Once upon a time in a world with less electronic devices and more backyard forts and monkey bars lived children who ran free and wild; and where spontaneous games of four-square would erupt. Children would organize themselves in a rousing game of makeshift soccer, football, or baseball where random Frisbees became the bases and the score mattered less than the snacks mom would bring out at the end of the game. In this same world “take me out to the ballpark” meant a summertime excursion of play, laughter, and fun-in-the-sun; not rigorous practices that ended in exhaustion.
Today, in an effort to keep our children busy and “engaged”, we sign them up for endless activities, with organized sports at the top of the list. Children as young as four-years-old are in competitive sports. Even before they really understand the concept of winning and losing, they begin to feel like winners, but more detrimentally, losers.
What used to be a passion for playing and having fun has become a fertile ground for competitive edge, pressure and excessive injuries. Every year, more than 3.4 million children under the age of 14 need to be treated for sports-related injuries. Nearly half of these are from overuse.
However, the greatest overuse can be from parents. Sometimes our own needs get in the way of seeing our children – as children whose primary language of learning is play! But there is hope. As parents, we can take a time-out, sideline and evaluate our motivation for having our child in sports. We can ask ourselves some simple questions:
- Is it a need for them to succeed for our own purposes (unmet childhood dreams or a need to feel like a successful parent)?
- Do we continually check in with our child to ensure that they want to continue with the sport? (Even looking for subtle clues – tummy aches every game day, or “losing” their equipment continually).
- Do we continually define (and redefine when necessary) what success means (and if the word “win” is the predominant word in the conversation, we should refer back to point number 1)?
- Are we asking – “Is this still fun?” If it is no longer fun, it is time to stop and take our child out of the Olympic-style training, and go kick the ball around in the park!
So, when our child starts singing, “Take me out to the ballpark, ” Run. Play. Drop the pen and paper that keeps score and grab hold of the wonder-like child who simply wants to be heard, loved and validated and connected to you! When we replace the concept of “We won” into “We are one” with our children – everybody wins!
Lisa Smith, Ph. D is CSN’s newest subject matter expert. She has authored 8 books, speaks around the country about Parenting On Purpose and is available for individual consultation. Her latest book is available HERE