Flipping Upside Down for Kids’ Activities

Should parents encourage kids to do whatever extracurricular activity “floats their boat”, or encourage them in skills they can enjoy as hobbies later in life? For example, volleyball or running? Cheerleading or swimming? Skating or dancing? Football or golf? And once the choice has been made, do we think about what that will eventually mean to our families, time-wise and dollar-wise, if they progress?    

My husband and I have been thinking a lot about this topic lately as our youngest daughter recently was accepted onto the city gymnastics team.  She’s always been agile, climbing and hanging on everything, always been tiny for her age, so I encouraged her to take classes way back when. (What was I thinking?!)  She’s been taking classes at a local city rec center for several years since then and most of that time, dreamed of being on “the team”.  Each time she tried out, she didn’t make it. I really thought she’d move on to something else, like tennis, her second favorite sport.  But this summer she worked hard in building up her strength (Andy even helped her put a chin-up bar in her bedroom doorway) and she finally passed the team tryout.  We were then faced with the reality of a gymnastics team workout schedule: 3 1/2 hours every night, four nights a week.  There goes the family dinners I’ve long tried to fiercely guard, I thought, and there goes any other extracurricular activity for her (except piano lessons, of course).  “PLEEEEEESE,” she begged as I frowned at the new schedule.  “I’ve been wanting this for so long.  I’ll piano practice in the morning and do my homework right after school.” 

So far, we’re taking an approach not unlike something you’d see on The Brady Bunch– let the child go for it, because she realized a long-sought goal, but at the same time, figuring that the heavy schedule will be too much to handle and the child will decide on their own that it’s not worth it:  
Cue the 70’s sitcom jazz orchestra background music as the young girl sits on her bed, eyes beginning to well up with tears, bottom lip quivering, facing her parents, who also sit on the edge of her bed.
Mom: “Honey, what’s wrong?
Girl: (bursting into tears) “I hate myself! I’m a failure!”
Dad: “Why would you say that?”
Girl: “Because it’s true.  All the other girls on the team like spending fourteen hours a week at the gym, going to the competitions, plus handling the pressure of homework and studying for tests…but I don’t! I hate this schedule. I miss my family.  I don’t have a life anymore!!” Girl sobs and buries her face into her mom as Mom wraps her arms around girl.
Mom: “Aw, sweetheart, you’re not a failure (mom takes her hands and cups her daughter’s face, looking into it).  You’re a human being.  A 10-year-old human being.  No 10-year-old has to handle that kind of pressure. ”
Girl: “But why did you sign me up then?”
Dad: “Because you set a goal and made it, and we wanted you to experience for yourself what being on a gymnastics team really means.  You have to give up so much and be focused pretty much on one thing. But you have other gifts and talents! You can sing like no one else! You can play piano, and you taught yourself how to play guitar!” 
Mom: “You won Player of the Week at Tennis and Swim day camp, not to mention Best Belly Flop!”
Girl smiles.
Dad: “And you like to go on bike rides with your Dad, and that’s just as important as being at the gym– more important, I think!”
Girl smiles again.
Mom: “And you don’t have to give up gymnastics– you can still take a class, and keep up your skills, and maybe be on a team another time, like in high school. Not being on the team now won’t mean you’re a failure. Like we’ve said before, it’s good to be a well-rounded person.”
Girl: “I love you Mom and Dad.”
Mom and Dad: “We love you too, sweetheart.”
Cue music. 70’s sitcom jazz orchestra plays as the three hug. Fade out.  Roll credits.

But what if she likes the workout schedule? What if she can handle it? She started working out with the team this past Monday, the first day of school.  So far, her reviews of practice have been glowing, even though she’s felt a little sore.  And she’s packed her gym bag and piano practiced at 6:45 a.m. every day, just as she promised, and done homework after school.  Once school gets into full swing, we’ll see…it’s definitely going to be a test of her organization, dedication, and stamina (as well as a test of my meal-planning skills!). 

But, for what? She’s already said her goal is not the Olympics.  She doesn’t want to teach gymnastics someday. And, you can’t do a flying dismount from the bars when you’re 30 (unless you’re Wonder Woman and working out at a gym every day)!

I think she wants to prove she can be good at a team sport, since she’s very tiny for her age and hasn’t been a stand-out in soccer, basketball, softball, or volleyball, the team sports she’s tried with her friends.    So it’s a confidence booster, probably at an age (and development phase) when she needs it.  And, she’s very happy– her face gets such a big smile when she talks about the team! 

But, it’s a face I now only get to see about three hours every weekday, and my husband gets to see for one, if he’s lucky…. ###

33 thoughts on “Flipping Upside Down for Kids’ Activities”

  1. Since Scouts meets on Fridays, we’re still good for that– and weekends, too!  Weekend competitions don’t start until January but she may not get to compete then, since the rest of the newcomers (who made it on the team in May) have had a few more months to be on the team– she has some catching up to do!  Emmie has told me she wants to be in Scouts even through high school so no worries yet!

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