Does your kid suck?

September 1, 2015 9 Comments »
Does your kid suck?

Are you concerned that your kid sucks at their sport or activity? Do you feel that the other kids are way better, and your child is getting left behind?

Through years of being a soccer coach, I have often heard parents express worry that their kid isn’t keeping up. I’ve often heard the same anxiety when they see other kids who are better at playing the piano, or drawing, or dancing, or singing, or doing math. I’m sure you’ve heard the same.

So many parents constantly worry about how their kid “measures up”. Most of the time, the concern is overblown.

When I look at this question with parents, we often find that the issue has little to do with the child, and everything to do with the parent’s preoccupation that their child is “keeping up” with the peer group.

It’s not hard to address these fears. If you’re worried that your child may be falling behind in their sport or activity, consider these points.

1. Whose emotions are these?

Firstly, do you know for certain that your child is falling behind? Do you get the feeling that your child feels badly about not being the most skilled in their peer group? If not, then you may be projecting.

When parents watch their child practicing an activity, it often makes them recall a bad experience that they had as a child, or it stimulates current fears and anxieties about being inadequate. As parents, we need to step back and consider our child’s experience from a neutral perspective. A lot of kids don’t mind being the slowest runner or the least proficient ball dribbler or the least recognized mezzo soprano. Really. They don’t. It’s not the end of the world for them.

This book excerpt from retired Stanford dean Julie Lythcott-Haims talks about the fear element in parents. She describes how it gives rise to helicopter parenting, and how helicopter parenting slowly incapacitates our children. When we overprotect our children, we prevent them from learning how to stand on their own and how to take charge of their life.

2. Your child is feeling bad. This is an opportunity for you to provide some wise parenting

If you discover that your child truly feels inadequate about their abilities in a particular activity or sport, be a wise parent. Talk with your child about their feelings and discuss possible solutions.

When children lag in skill development, the activity often becomes less fun for them. Does your child want to get better in the activity? Or do they simply want to cut their losses, quit, and take up another activity instead? Sometimes it’s okay to quit.

If your child wants to get better, then discuss ways to get better. Sometimes the activity is poorly run or badly coached, so you need to find a new quality program.

Other times it means that your child simply needs to practice more, or practice with more diligence and intentionality. Kids are capable of learning all sorts of stuff if they try, but you need to cultivate a growth mindset in your child so they actually make the effort.

3. But the other kids are making fun of your child

If the other kids in the activity are making fun of your child, that’s a problem. In the immortal words of Jimi Hendrix, “that ain’t too cool”.

Is there a coach or a teacher or an instructor overseeing your child’s activity? Find a quiet moment outside the activity time to talk with the coach-teacher-instructor about the culture of the group.

If they have any skills as a leader, they should be able to set a better tone among the kids. And if they demonstrate that they are not able to do this, then they either suck as coaches and teachers, or they don’t actually care enough to create a good environment for all of the kids.

This is basically what happened on my eldest daughter’s basketball team years ago. We took her out of the program.

4. Wouldn’t it be better if every child and every person on earth could be exactly the same with the same degree of talent or lack of talent as everyone else around them, so everyone could feel at ease with themselves knowing that they are not any better or worse than anyone else?

Would the world be a better place without Albert Einstein, Amadeus Mozart, Maria Callas, Michael Jordan, Marie Curie, Meryl Streep, Pablo Picasso, Miles Davis, and Wayne Gretzky?

Genius is a beautiful thing. When we witness genius, we catch a glimpse of the potential of humanity. Framed the right way, it can inspire us to strive to be better.

Does it matter that some of us may never achieve that measure of brilliance in our respective fields? We can teach our kids to appreciate genius as part of the rich diversity of human experience. Sure, it might humble us to realize that we don’t possess the same genius—but a little humility can be a good life skill.

5. Remember to examine beliefs

If you worry that your kid is getting left behind, take time to examine the situation. Is there a real issue present? Or are you simply projecting your own fears? Deal with what’s real. And be confident that there are solutions available.

In reality, your kid doesn’t suck. They might need to develop some skills, or find better coaching, or discover an activity that they like more, but they don’t suck.

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  1. Samantha September 2, 2017 at 4:21 pm - Reply

    My daughter loves soccer. She has been playing since the age of 4. She has always played on a league that everyone plays equally. This fall she is on a more competitive league. This league only requires a short amount of time to play. She missed practices at the beginning of the season because of camp and vacation. She sits the bench the entire time unless the coach has to put her in. I don’t know what I should do. She loves it but isn’t aggressive in her play resulting in less play time. I’m worried she’ll never advance in her skills if she can’t play. Maybe this league was a bad idea. I don’t know what to do.

    • Jim Grove
      Jim Grove September 7, 2017 at 11:34 am - Reply

      Hi Samantha,
      Wow. I am breathless. I don’t want to believe that this is still happening anywhere in Canada, but I guess there are a lot of coaches who still don’t understand the importance of game time in player development. Not to mention the fact that kids sign up to play soccer so they can … play. Unless your daughter is playing on the Canadian Olympic team or perhaps a university varsity team, she should be getting at least 50% game time (this is assuming she attends practices regularly — and summer vacation and camp are perfectly acceptable reasons to miss early season practices). I suspect you need to look at switching to a different league if that’s possible. Can you please tell me: How old is your daughter? And what league is this?

