Keeping kids active in a world that has become predominantly sedentary is difficult. It’s far too easy to rely on an electronic device to entertain our kids while we try to keep some sense of order in our life. Our kids need something active. Something to stimulate them far beyond a screen. Most parents are already spread pretty thin, so adding on another place to drive to and spend at least an hour of their time isn’t high on their priority list. But it should be. Not only is this important for their physical fitness but also for their mental health. Kids need an escape from the structure and stillness of a classroom.
A lot of parents I know usually start their little ones in what I call the core three: soccer and t-ball or dance. Watching the age groups of 2.5 to 4 is an ab workout for those parents who know not to take it too seriously. When your child is this young, the only expectations you should have is for them is to have fun and go to sleep early when they come home. For those parents who expect their kids to be the next Ronaldo or Messi, you’re going to have a very stressful season. Now I know you didn’t pay for cleats, a helmet, and a bat bag full of gear to have your tiny tike do somersaults in the outfield. But what you did pay for is for your child to learn a new skill. You are paying for them to learn to listen and respond to a coach and work as a team. By the end of the season, you’ll have a better understanding of your child and what their interests are, and those core three may not be it.
Once you’ve gotten out of the toddler level sports, it’s time to ask your child what they would actually like to do. This is where you get to explain to them that not only will they have practices with their teams or classes, depending on what they choose, but they will need to practice at home. This does mean that you, as a parent, are getting homework as well. If they choose baseball or football, they will need someone to throw and catch with. If they select soccer, you might have to play goalie or dart around the field, helping them learn how to pass the ball. Dance means watching your child and helping them remember their steps. Each sport has its own requirements for your child to practice so they may excel at the best of their ability.
For Mark, my step-son, traditional sports were not for him. We tried t-ball, and once he was home, he had no interest in picking up a bat or a glove. Soccer was great, he was able to run and speed past others, but stopping was his biggest problem. We had to really talk out what made him happy, and that’s when he asked for a skateboard. My husband and I talked about it with each other what it could mean for him to take an interest in an extreme sport. We knew the risk skateboarding could bring. My husband skateboarded as a child, and I longboarded throughout college. For Christmas, we bought him his first board. It was a small, black penny board with bright red wheels. He was ecstatic. By the end of the day, he was outside with his mohawk helmet, trying to figure out how to go up and down the sidewalk.
Skateboarding is hard. He had seen kids do it in real life and on TV and thought it would be easy. When he came in that first day, he was bright as a ripe tomato, and because we live in Florida, he was a bit of a soggy tomato. But the thing I saw in him that I didn’t see after any of the other sports was determination. He took off his helmet and put his board away before flopping on the couch and looked at me.
“Can we go out tomorrow?” He asked, a bit winded.
“Of course.” I was so excited.
He never wanted to practice when it came to soccer or t-ball, and it was always a fight to get him outside and practice. For the next three days, he was with us. He was outside every day trying to figure it out. About a month later, we went to a birthday party, and the mom was telling me about a skate park that was basically in our backyard. On our way home, we drove by and saw a bunch of kids of varying ages going down ramps and launching themselves into the air. His eyes lit up.
“I want to learn how to do that,” he said after we left.
But I told him he wasn’t going to the skatepark without a lesson because when it came to skateboarding, it wasn’t a matter of if you will break a bone but a matter of when. So we agreed that he would keep practicing, and for summer camp, he would go to skate camp. The week before skate camp, my husband and I upgraded his small penny board to a full-size skateboard for his birthday. Once that thing was unwrapped, he was outside. He had to learn where to place his feet and how to lean into the turns. It was much different from his other board.
After he came in that day, my husband and I sat down with him and talked about how hard he was working and how proud we were of him. It was amazing how much he had changed in the few short months between December and the summer. Before, if things were difficult, he would get frustrated and storm off, but now he had a reason to focus and put his energy into something and see the results of his hard work. This work ethic continued through the summer.
When Mark started skate camp this summer, he was a bit intimidated. Here were kids of all ages and all levels going at full speed. The coach brought everyone in and broke them into groups depending on their skills. Mark was in level 0 or the beginner level. When I would pick him up each day, I would talk to his coach. He said Mark had potential, but he was playing with those who were happy with butt boarding and not going past that. When we got home on Wednesday, we sat down for a talk.
I asked him. “How are you liking camp?”
“It’s fun, but they aren’t teaching me anything.” he sighed heavily.
I laughed because I knew this sport was not one to push people past their limits. After all, they could get hurt. “Honey, all the coaches are there for you to ask them for help. They can only work with you if you want them to.”
So we agreed that there was no more butt boarding, and we were going to talk to the head coach in the morning. On Friday, when I picked him up, he was so excited. He said he was a level one and next would be a level two, and that’s when he would get to learn how to drop in. The following week, he was at his mom’s and had a week off from camps.
When we got back to camp, he pushed himself hard. He told me that he was going to go down all the ramps. Which he did. He told me he would learn how to drop his board, jump on it and go without falling, and boy did he master that. But on Thursday, I got a phone call when I was on my way to pick him up.
“Morning, Ma’am. We just wanted to let you know that Mark got hurt.” came the coach on the other end.
“Oh god, how bad?” All I could think was he broke a leg or his neck because suddenly he thought he was Tony Hawk.
“Well, we think it’s either his wrist or his arm. Personally, I think it’s broke, but he isn’t crying.” The coach said with an uncomfortable laugh that I completely understood. “I had to convince him to sit down and ice it while we waited for you to get him.”
I told them no need for an ambulance since there was no blood and I was five minutes away. When I got there, Mark was eating cupcakes and had a massive smile on his face.
“Hey!” I said, looking at his bent forearm. As someone who has broken many bones, I knew that noodle arm was broken. “What happened.”
“WELLLLL I was learning how to drop in, and I did it,” huge smile. “I did it four times until my fifth time, and I don’t know what happened, but I just fell, and I blocked my face, so I didn’t get a busted lip and ….”
I blanked. I wanted to laugh. He wasn’t phased at all. He was just so proud of how hard he was working.
I gave him a hug. “Honey, I know told you that with skateboarding, it was a matter of when, not if you would break a bone, but that didn’t make it a challenge for you to do it as soon as possible.”
Once he had his full cast, Mark went back to camp, and everyone cheered. He was so excited to be back. Some of the kids told their stories about how they broke bones. Mark told me how some big kids told him that he was the toughest kid they knew since he didn’t cry. Though he was limited on how high ramps he could go on, it didn’t stop him from learning as much as possible in his last week.
Could this summer have been easier? Probably. Less painful if I pushed him to soccer or baseball? Of course, but it wouldn’t have been the same. Mark isn’t one to be in the outfield standing around for the ball to come to him. He isn’t going to pass the ball and stop running because that’s what the play is. He is balls to the wall, high-speed energy kid that breaks his arm and keeps going.
If you can find that one thing that motivates your kid, hold onto it. You might be giving up an hour or two of your day, but it makes them happy. You can spend time with them and watch them grow as a person, and you can even use that motivation outside their sport and apply it to their lives. It helps with school and chores. But what matters most is you took that time for your kid, and they will always remember that.