“Saturday Morning Lights” – The seduction of pre-school athletics October 10 2013, 0 Comments

organized soccerAdmittedly, I have fantasized about my 3 year old becoming a world class athlete (preferably baseball) so he can make millions and, subsequently, support his aging and retired parents.  

I attend Sunday Twins games at Target Field, not to watch our team in action, but to be with thousands of other parents who share this same fantasy of world-class athletic prowess for their kids.  The moments after the final out are pure joy – watching my toddler running the big league bases with thousands of other eager children.  My son’s first word was “baseball” – true fact. I enrolled my toddler in baseball at age 2 and soccer at age 3.

My motivation to start competitive sports before my son was even potty-trained?
  1. Everyone else was doing it – it’s the seduction of our getting ahead culture.
  2. No better way to keep “busy” and burn-off that non-stop wild energy, as naps are wonderfully long post “sports days.”
  3. I love being that humbly proud mama cheering from the sidelines saying “that’s my kid” when my son successfully makes contact with the ball off the tee.
  4. I thought it would be a great way to socialize with other parents… in the 30 seconds of calm that shows itself during the hour of chaos.
There’s been a lot of discussion in the New York Times recently about the two sides of the organized-sports debate for school-aged children (http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/10/07/the-crazy-intense-schedule-of-competitive-youth-soccer-bring-it-on/), however, how this applies to preschoolers is rarely broached.

I became a believer that organized and competitive sports may actually be detrimental for toddlers.  That moment came as I observed my own son’s meltdown during a session of organized soccer, when a well-intentioned after-school practice morphed quickly into a sit-down protest of digging in the mud vs. practicing kicks and stopping techniques.  Scrimmages were the worst as the kids no longer got their own ball – it was a mob brawl to get to the only remaining ball on the field. My son left the field complaining that his friends “weren’t sharing.”

Why this behavior?  

Children need to feel successful when they are playing – it’s how they build self-confidence.  When the “rules” don’t allow kids to feel positive feelings while engaging in play – they shut down.  At the pre-school age, it’s critical for kids to feel supported and encouraged while playing vs. being “trained” to be athletic.  After all, kids' bodies are vastly different than a full grown adult's (they have massive heads compared to their little frames), and the skills they develop at this age may not necessarily grow with the child. (For more information, The American Academy of Pediatrics offers some helpful suggestions on organized sports readiness:  http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/107/6/1459.full.pdf).

So, how does this new learning impact my commitment to organized sports?

**I try not to over-schedule, and spend more time engaging in sports as a family (e.g. kicking around the soccer ball in the basement) vs. “coach” directed activities.

**I wouldn’t call what we play in the yard ‘baseball’ – it usually devolves into a 3-year old version – e.g. showing mom & dad strange places in the yard to play “catcher” while he hits the ball in wildly different directions.   Kids feel more successful when they dictate their own rules vs. being told what to do.

**I’m not against all organized sports – after-all, it is nice to sit on the sidelines to watch and cheer.  I needed to re-frame how I approach the activity.  I try to keep myself from obnoxiously rooting for a desired outcome (e.g. successful contact with the ball). Instead – I attempt to be encouraging, and hope my son feels successful throughout practice and not just because he scored.

**Finally, if my son doesn’t take to an activity and protests wildly – I don’t force it, so bye bye soccer (at least for now)…
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