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07 Feb, Tuesday
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Montreal Families

My kid hates team sports

Nearly 11 years ago, when I discovered I was expecting a baby boy, I dreamed of tiny football jerseys and a future spent watching hockey, soccer and basketball games. I imagined my son as outgoing and athletic.

There is an expectation for boys to be good at sports, especially team sports. Many studies have suggested that kids who play team sports do better in school, get into less trouble and are more successful in life.

So we bought him the baby-sized soccer ball and football. We dressed him in the little basketball jersey and bought the giant plastic basketball hoop. He had a passing interest in these things, but was really more interested in books or figuring out how the computer worked.

At age 4, I enrolled him in soccer. We were so excited to get him geared up in his shin pads and cleats. He looked adorable in his team uniform. As we approached the field for his first practice, he took a deep breath and said, “Well, I’m nervous, but I’m going to be brave!” My heart melted.

But it quickly became evident that soccer wasn’t for him. He trailed behind the other kids as they ran after the ball like a little swarm of bees, and he often wandered around the field, disinterested.

“He’s only 4,” people assured us. “He’ll be more interested as he gets older.” But by the end of the season, when I asked if he wanted to play again next year, he answered without hesitation, “Nope.”

At age 5, he played baseball. Again, he looked precious, decked out in his team uniform with cap and little glove. But after the initial few weeks, he was begging us to let him quit. I insisted he needed to stick it out. He jogged the bases. When he struck out, he didn’t seem too bothered, and was happy to sit on the bench and chat with his friends.

“Maybe if your husband practiced with him more often he would be more interested in getting better,” other parents suggested meaningfully.

When he was 6, I put him in a basketball camp. At the end of each day, I asked him, “How was it today?” and he would sullenly answer, “dumb.” At the end of the week, I went with the other parents to watch the kids play and see what they’d learned. As I watched him on the court with his teammates, I saw the now-familiar malaise on his face. Maybe this just isn’t his sport, other parents told me. He’ll find his niche.

The older the boys got, the more aggressive and competitive the games seemed. And not just among the kids. The parents took it more and more seriously, and without saying it out loud, they resented the players who weren’t as good as the star players. At a crucial point of a game, they would suggest certain players be put in. Fortunately, my son always had coaches who supported every player on the team. But I’d had enough the day the baseball team was in a final game, and my son was up to bat.

“Tell him not to swing,” called one parent to the coach. I gritted my teeth to keep from wheeling around and punching her.

Other boys his age gravitated towards sports they were good at — hockey, lacrosse, soccer. But our son was not excited by any of them. We sat in stands and on sidelines and observed his unaggressive nature and obvious lack of interest as he went through the motions of performing his tasks as part of the team, while keeping one eye on the scoreboard clock. I tried to ignore my irritation whenever he tried a new sport and people asked me, “How is it going? Is he liking it?” and the telling question, “How is he doing at it?”

It seems obvious now, after years of different team sports, that it just isn’t his thing. But it took me a while to realize the problem is with me, not him.

He has other interests: he loves thinking up business ideas to make money, and he is always telling me about new features he has figured out on the computer or on his iPod. He took up guitar and spends time picking out songs and practicing rock tunes with his music teacher. He’s outside for hours with his friends in the neighbourhood, climbing trees, building forts and exploring.

As for sports, he has discovered a love for snowboarding, which allows him to go at his own pace without the pressure of being expected to perform for a team. He jumps out of bed at 7 a.m. on a Saturday, excited to head to the mountain. At the end of a day of riding, when I’m exhausted and ready to quit, he begs, “Just one more run — please!”

He’s going to be okay. And I don’t need a numbered jersey anymore to remind me of that.

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