I read a comment on the internet the other day that said no kids should ever be allowed to play high level competitive sports until they are older. The gist of it was kids should only play house league when they are young.
I am in the (maybe not so) unique position of being the mom to one son who is an elite athlete and one who loves to dabble in a whole bunch of different sports.
My older son, who is now a teenager, has been short track speed skating since he was 8 years-old. Three years ago he started competing at the Provincial level which meant a bigger commitment from him and us.
My younger son is a tween and has dabbled in house league sports since he was 3 years-old.
Just for perspective, this is a brief overview of what both boys are doing:
When my older son started short track speed skating we had no idea how much he’d grow to love it. In the beginning he was on the ice once a week and we took him to the occasional one day speed skating meet – it starts at 8:00 a.m. and you’re out by about 4:00 p.m.
In his second year he moved to twice a week practices, but still participated in one day meets – about six per year.
When he moved up to the provincial level, the commitment also changed. During the skating season, he was now required to be training on-ice three days a week for an hour and a half each session and one day of off-ice training. There are approximately six speed skating meets per season, each being two days long.
In the past year he’s added more off-ice training to his regime so he is essentially working out six days a week.
My younger son has always loved to try new things and has played soccer, baseball, hockey, three-on-three, gymnastics, took a turn at tumbling, and is currently back to soccer again. This is a commitment of two evenings a week, one hour each.
Both of these choices are 100% fine with me. They are completely different human beings with different interests, personalities, and the way they approach life. What’s awesome is that both are learning lessons no matter what level of sport they wish to compete in.
I’m by no means an expert and have made my fair share of mistakes when it comes to parenting both of my kids. But over the years of watching my sons play sports at different levels I’ve seen the great side of sports where parents offer an amazing amount of encouragement and support. I’ve also seen a very shitty side where parents berate their child in front of teammates, make them feel 'less than', force their kids to work out, make rude comments about other kids, and more. You would think I was talking about a top level sport here but strangely enough it was in house league sports at a very young level where I witnessed much of this. (Would love to hear your experience about higher level sports and how parents react).
As an aside, if you want to see a scary documentary where this parental behaviour is taken to the worst level possible, watch Trophy Kids on Netflix. It's mind-blowing to say the least.
So how do you even determine if your child is up to participating in a high level competitive sport?
Obviously that answer is up to your child. But I also think it’s important that parents ask themselves this question.
Is this your dream or your child’s dream?
Speed skating is what my son loves to do and I’m invested in helping him achieve his goals, but I’m not invested in his wins or losses simply because his wins are not my wins and his losses are not my losses. He is there to give it his all, I am there to offer my support or occasionally give him a little shot of reality when it’s needed.
I would feel like a failure as a parent if my kids ever thought the pride I have for them is in any way related to how they placed in a race, if their hockey team won or not, or how many goals they scored in soccer. End result is not my game, the effort they put into is.
Here's the thing...I actually get it. After years of spending money - which, let's face it, can be a very large amount depending on the sport - weekends and evenings dropping off, picking up, or staying to watch practices and games, maybe even paying for extra coaching, and then there's the weekends away at tournaments, basically investing in your child, I can see how it would be easy to become so involved that it feels like a part of you is out there competing as well.
But at the end of the day, it’s your child who is putting in the work.
And if it’s your dream to make your child the best, and it’s not your child’s dream, it’s not going to happen. If it does, it’s going to come at a very high price.
One that has nothing to do with money.
It's an ongoing conversation with your child when it comes to how far they want to go in a sport, but always remember it's an ongoing conversation with yourself too.