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Athlete, Parent

Sometimes You Have to Let Kids Be Kids

PCA - love your articles and I get a lot out of them. Here is our situation and I'd like your input. This might be a little "stream of consciousness" but hopefully you get the overall theme.

Our son turned 11 in August. He has always been an exemplary athlete and student. In fact, he plays "up" in a majority of the sports he plays so he is playing generally with 12 & 13-year-olds in soccer, basketball, baseball. This was the first year we tired of travel baseball. Going into the season we had moderate expectations and did not anticipate a lot of playing time as most of the kids on the team were repeat players & older for that matter. Our expectations were accurate as he played sparingly but maintained a great attitude and the coaches applauded his effort. He just isn't mature enough physically as most of the other kids and the baseball strategy was a little beyond his ability to grasp (i.e. backing up every play, picking up all the signs, reading the shifts, etc...).

What surprised us though is a bit of apathy regarding his playing time and a passion for overcoming the obstacles. It was as if he was "ok" with being average and didn't want to really go the extra mile to improve. This apathy also translated to schoolwork and friends. It was as if he was satisfied with getting passing grades and not really working that hard to be the best he can be. As parents, this frustrated us as both my wife and I are overachievers and I am constantly looking for ways to be a better husband, dad, and person. I am successful at my job but every year I go for broke with renewed energy. It's hard for me to identify with complacency.

I know he's just 11 but should we be concerned with this apathy? How do we get him to be more passionate about his own account? We want him to have his own internal drive and we don't want to be the ones nagging him to be this way as we don't want it to appear that we are pressuring him. I'd appreciate your insight. thank you.

PCA Response by Marc Schmatjen, PCA Trainer

Thank you for writing in with your question. I tell every parent and coach that I am fortunate enough to train in a PCA workshop the same thing, “Kids don’t do things on purpose that aren’t fun.” In other words, no matter at what level they are performing, or at what level we want them to perform, they are still kids. When left to make their own decisions, kids seek out the fun every time.

One of our core PCA principles is the Emotional Tank that we all have inside of us. We need our tank full in order to perform at our best. There is simply no possibility of reaching our peak performance with a drained E-Tank. We humans thrive on truthful, specific praise, being appreciated, belonging to a group, being listened to, achieving personal goals, and the list goes on and on. At the top of the list of Emotional Tank fillers (for people of any age) is having fun.

I think in your son’s case it’s important to focus on the fact that he’s “just 11,” as you said. That’s important in this situation in two different ways. First, he’s still very young. We lose kids his age out of sports all the time, and the number one reason they give for not wanting to play next year is, “it’s not fun anymore.” Second, being only 11, your son has many more years to grow in his sports, as long as we can keep him playing. He will grow in size, strength, coordination, ability, intelligence, etc. in every sport he plays (and we at PCA recommend he plays multiple sports through high school and even into college if possible). The only way he’s going to get that chance to grow and shine, and the only way you’re going to get the chance to enjoy it from the sidelines, is if we can keep him playing. The number one way to do that is to make sure it keeps being fun.

So my first piece of advice to you would be to sign him up for a rec league with his own age group, and let that natural athleticism shine through. He will get fair playing time, which is usually all any kid really wants, and he’ll be having a blast with his friends, win or lose on the field. That will ensure he wants to play again next year. My second piece of advice to you would be to make sure you do nothing other than enjoy the heck out of getting to watch your son play sports. Remember, it’s THEIR sports experience, and we parents are blessed to get to enjoy it while it lasts. Let’s make sure it lasts as long as possible!

I hope that helps. Best of luck to you and your family.

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