The Team Spirit

When your kids turn six in the Bay Area, the chances are you will put them on a team. Soccer, baseball, gymnastics, martial arts… you-name-it team.  My friend’s daughter has recently started competitive gymnastics training, which means her (and her family) committing to practice for nine hours a week for the next ten years. Another friend, declined the same opportunity.  It would be too much after-school work for one little girl.  She will continue recreational gymnastics, though.  My son started talking about winning trophies in TKD tournaments. He is really motivated so we will let him go for it. Other parents drive their children to baseball practices regardless of their kids’ drive and potential, just because it is “good for them to try it out”

The whole commotion made me think about advantages and disadvantages of being on competitive teams since the young age.  This is what I’ve come up with.

Advantages of competing:

1. Children who like sports are often of competitive nature, even if they only try to outdo themselves and break their own records. (That’s the type of competitiveness I promote.) Competing is like testing oneself. They also give young athletes a great thrill and sense of fulfillment.

2. Competing in sports is a great introduction to competing in real life. A child learns to win AND lose. For an athlete, losing is motivational.

3. Training for a competition teaches a child to work towards a goal, which in turns teaches them the true value of various life skills. You can’t win unless you develop perseverance, self-discipline, focus, humility among others.

Disadvantages of competing:

1. Competing in sports shifts the focus from sports to competitions. Children become more “medal oriented” instead of simply enjoying the sport.

2. Intensive training carries a risk of burnout, injuries and additional stress, including the overbearing parents.

3. Failure in sport can lead to child’s lower confidence in life.

To conclude, I don’t think that there is a clear-cut answer to what’s better: recreational or competitive sports. But I do think that we should look at our children’s potential and interests before we project our dreams on our kids. They need time to dream their own dreams too.

You sign them up and then what?

Children love sports. Until you enroll them in a class or put them on a team. Then, class by class, practice by practice, the excitement starts fading away. Or even worse, they never really stopped clinging to you on the bench. What’s going on? Your son loves playing catch with his dad, your daughter always grooves to the music. It was no brainer they should enjoy mastering the sports. You signed them up in good faith and  for their benefit. And now, not only do you have to drive them from one practice to another, but the whole thing drives you crazy!

It does sound familiar, doesn’t it? When our son turned three and expressed his interest in kicking the soccer ball with his dad, we signed him up for classes. A major mistake. He had fun watching other children and drinking “power water” during the water break, but that was more or less the extent of his engagement. The whole deal ended up very emotional. To my husband. He basically threw away our son’s cleats. And our son? He was happy to be left alone. Go figure!

The more I’ve been thinking about it, the more I start seeing where we, parents, tend to go wrong on the issue.

1. There is a big difference between having fun with sports and doing a sport.

Every child loves running around, but will they commit to practicing running every day with a timer? Most boys love playing catch with their dads. It’s their bonding time. But being a part of a baseball team with a strict coach is another story. Doing  a sport means commitment and structure. One has to be ready for it. The very excitement is not a sufficient motivation. Sometimes the motivation grows with age. It’s worth waiting a bit instead of discouraging our children from doing a sport too early.

2. Liking for sports is not genetic

Sometimes we think that our sport dreams are our children’s sports dreams. And then we get surprised that we love biking and our child wants to be a basketball star. It’s better for everyone if we get some reality check.

3. Interest in sports is related to one’s personality, not a trend

All of your child’s friends are on a baseball team and he or she wants to do swimming. You think team sports are good for a child, but you forget that your child is more of an individualist. Are you planning to change his or her personality? In that case, good luck!

4. Sport is not a ticket to college

Doing a sport is about loving it. It can become competitive, if your child chooses to advance in it or become a professional. However, you are not teaching your child to be a good sport if you use the sport as a tool to get your child through the college door.

 And last but not least:

5. Doing sports is a privilege not an obligation

We think that children have to do sports.  We turn into tiger moms and make sure that they don’t slack and don’t skip their practices. I don’t think it works. I believe that children have to be active. It’s being active that is good for them. However, I deem organized sports as a great perk and privilege. My son can profit from it if he truly commits. If he doesn’t, there is always a park and many ways to keep him fit and healthy.

So far so good, though. He’s just gotten his orange belt in TaeKwonDo and he is as proud and driven as he can be.

1bookperday in April

As the temperatures rise across the planet, people stop cocooning in their cosy houses and fill up the sleepy streets and parks. The winter hibernation is over. Doesn’t it feel good to finally breathe in some crisp, spring air and give our muscles something to do after a long winter lethargy? Looking at my son and his friends, as soon as the spring ushers in, children explode with a new dose of vital energy. Hence the idea to make April the month of sports on my pages. And by sports I mean not only the organized disciplines, like tennis or soccer,  but any kind of activity involving physical movement. Not driving a car, though, even if my son tried to convince me that this was going to be his favorite sport to master. And not playing video games either. Physical movement of your fingers and thumbs doesn’t count. But from walking (my personal favorite) to biking and playing tag in the park,  on a team or individually, with an instructor or without, moving about is a great way for the little people to pass their days. It helps them to stay healthy, enhances appetite, strengthens their muscles. Besides, being active improves children’s cognitive skills, which means  better learning skills and higher grades. As far as the organized sports with regular practices, they  teach children perseverance and patience, among others. Team sports show how to be a team player, individual sports boost self-confidence. To cut a long story short, the advantages of doing sports are endless.

In the following weeks I am going to recommend several book about selected sport activities and discuss their benefits for our children. In the meantime, I invite you to browse my archives for the books on sports that I had already reviewed:

1. “There are Monsters Everywhere” by Mercer Mayer on martial arts

2. “Giraffes Can’t Dance” by Giles Andreae on dancing

3. “Little Quack” by Lauren Thompson on swimming