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Why Are All These 5-Year-Olds Already Playing Sports?!

Photograph by Twenty20

“What sports does your kid play?”

My inside voice giggled and responded to the nice parent at Back to School Night with an honest, “He’s 5. He finger paints and dresses up the dog,” while my outside voice composed itself and replied a truthful, “Oh, he hasn’t played any.” It was then I was informed that all the kids in kindergarten play something. My face flushed. Was my son behind before he’d even started?

I’m a worrier. When I’m supposed to be on a relaxing beach vacation, I worry about sunscreen amounts, jellyfish stings and whether a dolphin will adopt my son and carry him out to sea. This is why I started fretting about my back-to-school-night experience. The nice parent had asked about my son’s sports history innocently enough, but I knew something they didn’t: My son doesn’t care about sports. Was it true all the kids had signed up for athletics? This would leave my un-sporty kid benched and friendless.

So far the only interest my kid showed in sports was still perfecting his own unique version of catch with his eyes closed. I figured kindergarten (and the years to follow) would be the time when he’d figure out if being athletic was his thing—among many other things. Would he like math? Would he like art? Would he like sports? What worried me was it seemed he was supposed to know already. He wasn’t even sure if he liked school.

These horrific daydreams were what I feared would happen if I pushed my son into participating before he’d shown any interest.

In the weeks leading up to the first day of school, my kid had begged me to homeschool him. I knew he was nervous about going to a different school with all new children. I reassured him that he’d always made friends easily. But my inner worrying mom was stressed out: Was not playing a sport going to make that too hard? Should I just sign him up for something anyway?

My worry-wort brain took over, and I dreamed of short Ronaldos and ponytailed Gareth Bales running down soccer fields. Moms and dads cheered on their happy children while my sobbing son awkwardly tried to kick the ball—with his eyes closed.

These horrific daydreams were what I feared would happen if I pushed my son into participating before he’d shown any interest. When he has no initial attraction, his curiosity just isn’t there. He doesn’t engage. He would be miserable. When he’s intrigued and he asks to participate, he does so with his whole heart. It’s better for him to join in activities when he makes it so. The fun is lost otherwise.

His first day of school made me overthink what to pack for lunch and wonder whether or not he'll remember to miss me, but I left my worries behind when it came to signing him up for sports. I don’t want to put him in an activity without him asking to do it. There’s a fine line between pushing and encouraging, and he’d feel much more like the odd man out if I “encouraged” him into something he’s not ready for. He wouldn't enjoy it, and making friends in that deflated way would be harder.

And if my son never chooses to flex his athletic muscles, I’m totally fine with that. But should that fateful day come and I hear him say, “Mom, I want to play,” I’ll be the first one in the stands cheering him on, and reminding him to keep his eyes open when catching the ball.

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