November 5, 2018

When Your Kid Hates Their Sport

By Sarah Oman

Sarah Oman

Clinical Social Worker

Sarah Oman is a clinical social worker who lives in the cities with her husband and two girls. She enjoys swimming, traveling, cross country skiing, and spending time with friends and family. As her girls get older, she is looking forward to navigating the world of youth sports, knowing that she will learn a lot along the way.

When I signed my 10-year-old daughter up for lacrosse this past summer, I assumed it would be like the other two seasons she played, with excitement and a smile. When we first asked her if she wanted to play a third season, she said, “No.” But then, after an hour-long spring clinic, she came home saying it was so fun and she wanted to sign up again. It wasn’t until after the season started that she changed her mind, and I realized things weren’t going to run smoothly.

Practice usually lasted an hour and a half; however, for us, there was extra hour tacked on—30 minutes before and 30 minutes after of meltdown time. She was melting down on the front end, and I was melting down on the back end.

During practice, she would sometimes spend 45 minutes sulking on the field. For example, she would choose not to toss the ball to her teammates effectively, which hindered the other kids’ practice time. The coaches would have the team run laps as a warm-up; thus, everyone would lose practice time while they waited for her to complete her run.

She would monopolize the coaches’ time as they tried to lure her into playing. She would repeatedly walk over to me on the sidelines, saying, “I’m hot,” “I’m cold,” “How much longer?” “My shorts are too tight,” “The kids are “bullying me,” or “They ‘hate’ me.” She even lost, or rather hid, her mouth guard in the car in hopes that she would sit out for practice. I could go on and on.

And then, there was me. I sat in my camping chair with a can of LaCroix, wishing it was wine, as I watched in agony. I was humiliated. People around me offered “helpful” suggestions that always started with, “Have you tried …”

This made me feel even worse, like they thought I was a fool not to consider the most obvious interventions. The coaches asked me for tips to get her more motivated. I didn’t know what to say. I was sweaty and edgy. I dreaded lacrosse days. It wasn’t fun for anyone. I even cried so much while I volunteered during a game, that a mom beside me put her arm around me and told me it would be fine, while intermittently yelling at her 7-year-old to hustle. I cried even more, in the rain. I wanted to give in and give up.

Exhausted, I asked friends and neighbors on a group chat what they would do. I didn’t know where else to get advice. I prefaced by saying that I am morally opposed to letting my daughter quit something right in the middle. But, I was also conflicted by what this was doing to me, and subsequently, what it was doing to her. Reaching out to people was the best thing I could have ever done. They validated and helped me see that it was not all-or-nothing.

“If the most important thing to you is that she finishes the season out, then don’t let her quit,” they said.

Other responses were:

“Tell the coaches they can kick her off or bench her. Tell them you support that. If they do kick her out, or you do let her quit, make her pay for some or all of the registration costs.”

“Find other ways to manage your anxiety, or just don’t be at practice.”

Or, my personal favorite, “Give your kids one-lifetime pass for quitting a sport mid-season. Make her pay or not, but once she takes this option, it’s gone for her all the way up to age 18, when sports are way more demanding.”

The feedback helped me feel better. If I wouldn’t have talked to neighbors or other parents, I think I would have felt alone in my decision and my judgment. It was nice to know that other parents had advice on the matter and that they were supportive when dishing it out.

So, I decided to have a conversation with the coaches about my philosophy and some tips to finish out the season. I told them they could bench her, or even kick her off if it was too distracting for the team. The coaches chose to ignore her behavior, which turned out to be fine, and a good solution. And, guess what? She finished out the season with her team. Better yet, I finished the season. Seven weeks never felt so long.

Let’s be clear, she didn’t complete it with a smile on her face and a “ready-to-do-this” attitude. And, it’s safe to say, we won’t do lacrosse again. Amazingly enough, her shenanigans never abated before, or after, as she scored the winning goal in one of the last games of the season. No joke!

Looking back, I would have heeded her initial decision to not sign up for lacrosse, and perhaps tried tennis instead. But after the spring clinic, she was excited and ready for the summer season. I wanted her to like the sport and have fun.

But, I made it to the end without compromising my sense of how I want to parent. Turns out, there was no right, or wrong, answer. There were only things that made me feel and act better, or worse. Turning in that uniform on the same day as everyone else made me feel great. It was the support—not the success—that made all the difference.

What I learned

I learned that reaching out to others, if I am struggling with things, is a great outlet for advice. I let my friends and neighbors know my expectations, and they helped me not to feel alone. I kept with the spirit of why I did it in the first place—honoring a commitment, as well as being part of, and enjoying, a team—and my support group gave me a new way to look at the situation.

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