A Q/A With A Mom Who Wants Coaching on How She Should Motivate Her Twin Son & Daughter:
Dear Dr. Walker,
I have six year old twins, a boy and a girl. They are both extraordinarily athletic. My son, especially, seems to excel at every sport he tries, and already has a physique that resembles a professional athlete, as does my daughter. They are both just solid muscle. I’m not sure exactly how that happened, but it’s quite amazing. People regularly comment on it. Here is the question: My son has wanted to play hockey for two years.
I finally let him try. He did two weeks of an intensive summer hockey camp and made a local in-house team. I paid for the season. He is very motivated and a great skater and the coaches love him. But sometimes he waivers, saying he doesn’t want to do it since none of his school friends play. As you are well aware, hockey is unlike most other sports in that it is SO expensive, and requires a big commitment. Do you have a suggestion as to how I handle this? What is the best approach? I think once he starts the season he’ll make friends on the team and love it, but it is very difficult to gauge what his motivation is at this point. I could probably get a refund now, but not after the season is in full swing. And I don’t think it would set a good precedent to let him quit in the middle.
Thanks so much for this question. It is one I have fielded before, so I will share with you how I’ve responded – and – I’m going to plug some other websites and blogs at the end of this posting that do a great job in addressing parents’ concerns.
First off, the “fun factor” is king. I believe that kids at this age will do well to learn every sport they can, and as Dr. Dan Gould says, “running, jumping, throwing, catching, agility drills, seeing ‘how many you can do?’ games, and those things that enable kids to acquire and practice skills” are “golden.” Yet it is the fun factor of testing our limits, seeing what we can do, and bettering ourselves over and over again that not only makes it interesting – but fun. It is clear to me, that it is the social ‘uncertainty’ that has your son hesitating. In short it sounds as if he’s concerned about “fitting in.” Those familiar with youth sports will tell you that it is the opportunity to play with one’s friends that gets kids into sports in the first place – and playing with your friends is a key component to the “fun factor.” That being said, now we enter into the ‘chicken or the egg’ part of the question.
You can do a lot to help your son and daughter with the social side. Watch practice and see how and who your son gravitates toward. Endeavor to know some of the other parents and arrange a play date outside of hockey that will help the kids grow their friendship. Even a trip to the ice cream parlor after practice can do the trick…so keep your eyes and ears open. Also, if the coach hasn’t already done this MAKE SURE the coach “requires” each child to know the names of all of their teammates. I have been amazed at teams several weeks into a season and the only person who knows every player is the coach or parent manager. If this simple detail is not taken care of the social structure and team cohesion does not develop as it should. Just a simple go-round before the first practice identifying ‘who is who’ and whats the most fun part of hockey for “you” can make a big difference.
Now to the core of your question – should you allow him to bail mid-season. Unless there is something going on around the team that is damaging or hurtful to your child – I say no. The team will get to know him, learn how to team up with him, and his coach and teammates will end up relying on his contribution. By setting a precedent that he can bail early into a new experience, he will never learn to buck up and hang in there – and there are dozens of reasons why this is important to him developmentally. He should be having fun – there is no doubt about that…but…he also needs to learn how to be responsible for ‘making it fun’ both for he and his teammates.
Here is my second question: my daughter is also really quite good at sports — she is faster than any boy her age — but says she doesn’t want to play ANYTHING. She excels at everything she tries (ice skating, baseball, swimming, gymnastics). I am a big fan of team sports for all of the reasons you list on your website. Should I just let her off the hook, or encourage her (as I have been doing) without forcing her to play?? She is so good, I just can’t quite understand why she doesn’t seem to have any interest.
I guess the real gist of my question is how to assess a child’s motivation at such an early age, and how hard to “encourage” them if they seem to demonstrate some real skill. Perhaps you could simply recommend some articles for me to read as well. I do not force my kids to play sports, although we do have a rule of thumb that if they start something, they finish it.
This is a little different situation and yet it does have a tie in to your son’s circumstances. My sense is that your daughter is not connecting socially as well as she could. The number one reason most kids love sports is that they get to be with their friends and play together. Your daughter may be very talented but not connecting socially and if she feels out-of-place – then she will lose the “fun factor.”
I would address her situation a little bit differently. If she is in school, I’d talk to her teacher – find out who she likes to do things with and what she chooses to do at recess. She may be more talented that the boys her age, but that doesn’t mean she enjoys competing…with them or anyone. Sometimes the sports are framed in too competitive a manner. My friend Dr. Jerry Lynch recorded a Podcast for Podium (Podcast-Dr. Jerry Lynch) that makes a great point…. that is to really appreciate and thank your opponent – for he/she provides you with the opportunity to bring out the best in both of you. In his book, The Way of the Champion – this concept is beautifully illustrated. It may be your daughter would do well to pursue collaborative games without competition – building things, campfires – cookouts, projects where everyone comes together for a solution.
Thanks for asking these questions and I hope my answers have been helpful. There are some fabulous resources for parents in the youth sporting world. Here are just a few: