An old friend of mine reminded me that I once considered smoking a cigarette while wearing a wrist weight a workout.
I did this while sitting at her kitchen table, after riding my new pink mountain bike to her house and dreading the uphill ride back home. She still teases me that the bike stayed there for six months after I cabbed it home.
This paints a sad but accurate picture of my dysfunctional relationship with sports as a teen.
How did I get there? It was a confidence thing I think, because actually I was pretty coordinated. It’s not like I wasn’t an active kid; growing up in Toronto, my parents put me in swimming, dance and gymnastics classes. My brother and I walked to school every day, climbed monkey bars and rode our bikes around the neighbourhood.
What I didn’t get was any formal instruction on the basics of team sports, and while I may have had some lucky moments, every time I got near a ball or bat, eventually things went terribly wrong.
The first and only time I was invited to play football at recess, I scored a touchdown. Unfortunately it was for the other team.
My greatest success in sports, hitting homeruns, was marred by my habit of accidentally whipping the bat at the catcher.
In junior high, though I showed some promise with the oh-so-glamorous shot put, I was ultimately disqualified from the track and field meet for nearly hitting a teacher.
Each embarrassing experience compounded my nervousness about sports. Then I began to mature physically – which made me horribly self-conscious – and my participation in a lot of the organized activities dwindled and then came to a screeching halt.
And truly, a person can only humiliate themselves so many times before deciding that maybe they just aren’t “sporty”.
Flash forward to age 40. Now I’ve got two young kids and am much more health conscious and active then I used to be (and proudly cigarette-free for the last 17 years). Although my kids are not sedentary, I want them to get the skills and confidence I missed out on.
The question is, as someone who grew up without a lot of experience with team sports, and who married a fellow non-athletic type, how do we teach these skills to our kids? It’s almost like trying to raise your children in a religion other than your own.
This question has led me to pay close attention to the effect different activities have on the kids.
Our 6-year-old daughter seemed to get exhausted by her creative movement classes and was bored to tears by ballet. But this year she’s found a passion for karate and acro. When I watch her in karate class, I’m blown away by her agility, strength and determination.
This has clearly had a tremendous impact on her self confidence. And it seems the skills she’s gaining are having a positive impact on her other activities.
She started this year terrified of ball sports and was pretty much blowing off gym class. Last week her teacher pulled me aside to let me know how hard my daughter tried that day and it felt like a seismic shift had occurred.
In soccer last fall, our 4-year-old son spent more time on the sidelines counting blades of grass than kicking the ball, but I saw signs of athletic ability when he thought nobody was watching.
He said he didn’t want to take a Sportplay class this winter, but we’re committed to making sure that he and his sister get the basics. At his age, I believe Sportplay’s low-pressure, fun approach and exposure to multiple sports is the way to get started.
I had qualms about pushing him into something he didn’t want to do, but experience has shown us that he is someone who needs to be nudged gently out of his comfort zone.
He’s now been to Sportplay twice and absolutely loved it. And while we were registering him, he begged me to sign him up for Tiny Tennis which was a huge success as well.
I hope that he’ll thank us when he’s a teenager shooting hoops with his friends instead of having a smoke while wearing a wrist weight.