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How many of you are like me?  While growing up you played as many sports as you could—baseball, basketball, football, and even soccer (VERY little)!  I was NOT the best athlete.  There were many of my teammates who did a much better job than I ever did.  But I tried hard and hoped my coaches thought I did my best.

Now you are all grown up and your children have grown to an age they are ready to start playing organized sports.  How are you going to handle it? Are you worried about being the “loud” parent, the “expert” parent, or the “complaining” parent?

When our children start playing sports, we tend to put on the blinders.  We, as parents, are tempted to see our child as the next Michael Jordan, Peyton Manning, or even Nolan Ryan.  “Our kid is the next superstar!”

They might be, but they are only five!  So, let’s consider the practical development of our child’s athletic abilities first before we get them a major-league contract.

I traveled a few weekends back with our middle daughter, Maddy, to a soccer practice a few hours away from our home.  On our ride home I started reflecting on beginnings.  Maddy has been playing soccer since the age of three. “Mob ball” is what we called it!  We watched both teams in one big mob going after the ball.  Trailing behind the cluster of players and with their flailing limbs trying to hit the ball was our sweet little Maddy.  

We observed our precious, little, glasses-wearing, curly-haired blondie waiting for the ball to be freed from the clutches of the mob and have a chance to give it a big kick.  Every once in a while, the ball bounced out and Maddy ran after it, only to be overtaken by the mob once again.  Then Maddy  assumed her position of trailing the mob in hopes of another chance.

As I write this, I can’t help but giggle a little bit.  For our family, each of our girls started their “athletic career” with soccer, but each of them have taken to sports in their own way.

Our oldest, Emily, started playing soccer with her classmates as early as the age of four.  I can remember having that discussion with my wife about, “Why so early?” “Can’t we just wait a year or two?”

Yes!  I, the father, was the one questioning the involvement of my oldest daughter in organized sports.  But, to no avail.  My wife’s persistence won out and Emily started soccer.  Looking back on those early years, it was fine.  Actually, it was more than fine, it was great!  Organized sports was a great opportunity for our girls to learn about cooperation, sportsmanship, and having fun with teammates

Emily was able to enjoy soccer, be with her friends, play, and have FUN!  End of story! There were no problems or issues because we, my wife and I, didn’t allow for problems or issues to rise up. If Emily had a problem, whether it was with a teammate, a coach, or an injury, Kari and I discussed it and approached each situation as we should . . . as adults.  We, as the parents, didn’t allow the emotions of our child to pull us into a corner we couldn’t get out of.  To this day, we strive to keep a level head when dealing with any of our girls and the woes of life they may be experiencing at that moment.

I’m not going to say we are perfect. We have made mistakes, but like so many before, we tried to learn from those mistakes . . . Kari and I did so many “right” things with our first two girls. Even the things we got wrong, we tried to fix and perfect. So, when our third, Olivia came along we thought, “We’ve got this!”

Olivia is four years younger than Maddy.  Since the day she was born, she was toted from soccer game to soccer game and every single event of her two older sisters.  When Olivia was old enough to play soccer, why wouldn’t she play?

When the time came, Olivia got the shoes, shin guards, socks, practice shirt, and a ball. She was decked out and ready to go!  We, as a family, drove to practice, set up our chairs, and watched Olivia stand!  Yes, I said stand!  She refused to “play”.  She refused to kick a ball.  She just flat out refused!

Honesty time:  This was a parenting nightmare.  No parent wants to have to deal with a stubborn child.  We tried all the tricks . . . bribery, empty threats, treats, we even had our oldest stand in the field with Olivia holding her hand.  I will say, the last one did the trick.  Or, at least, it got her through a game without tears. ​

In the end, soccer was just not Olivia’s sport.  After a short bout with basketball, which went a whole lot better than soccer, we finally found the activity Olivia has a passion for—gymnastics!

So, there we have it!  Three unique individuals, pursuing three unique sports.  Emily stayed with soccer up to the age of 10, and then found her heart pulling her towards cross country and track and field.  Now each of our girls pursues what interests them.—Emily with running, Maddie kicking the soccer ball, and Olivia flipping head over heels in gymnastics.

When our children get involved in organized sports, we want them to do well.  We want them to succeed.  We want them to be the best.  But the reality of life, not everyone can be the best.

Our job as parents is to encourage, love, and support our children in all their endeavors.  They may not always do what we want them to do, but we must want them to do what they love.  Help your child find what they love and encourage it for generations to come.  You never know, your great-great granddaughter might just be the next gold-medal badminton Olympian!

About the Author

Josh Wanner is the father of three girls.  He and His wife, Kari, live in Springfield, MO where he works as the Technology Director for Redeemer Lutheran Church and Springfield Lutheran School.  He can be reached for question or comment at [email protected]

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