Gymnastics. Unicycling. Baseball. Dancing. Piano-playing. Magic: The Gathering. Singing. Bowling.
What do these activities have in common? I either have a passing interest, or no interest at all, in these pastimes.
What else do they have in common? My children excel at them. More on that later…
When I was a kid, I was pretty active. I thoroughly enjoyed sports and tried many of them with varying degrees of success. Football, basketball, and tennis were the first few activities that I tried. I was very good at football, pretty good at tennis, and below average at basketball. Despite the difference in talent level between the three of them, I still loved each and every sport I was a part of. As time went on, I dropped tennis to play baseball (a bad decision prompted by friends taking up the sport – I was good at tennis, but I was awful at baseball and rarely saw the field other than to pinch hit or run) and I worked hard at basketball to improve my skills. Around 7th grade I dropped baseball outright as I wasn’t having any fun. Around 10th grade I had to give up on football and basketball because I started having knee issues that got too bad to keep pushing my luck.
Along with these organized activities, I spent my spare time doing things like fishing, bike riding, sledding, and skateboarding. Some of them I did well and really enjoyed (if I had a penny for every mile I biked…); others were an abject failure (if I had a penny for every time I fell on my arse while skateboarding…). I also enjoyed sedentary activities such as reading, writing, and drawing. The point is, I tried a lot of different activities, finding ones that I couldn’t get enough of while realizing others would never be for me.
Back to my introduction, you’ll notice a diverse number of activities, none of which line up with own personal likes. When I started having children, I naturally wanted them to jump into sports and activities that I could (selfishly) derive some pleasure from. And in some cases that did happen. I had a son who played football for a few years and was excellent at it. I’ve had a couple boys play basketball for a season. But in the end, my collective children forged their own paths toward activities that both entertained them and allowed them to play to their own strengths.
What a bunch of turds, right?
I’m obviously joking. While I never envisioned watching children ride a unicycle across an obstacle course or doing contortions on a gymnasium floor, I *did* know that I wanted them all to be happy and have fun no matter what they chose to do. And so I listen to my stepdaughters as they sing concerts to me. I watch them create dance routines and pour their hearts into their motions. I watch the oldest boy in the house go from being a horseshit bowler to perhaps the best player in his age group. I sit in the stands and cheer on my stepson as he crushes a baseball into the outfield or muscles a fastball past an adversary. And while I wouldn’t have chosen any of these activities to partake in, I derive an incredible amount of pride and joy as I watch them work hard, succeed, and enjoy the moments they experience on a personal and/or team level.
Some children are not so lucky. I’ve seen it firsthand as I stand on the sidelines watching parents and coaches do everything in their power to drive every last drop of pleasure out of a given activity. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the heat of the moment or a coach trying to teach a player so he or she doesn’t make a similar mistake in the future. But I’ve literally had to walk away from baseball games because a parent or coach was berating a young child to the point the player’s head sags and tears are streaming down his cheeks. I’ve heard parents point out the single mistake a child made instead of praising the five positive things that happened during the game. I’ve seen coaches bench young players that may not be as talented as the stars, but still want an opportunity to play the game on some level. And, maybe worst of all, I’ve seen kids that look like they want to be anywhere other than the activity they’re playing…and I’m guessing the reason they’re there is because a parent has stated it’s a game they’ll play regardless of the child’s desire.
Perhaps I can sum it up best by stating what my father told me and my teammates when he coached us in basketball one season:
“Have fun. If you’re not having fun, what’s the point?”
It’s a sentiment I’ve repeated to my children numerous times over the years (although these days it’s usually when they can’t get past a hard level on Super Mario Bros XXVII and start losing their minds), and I would encourage you to not only say it to your children, but also to watch for it in their activities. As I said earlier, I joined baseball in 5th grade or thereabouts because a bunch of my friends liked it. I played for a couple years, realized I was both no good at it and didn’t enjoy it, and walked away from it (which is something I could do because my parents didn’t force me to do something that wasn’t for me, and I thank them kindly for it). I would like to think that doesn’t make me or your children quitters; rather, it means that activity was not the one to focus on, and instead, it’s time to look for another one that can fill the gap. In the case of my children, I’ve always tried to give them the opportunity to try an activity that grabs their attention. If they start it, especially a team sport, I encourage them to finish off the season. Sometimes that has happened; sometimes not. But I will never force a child to partake in something I enjoyed as a child, or an activity they wanted to try yet found it wasn’t for them. Life is too damned short for that nonsense…and really, why would you want to put your kids through hell so you can sit under the Friday Night Lights and cheer for a kid who doesn’t wasn’t to be out there?!
(Don’t be an asshole like pseudo-parent/Coach Buttermaker.)
Yup, Pops had it right: Help your kids have fun. If they’re not having fun, what’s the point?
Until we meet again…