Where I live, sports are king. KING. Some parents hold their boys back from kindergarten so they'll be better at them. It's not unusual for an 11 year old child to be in rec soccer, travel soccer and travel baseball all at the same time. A dad I know just hired a private lacrosse coach for his 6 year old and many kids toil away at camps in the dog days of summer, running suicides to buff up their endurance.
Although I'm not a huge sports fan (I'm not sure I could name 5 active professional football players...I love throwing football parties...not watching the game) I also think sports are very important. Our generation's children's addiction to iPads and Xbox (coupled with their love for fast food and soda) seems to be creating an army of squinting, marshmallow-like children who have no idea how to sit still in a restaurant without a phone in hand, let alone carry on a conversation.
So, while I would never force my child to do a sport, I also don't feel comfortable letting him skip any and all athletic activity, allowing him to sit home and play Minecraft to the extent that his head actually turns into a square block.
Sports are awesome because they teach teamwork, they inspire friendships and more important than that they provide physical fitness and exercise. It's great for self-esteem and the pizza party at the end of the season is oodles of enjoyment. Sports create a safe haven where you can be competitive and they offer the thrill of victory while also serving up the hard-to-swallow but mandatory pill of defeat. Sometimes an amazing coach can impact a child in ways that perhaps parents and teachers cannot just by the sheer fact of being willing to volunteer their precious time and energy with a group of children who are not their own. And here's the critical advantage of doing sports -- it's fun.
Some children are born with a natural aptitude for athleticism...like my 2 year old daughter, who zoomed into the world, crawled at 6 months, walked at 10 and has been climbing everything in sight since then. She loves baseball, soccer and basketball and has been pouting for the past week because she's not allowed to partake in her brother's soccer practices.
Speaking of my son, he is not the most athletic kid I've ever seen. At this point in time, if I had to choose a team where he'd fit in the best, it would be the Bad News Bears. Big A has the desire to play but lacks both the aptitude and, as of yet, the skills. He reminds me so much of myself as a child it's sometimes creepy. But because I had the desire to play, and I had a dad that loved baseball and volunteered as a coach, I was able to learn what didn't come naturally. I played first base for a number of years and had a decent batting average. I also played field hockey, another sport that did not come naturally to me, but with hard work came an eventual hat trick. My parents and coaches marveled as the transformation I made from being truly hopeless to a contributing member of the team. That's the beauty of sports. If you practice, you can see measurable improvement.
So Big A had his first real soccer practice last night and it was as disturbingly comical as I thought it would be. At just 6 he is one of the youngest members of the team and he's had no training to prepare him. He asked his father to teach him this past summer and surfer/basketball player looked terrifyingly baffled. He eventually took him out to the backboard and began teaching him how to shoot 3 point shots with the soccer ball. Nothing but net.
Big A doesn't really know how to kick the ball. Nor does he run very fast. Nor does he know how to dribble the soccer ball in any manner that doesn't make him seem like a malfunctioning robot. At one point I swore I saw him kicking the ball towards the wrong goal. And what's more, he missed. He didn't just miss the goal, he missed the ball. Altogether. The other boys, in their high florescent socks seemed bigger, faster and a thousand times better. Before practice started I urged him to watch the older boys on his team, and learn from them. But I had no idea that the learning curve would be so steep.
When Big A ran off the field after practice, I'm not what I was expecting. But it wasn't a sweaty, exhilarated child gulping water and smiling. "That's was great!" he exclaimed. He seemed really proud of himself despite his non-prowess on the field. "I think I'm getting better," he said thoughtfully as we walked to the car. "And I might need to get some of those bright-colored socks. Why do we wear such high socks in soccer?" I had no idea.
I released the breath I was holding. Since sports are so emphasized where we live, I guess I was worried that my son's (non-existent) skills would be holding him back. I totally forgot the real reason why Big A has decided to use his free time to play soccer -- because of the fun, fitness and friendships. To learn as he goes and enjoy it. If anything about rec soccer is stressful at age 6, then something has gone terribly wrong.
As I tucked Big A in, he chatted to me about his first soccer practice.
"Coach asked what the first rule of soccer is. Guess." he said
"Don't touch the ball with your hands." I replied.
"No, that was what I guessed. But that's the second rule. Guess again," he said.
"Don't dump Gatorade on your coach's head?" I ventured.
"MOM! No that is not the first rule of soccer," he admonished me.
"Well, what was it?" I asked.
"Coach said the first rule of soccer is HAVE FUN," my exhausted child murmured as he rolled over and went to sleep,
Such an important thing to remember yet it was so easy for me to forget.