wanted better than he did. But maybe I was wrong.

“Remember, it’s what the child wants, not what the parents of the child want,” reminds Sturla. “It is his life, you need to respect him as an individual.”

An individual who won’t be playing soccer again any time soon.

Article Posted 9 years Ago

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