  2. john July 17, 2017 at 4:43 pm - Reply

    he has also tried rock climbing and quit that too

  3. john July 17, 2017 at 4:41 pm - Reply

    my son often stands off to the side when his friends play football he has given up on all sports he has tried and my daughter plays soccer and is afraid to go after the ball i have to keep my kids active but they just want to quit every sport they try. It breaks my to my son just stand to the side when his friends play sports

    • Jim Grove
      Jim Grove July 18, 2017 at 8:39 pm - Reply

      Hi John,
      It sounds like there might be two separate issues happening with your son and daughter. With your daughter, it might be a simple case that she doesn’t like soccer, and it’s time for her to try something else. With your son, it sounds a little more complicated. Have you sat down with him and asked him to talk about what he likes and dislikes about the different sports and activities he has tried, and what he might want to do instead? Maybe he needs to talk a bit and “figure it out”. Another idea: Maybe he is simply averse to organized sports, and perhaps he would prefer to do something with you as a family activity, such as cycling or hiking? These are just some thoughts — if you have a talk with him, I would be interested to know what he says.
      Best of luck,

  4. jg345 November 4, 2016 at 7:47 pm - Reply

    Old thread, and just stumbled across this great piece.

    Over the past 5 years, my son has tried soccer, flag football, baseball, swimming, floor hockey, cross country, track and field, flag rugby and crossfit-kids. He’s 9 now, and to this point has yet to find something active that he actually wants to get good at (or let me rephrase – something he shows any inclination to *practice* with a goal of getting even the slightest bit better). No passion for anything active, and actively opposes encouragement to practice from coaches or us. He’s consistently been the worst on any team or group he’s been involved with, though he thinks he’s “fine”, and the reason kids don’t pass to him is that “they are jerks”…though when pressed he acknowledges they don’t pass because they think he’s not good. My husband and I are not athletes but both competed in various sports throughout our childhoods and young adult lives and both still compete occasionally in addition to maintaining regular fitness schedules. We try to be the models for our kids, but worry that our son is on the path to illness and obesity sitting in front of video games and youtube videos, which are the only thing he loves to do, though we forbid them entirely during the school week – I’m tempted to toss all of it in the bin.

    Our household rule is that everyone plays some kind of sport every season of the year. He’s picked every one of the above, but still shows no drive or grit for any of them. I’m at a loss. He’s now at a point of being too old to try new sports because every other kid will have started at least 3-4 years ago – I have checked with local programs in lacrosse and basketball (2 other things he’s intermittently expressed an interest in) and was told there’s no such thing as 9-yr-old-beginners level.

    Have you ever come across a kid who never finds anything active to love and grow with? When is the time for professional advice?

    • Jim Grove
      Jim Grove November 10, 2016 at 12:33 pm - Reply

      If we start with “first principles” in the case of your son, it seems clear that he has not found anything that is “fun” to him. For kids, and even for most adults, physical activity absolutely needs to be fun. (No one willfully chooses to do something in their spare time that is not fun — unless they have certain physical fitness targets that are especially important to them, and that’s almost never the case with kids.) When I look at the list of things he has tried, I am inclined to say: Maybe it’s time to go way outside the box. For example, maybe try a rock climbing program? There are many indoor climbing walls everywhere now, and classes / sessions on evenings and weekends for kids. Or maybe a martial arts program such as karate or taekwondo? Or possibly a variant of cycling, such as mountain biking or road racing? Or maybe even a hip hop dance class? (Does your son have any interest in hip hop music and culture? Sometimes that can be a draw.) Or possibly a racquet sport such as badminton or tennis? I think you are wise to “require” him to do something — the key is to continue to allow him to choose what it is. He may need some help imagining what his options are, and that’s where you can help him to think “outside the box” and look at non-traditional sports and activities. Best of luck, and let us know how it goes!

  5. Niki September 6, 2015 at 7:16 am - Reply

    Great article because I believe you hit it spot on!!! My question is what if your children doesn’t stick with anything or doesn’t want to participate in any skills development and does the bare minimum in comparison to their peers?

    • Jim Grove
      Jim Grove September 7, 2015 at 12:47 pm - Reply

      Hi Niki,
      Great question! If your child doesn’t want to stick with a particular activity, or they show no interest in practicing, and you’re confident that it’s a good program with good instruction and a good group of kids, then it’s 99% certain that your child simply hasn’t found the right activity yet. It’s time to try something else, and I recommend trying as many different things as possible until your child finds their passion. In my experience, every kid will have a passion — the problem is that most kids never get to sample more than 3 or 4 physical activities or sports in their childhood — out of possibly 100 activities and sports that are available in their community (e.g. dance, martial arts, team sports, individual sports, hiking, climbing, archery, swimming, etc.). I think parents need to be prepared to think outside the box in this regard. Here’s a good article on our site that talks about this idea:
      Good luck!

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