Family life

Kids and failure: When size holds them back

One mom confesses her concerns about her son’s small size and how it might hold him back from activities he loves.

1 Jen works with Isaac on his swimming technique. Photo: Jennifer Pinarski

From the other side of the glass window at our local swimming pool my son’s instructor motions for me to come speak with her. I look out on the pool deck and wave at Isaac, who waves back and starts walking to the change room.

“We’re halfway through the session and I just wanted to talk to you about a few things," she says. "Isaac is making good progress, but there are a few skills he’s having troubles with."

“Oh? Which ones?” I ask. Isaac has been in the water since he was a baby and, while not quite the fish that his sister is, loves swimming.

“Well, his side glide, his arms during front crawl, his back glide and his front glide,” she responds, not making eye contact with me.

“That’s OK. I understand the requirements and if you’re not able to pass him, then you’re not able to pass him. Is it anything I can practice with him during the public swim times?”

The instructor looks relieved, because I’m sure she’s faced upset parents who insist on having their children pass their swim tests.


“The biggest problem is his endurance," she tells me. "To be honest, it’s his size holding him back. I can see he’s trying hard, but he’s just not big enough or strong enough to do a few of the skills.”

By this time her next student was on the deck, waiting. The instructor excused herself. Isaac had finished getting dressed and wondered why his swim teacher needed to talk to me.

“Well buddy, if you want to pass swimming, we’ll need to do lots of extra work. You up for that?” I didn’t have the heart to tell him that his small stature was behind the reason he’d likely fail his swim lessons. We’ve never let him use his smaller size as an excuse for anything, but it was hard to hear that this was the reason he’d be held back. Isaac, as usual, was excited about getting the opportunity to spend more time in the pool.


Don’t get me wrong, I understand the need for kids to fail and lose (in fact, my kids both failed their swim tests two years ago and I was pretty pleased), but for some reason knowing that there’s little I can do to help him succeed this time bothers me. I’m torn between pushing him hard during practice times or letting him fail—and take lessons a few months from now when he’s bigger and stronger.

Do you have a smaller child who struggles with a sport? What tips would you offer?

Follow along as Jennifer Pinarski shares her experiences about giving up her big city job and lifestyle to live in rural Ontario with her husband, while staying home to raise their two young children. Read more Run-at-home mom posts or follow her @JenPinarski.

This article was originally published on May 26, 2014

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