September 15, 2016

How Fragile

For some reason, I thought that parenting would get easier as our kids got older. There is this notion that it is all down hill once you conquer the “Terrible Twos. ” I mean how much harder can it get than cleaning a corn-filled-diarrhoea-swim-diaper?

But today was a lesson in how fragile children can be. And how we talk to them, and what we say, and how we show pride or disappointment really affects their self-esteem, work ethic and approach to hard work. None of this is simple or easy. It’s no wonder people are so messed up. It’s a miracle that we are not more messed up as a species.

Here are the details-

Kaia started playing on the basketball team last year and had no idea how to play. The team was terrible and had zero skills or understanding of the game. She was on the B team and lumbered through a slow season of losses, but somehow still liked the game enough to want to try again. We signed her up for an outside camp called Fastbreak and she has improved tremendously. She can now dribble, pass, and sink some shots. She understands the basics of the game and can at least function in a scrimmage situation.

So this year, she joined the official school team again, hoping to have a better experience. They had a few days of practice and the coaches observed the girls in order to divide up the teams. They had something like forty kids sign up. I think Kaia sort of took it for granted that since she had improved that she would make the A team.

She did not. Twelve girls, including her best friend (who has been playing for the same amount of time as her) made the team, but she is on the B team again.

She was disappointed, frustrated and pretty upset. We had a long talk in the car on the way to dinner, with both Mairin and I trying to help her understand that sometimes just because you want something to happen or expect it to happen, it doesn’t always happen.

We are noticing that although Kaia likes many things, she rarely takes anything super seriously. I don’t want to get into too many more details, because I feel like I might be infringing on her privacy by saying more. I have probably already shared too much.

I just wanted to highlight how hard it can be when nothing you can say or do as a parent can really speed up your child “getting it.” Whatever the "it" might be. Kids just need to learn things on their own. The fear is that they don't learn it until it is too late.

I was never really the athletic competitive type, and I am wondering if my lassie-faire attitude toward sports in general is affecting Kaia’s ability to focus and compete. She doesn’t seem to have that competitive drive.

We mentioned that it is fine to play basketball because it’s fun. It’s fine to be with your friends and to use this year on the B team to learn to love the game. We told her that we are proud that she is giving it her time at all, but that she cannot get too upset when she is not on the more competitive team. We mentioned that if you want to be on an A team you have to bring your A game.

I felt she thought we were judging her and she seemed disappointed in our response, but really how do you teach kids that if they want to be an athlete or expert in anything they have to put in the time? You have to be bad at it until you are good at it. And you have to really love it. You have to play the instrument, Take the free throws. Draw the sketches.

Anyway, it was a hard conversation. I think she came out of with some understanding about the kinds of choices she will need to make about what she wants to explore and learn and what she eventually may want to try and master.

I hate using that language, but honestly if we want to excel at anything, we have to find our passion and practice and pursue it. I know she is only ten, but as a parent you want your kids to find a fire that they can stoke. I do not want her to practice things mindlessly and become some prodigy, but it would be nice if she could really delve a bit deeper into a few of the things she already does.

What do you think? Am I over reacting? Is it too soon? I just don’t want her to end up like me…mediocre at some things, but not really great at any one thing.

Advice and comments welcome.


  1. That’s a tough one. After a season during which his soccer team lost all but the final game, which was a tie, my son wisely remarked “I wish that every game ended in a tie. That way, nobody would lose.” Zero competitive drive, at least in the team sports sense, at least at that time.

    Eventually - middle school, it seems, maybe earlier - the kids differentiate physically, the competitive athletes emerge, and everyone else seems to eventually shake out and lose interest, though at different rates. I remember fondly The Final Soccer Game before my kids decided that wasn’t their thing. Neither was I very interested in team sport growing up, and I have always found it stressful to go to the games and to see the ways in which the competitive children especially start treating others with meanness.

    I think it’s important to consciously continue to try and help children connect with their physical selves, providing opportunities to try as many things as possible. Your daughter will either enjoy the B Team and improve, or she’ll let it go. Some kids are happy to warm the bench for reasons other than the game itself. Surely at some point, maybe years later, she will find the body/mind integration activity that gets her fired up. For my children, average skills and abilities in soccer and basketball gave way to joy and real skill in individual sports and physical pursuits like snowboarding, rock climbing, and slacklining.

  2. Hey Zach,

    This is some great advice. Thanks. Will consider it as we move forward.