Our three year old hates soccer. Really. Hates. It.
And we’re considering letting her quit.
Week after week, we’ve watched as missing a kick or drill sends her shrinking inside herself. She crumbles and crouches low on her ball, often refusing to move.
We’ve tried to help boost her confidence by cheering from the sidelines and extra practice at the field near our home. But there is little joy for her in running around chasing a soccer ball.
This weekend, she decided she’d had it. She sank sadly down and sat on her soccer ball for a long time. No amount of encouraging perked her up.
Finally, resolved, she picked herself up and walked right off the field.
“I don’t want to do this anymore,” she told me. “And I’m going home.”
I looked in her eyes and saw how much this was affecting her.
“Okay honey,” I responded. “We don’t have to play if you’re not having fun. Let’s go.”
We said goodbye to the coach and started heading to the car with me telling her that I was proud of her for saying how she felt. And that she could change her mind if she wanted to and that was okay too.
We got to the car and she turned to me and said: “Okay mommy, I’ll try one more time.”
So back to the field we went.
The coach cheered her for making “a good decision.”
Another parent stood by her and gave her extra help with drills.
And she kicked the ball into the net.
She beamed. We cheered.
She told me: “I had fun!”
I told her: “Good honey! That’s what’s most important. That you have fun.”
Still, later that night, she confided “I really don’t like soccer. It’s not fun. I don’t want to go anymore.”
When I asked her why and pointed out how well she did and how hard she was trying she said “I don’t want to try to talk about it. Why do I have to go?”
That’s a good question. And good on her for articulating her feelings.
We enrolled her in soccer, frankly, because that’s what her peers were doing. Playing soccer in the suburbs. And we thought this particular sport would help her learn teamwork and boost confidence.
She never, however, once asked us to play soccer.
And nothing about the sport speaks to her sensibilities.
There’s bugs, which she’s highly sensitive to skin-wise. She detests both crowds and chaos. Preschoolers + soccer scrums = crowded chaos.
She seems much more inclined toward activities that play to the natural sense of grace she displayed even as an infant. Seriously, the child is preternaturally poised and has a lyrical way of moving.
She really loves and excels at ballet. Gymnastics is right up her alley.
When she comes back from these practices, she raves about them for days and rehearses her moves in her room of her own accord. She gets excited when she sees me pull out the leotards and tutus.
“Yay! I do ballet tomorrow,” she shouted recently, then proceeded to twirl and leap around the room.
To date, she has never had this type of positive relationship with soccer.
Quite the opposite.
Telling her it’s time for soccer elicits groans. She never wants to get ready to go–even though it means seeing one of her best friends.
I Facebook polled my mom friends and the general consensus was: kids should stick out team sports until the session’s end, then not return. Their take is that doing so helps build character and a sense of teamwork. I value their advice and those are exactly the kinds of virtues we’re trying to help instill.
My mom, who in her capacity as an early childhood education expert has seen hundreds of kids grow up over the years, feels that our kiddo’s self esteem is being negatively affected and that, at three, she should be allowed to quit. She’s raised nine kids whose athletic interests ran the gamut from dance to volleyball to football, and she never made us participate in activities we disliked.
I hated all sports involving balls, but thrilled at dance and once took master seminar classes taught by the Alvin Ailey teachers and even performed with a small dance company.
Another sister was awful at dance, but she received a full scholarship to play volleyball in college.
A brother excelled at all sports–baseball, basketball, track, football. He’s now a star running back for a big football school with a shot at the NFL.
So right now, we’re going to play it by ear. We’ll ask her on soccer days if she wants to go.
If the answer is yes, then we’ll all load up and cheer her on.
If she says no, then we’ll do something else that morning.
If she goes and decides to focus on “eating the wind” as she calls it when she runs around chewing the air…so be it.
And if she’s crumbling, hurting, and hating every moment, then we’re leaving.
Because you know what? She’s three…and it just ain’t that deep.
Our main priority is remaining very sensitive to her feelings and self esteem. After all, we don’t want to turn into one of those crazy, hyper-competitive Beltway families.
There are lots of other ways to instill a sense of team work and shared goal without channeling Pelé. And, after giving it your best try, there are times when it’s okay to change course if something is making you miserable.
Besides, there’s plenty of time to make our kid suffer in the name of esoteric life lessons when she’s older.