Parenting

Why it's important to push our kids

Tracy responds to a recent blog post that bashes "sports" parents.

Anna and Avery would have both quit hockey by now — if Tracy had let them.

The rest of the world may have been reeling from the absence of hockey this fall, but not us. With two girls playing the Great Game, we’re at the arena a couple of times a week. Both the girls are in our city’s beginner program, which teaches four- to six-year-olds how to play hockey. We’re so happy to have had one year with the girls on the same team (read: one weekly schedule to follow).
 
Anna is doing so well. She won Player of the Month in January and is getting more and more enthusiastic about the game. Maybe it’s because she’s found her “thing”: defence. She’s not interested in playing forward or concerned with getting goals. “Defence is more my thing,” she explains. It’s a position she takes very seriously. So much so, that if she has the puck and is racing ahead, she’ll come to an abrupt stop at the blue line. People playing defence stay behind the blue line, you know!
 
Avery is in her first year, and while she’s improving each week, she sort of floats like a butterfly out there, as Anna did at her age, more interested in giggling with her friend than in the game. She whispered to me in October: “Mommy, I have to tell you something: I don’t really care about hitting the puck.” There will be an odd game where she does touch the puck, a move that is always followed by a big smile up at us in the stands.
 
In their first tournament last weekend, the arena was partitioned off into two mini-rinks. They had so much fun and Anna scored her first two goals of the season (because there was no blue line to trip her up!). Avery was absolutely thrilled to get a medal, which she wore all weekend long.
 
A blog post circulated the office this week, asserting that many parents push their kids into sports to fulfill their own selfish needs, instead of letting kids steer the course in terms of extracurricular activities. I’m sure there are parents out there who do push their kids to the extreme, but I don’t know any of them. Maybe I’m naïve, or not deep enough into hockey culture to see those parents, but they seem like caricatures to me, instead of real-life moms and dads. Here’s a quote from the post:
 
“Ask any dad sitting in the stands at a hockey game why he’s there. Ask any mother shouting encouragement to their daughter from the sidelines at the soccer game why she’s there… : Because they want their child to learn about teamwork, excel at an activity and perhaps have fun in the process. That’s right — they want their child to do all of these things. It’s often not the child’s choice.”
 
I take issue with this point: As parents, it’s our job to expose our children to a variety of experiences. I’m sure you’ve said, “How do you know you don’t like it if you’ve never tried it?” just like I have, with cauliflower or gardening or a new daycare. Are sports so different? If we don’t choose for them when they’re young, how will they know what they’d like to choose when they’re older?
 
There have been times we’ve pushed a little — and I don’t regret it for a minute. Sometimes, kids need a push. I don’t mean a forceful push, though that has happened with Avery. It was heartbreaking getting her comfortable with swimming lessons, and in her first session of solo skating. But we persevered with compassion and now she loves both activities. I don’t care if my kids excel at anything, but really, if I let them choose, they’d sit on the couch and watch TV all day. And wouldn’t I get slammed for that too?
 
Another quote: “We tell our children to follow their dreams, that we will support them in anything they do and that they can be anything they want to be. Yet so many of us impose strict parameters on their extra-curricular activities if they don’t involve sports.”
 
What a crock. Painting every “sports” parent with such a stereotypical brush is insulting and just plain inaccurate. It doesn’t describe me, or any parent I know, as we try to balance the heady array of activities and our kids’ interests. You have to know your child. Even though Anna says she’s finished with hockey at the end of each season we do sign her up again. Why? Because by the fall, she’s eager to play. This is something I’ve learned about her, just as I’ve learned that Avery would likely quit at the beginning of just about everything if we let her.
 
For me, giving my kids a respectful push every now and then is part of the job. There are plenty of times I put the choice in their hands, too. One thing I know is if we had let Anna quit after her first season of hockey, or given in to Avery’s complaints about learning to skate, they would have missed out on an activity that they’ve come to love. I’m not the one who would have missed all that time at the arena, believe me!

Do you give your kids a push sometimes when it comes to extracurriculars, or do you leave the decisions to them?