I want my son to play team sports like I did so he will develop self esteem, but he doesn't want to. He played basketball and soccer until he was 8 years old but now he says he never liked it and doesn't want to go. He is a quiet boy and doesn't make friends easily. He cries and begs me not to make him try out and I don't know what to do. I have always loved sports and don't want him to miss out.
Dear Sports Fan,
There's a lot to be said for team sports, and the experience of learning and camaraderie that comes when kids work together toward a common goal, cheer one another on, and benefit from the guidance of a great coach, if your child is lucky enough to have one.
But being part of a team isn't the only way to develop self esteem, and there are some kids who just don't do well with the experience.
- Children with a very sensitive nature sometimes have a strong dislike for team sports. The pressure they feel from the other players and the coach becomes a terrible burden; I've worked with kids who were terrified that they would suffer humiliation or scolding by the other players if they missed a shot or fumbled a pass. While it's fine for kids to stretch out of their comfort zone, if a sensitive child is paralyzed with anxiety because of what is should be an enjoyable activity, I would look for an alternative.
- Some children are extroverts and joiners, and others lean toward solitary or small-group activities. If your son is the kind of child who does poorly in big groups, try tennis, yoga or golf, where there are fewer bodies running around, and more individual instruction.
- Your son might find it impossible to enjoy the peer pressure that comes with group sports and the collective focus on winning and losing. Consider activities that are less competitive and goal-oriented, like gymnastics or martial arts for children, where his focus will be on improving his skill, discipline and personal determination.
This isn't to say that we should protect our children from reasonable pressures that come from being accountable to teammates. Most kids do benefit from group sports, and benefit enormously.
But each child is unique, and forcing a highly reluctant child to participate in team sports can do more harm than good. While you may have fond memories from your own childhood sports experiences, your son has his own strengths, interests and passions. Encourage him to try, but if he isn't interested, choose an alternative. Some of the best tennis players were undoubtedly children who threw a fit when their parents tried to force them to play a team sport like baseball.
Self esteem comes from feeling good about who we are. Work with your child to find a physical activity that's right for him, and he'll be a champion.
Yours in parenting support,
Parent Coach, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed marriage and family therapist and credentialed teacher. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.