Boys & Sports: Not Always a Match
From hundreds of sports-themed nurseries on Pinterest, to adorable onesies with sayings like “Daddy’s Little Slugger” and “Crawl, Walk, Football,” your son seems destined to be an athlete before he leaves the womb.
So what happens if he isn’t?
There is no doubt that sports do wonders for kids – they learn teamwork, social skills, what it feels like to lose, the value of practice, and get great exercise in the process. This article is by no means “anti-sports,” but many of our boys’ passions lie outside of athletics. And that is perfectly fine.
Why Is This Even an Issue?
Blue is for boys, pink is for girls. Boys are better at math than girls. While we know both of these statements are absolutely not true, the stereotypes and stigma attached to them are strong enough to work their way into our subconscious. (Check out Think or Blue for more info on this!) The idea that all boys will love sports falls into this category.
Before our children are born, it’s hard not to picture mini-versions of ourselves. And while it’s clear once they enter the world that this is not so, for some parents, it’s a concept that’s harder to let go of than it may seem. Similarly, “parents can have expectations for what their children will or should prefer based on their biological sex and their gender identity”, says Dr. Matt Hersh, a clinical psychologist with a focus on mindfulness. “For example, an athletic father (especially one who played a lot of sports as a kid) may implicitly assume that his son will be into sports. Although it may sound silly, grieving the ‘loss of expectations’ may be warranted in this case.”
In fact, parents may feel some or all of the following feelings:
- Will I still be able to bond with my son?
- How do I communicate with friends/other parents when sports come up?
- Why am I taking this so hard?
- How can I keep my kid active if he’s not into sports?
Read on for tips on ways to manage your own feelings as well as how to support your son in whatever his interests are.
Check Your Own Ego
Expectations are hard to let go of, but for the sake of your relationship with your son, it’s important to take a look at your role in this dynamic. “An adolescent with an ego problem is expected, but a parent with an ego problem can be downright dangerous,” warns Jonathan Wolf, owner and founder of YouTime Coaching.
“When the ego is in the starting line, perceptions, thoughts and beliefs can become easily distorted. Many parents then fall prey to operating through fear rather than acceptance and openness.”
It’s important to be mindful of your ego as you have conversations with your son and others. “Parents have the tendency, especially in groups, to ‘show off" their kid,’ Wolf continues. “Most parents feel embarrassed, judged, and reluctant to share if their kid falls out of the perceived norm. If you approach these conversations through fear, embarrassment, or judgment than this is the message other parents will likely get regarding your child's choice not to play sports.”
Expand the Options
Just because everyone in your family plays or watches baseball except for your son, this doesn’t mean he isn’t into sports. There are sports with a variety of styles and challenges. If you watched the Winter Olympics this year that was crystal clear. (Curling anyone?)
Exposing your son to sports outside of your bubble is important. “Supporting your child to increase his skills and find the right sport for him can make a huge difference,” says Dr. Kathleen Trainor, a clinical psychologist who focuses on treating anxiety in young people and founder of the TRAINOR Center. “For example tennis, running, and swimming are all great sports for kids who ‘don’t like sports’. They are individual and yet also team sports.”
But it many cases, sports aren’t always an interest. So help your son find something that that he is passionate about like robotics, art, theater, music or writing. There is usually a club or enrichment activity available in such areas, which is important to keeping a social element to their hobby.
Don’t Push It
We all know what it feels like to do something we don’t want to do. You can’t create motivation for someone—that comes from within. Sure, sometimes kids need a little nudge to try something outside of their comfort zone, but if your son is sending you clear signs that sports are not for him, it’s time to back off.
Dr. Matt Hersh reminds us that “the more a parent ‘pushes’ sports onto the son, the more likely the uninterested child is to resist or reject. At its most psychologically harmful level, the child may internalize that there’s something wrong with him if he doesn’t like what the parent likes or says he should like. This dynamic may also accidentally serve to create unnecessary emotional distance between parent and son, having an unintended negative consequence for the relationship.”
Fitness Can Still be a Priority
A disinterest in organized sports does not mean your son will be an unhealthy individual. There are so many ways to be active – walking a dog, rock climbing, taking a fitness class – never mind the fact that a vast majority of weight loss and gain is the result of changes in nutrition.
So how can you help your son make healthy choices? Simply by modeling behavior, says Jonathan Wolf. “Educating and encouraging your child on physical AND mental fitness should be a foundational pillar for parents. Go outside with your kids, run around with them, go hiking, talk to them about why YOU exercise and how it helps you in life.”
Like any habit, working nutrition and physical activity into your routine as a family will help your son in the short-term, but also set a tone for how they will live life as an adult independent of you.
Yes, You Can Still Bond
Remember the old saying “opposites attract?” While this phrase is usually a reference to romantic relationships, the takeaway is that people who are different click because of what they can learn from the other person and how they can then grow as individuals. This also applies to parenthood. For so long, you as a parent have been “the teacher”, but as your child grows into a teenager, there is so much that he can teach you.
Embrace your son’s individuality. Learn from him, and take an interest in what his passions are. Jonathan Wolf encourages parents to come from a place of openness: “Instead of operating from a mindset of fear and scarcity (we don't have enough in common), operate from a place of curiosity to learn more about what interests your child actually does have. Spend time getting to know their world, without letting the parent ego dominate the conversation.”
This approach will only serve to strengthen your relationship and bond with one another. So just as your son may join you for a hockey game, go with him to check out his favorite band in concert…you may see a side to him you haven’t seen before.
Your words and actions go a long way in how your child feels about himself and how he’ll value his own interests. Showing support and genuine pride for your son is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give.
So the next time you hear someone say, “He’s so tall…you have a basketball player on your hands!” It’s OK to smile and say, “Nope, but you can’t miss him on stage in his a cappella group!”
Written by Phase2Parenting
PLEASE NOTE: The writers of this article are not medical professionals. The information in this column is not intended and should not be construed as providing medical or psychological advice, but rather to offer readers information and provide a perspective to better understand the lives of themselves and their children. Articles on this website may be opinion based. The articles are not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist, psychotherapist or other licensed medical professional. If you do have health or safety concerns, please get in touch with a healthcare professional.