I think I might have been one of those parents the other day. You know, someone who annoyingly thinks that their kids are the most talented or the smartest. I didn’t think I was capable of that, quite honestly, until I brought them to their first youth soccer outing last week.
I registered them for it a few months ago and was somewhat excited to just sit back and watch my twin 2.5 year old boys run around and be loosely coached by someone else. I coach for a living, so it intrigued me to turn them over to someone else and see where they ranked against other toddlers. It didn’t matter that we had been home for less than two hours from a cross-country drive, or that they somehow hadn’t had a nap in the car that day. I was ready to see what my two toddlers, who never, ever listen to me, would do with a soccer ball for someone else in charge.
I gave myself a pat on the back for not critiquing the curriculum and my heart smiled to see my sons doing something I loved so much that I went into it for career. I see where parents get caught up in this crazy sport-driven fairytale — at least I did while they were on the field and (somewhat) doing what they were told to do.
Until they weren’t. My more coordinated-at-the-moment son decided he would rather wear sunglasses and watch from the sideline 30 minutes in rather than be on the field. I attempted to battle him, to point out no other kid was watching with their parents. He didn’t care. He was done. He might as well as flushed my World Cup dreams for him down the drain.
My second son soon followed. I wasn’t sure why he was tired as he had appeared to pick grass rather effectively and listen to directions sparingly. Yet here he was, on my lap, wanting to hang out with me instead of debuting his soccer skills to his peers. To top it off, he started crying about how he just wanted to leave. My son, who has watched soccer games his entire young life, was done watching, let alone playing, any more soccer. Surely I had done something wrong as a parent.
I told him we were not leaving until the session was over. That was not an option. And then the little toddler who had driven from Colorado back to Duluth over the past two days and not managed five minutes of slumber before coming to soccer, sobbed even more. Maybe not sobbed–more like screamed the way I imagine a pterodactyl would–at the top of his lungs. All these mere mortal parents who blissfully knew nothing of soccer had happy, soccer playing kids and I had the lone screamer/extinct dinosaur. 18 years of college soccer coaching down the drain because my 2.5 year old was maxed out. I mean it was a direct reflection on me, wasn’t it?
But I know better than that. Just because my sons have watched me coach numerous games doesn’t mean my passion will be theirs in the near, or even distant, future. The truth is, I have no idea what my kids will be drawn to or be even slightly decent at. And if you have a toddler, you don’t either. If you have a seven year old or a 10 year old, guess what? You don’t know either. We don’t know. We can guide, we can present, we can even attempt to force, but we aren’t actually our kids with their abilities or character or work ethic. Once, I sent a text my family in our group message that my one son was coordinated but so lazy; the perfect nightmare for any coach. One of my sisters quickly replied, “He’s two!” It was a good reminder that even those of us who know better sometimes get sucked into pushy parenting.
I don’t want to be that parent. I want my kids to authentically find what they love to do and work hard to do it. I want to take a page out of my sister and brother-in-law’s parenting playbook: the Olympic runners have watched their seven-year old son try everything (snowboarding, football, soccer, basketball) and don’t panic when something doesn’t “stick.” Their son may be predisposed to being a runner like his parents, but he may find that he is much happier doing something else. If they can have a basketball player (for the moment), certainly I can have a grand champion sunglasses wearer and lawn mower. (I mean, he was really pulling that grass up well for his age.)
Of course it won’t be easy. We fill our minds with our dreams for our children before they are born. Before they can even have an opinion on what they would like to do. But guess what? The right thing to do is to let them find their own way. As parents, we will know when our kids have found what they most want to do — whether it’s building robots, solving math equations, playing the cello or skateboarding. If they love it and we have supported it, we are truly being the best parents we can be by letting our kids find their own passion.
Meanwhile, I think I am going to go lay out a few cones for my sons to dribble around when they wake up from their naps. Did I say lay down? I meant accidentally drop in the yard. You know, in case their second soccer session manages to hold off their expert grass grazing skills and showcase their possible future World Cup potential.