Getting My Girls to Go for the Gold

Health & Wellness on 08.06.12
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Photo: shawnzrossi/Creative Commons

In high school, soccer was my sport. I went to a Catholic school, and I can still hear the cheers of "God's on our side" (clap, clap -- clap, clap, clap) from the bleachers. I will never forget playing goalie in the state championship game. 

The season before we won the state championship, we lost in an earlier round when I dropped the ball and it rolled into the net. Total humiliation. Though my teammates were unfailingly supportive, it was still hard to get back in the goal.   

Team sports are a great way to build character. And I think developing self-confidence, especially around your physicality, is important for young girls. Plus soccer is great exercise and inexpensive at the youth level: All you need is a ball. 

So when my daughter, Maia, was 5 and my step-daughter, Ava, was 12, I signed them up for youth soccer. It was a disaster. Ava complained that everyone else had been playing since they were five.  She didn't understand how to play and did not appreciate my running up and down the sidelines trying to tell her. So she stood there, jabbing occasionally at the ball, running as little as possible. 

Maia actually convinced other girls on her team to ignore the game and sit down for a tea party right on the field. She'd get up and run by us to wave or pose for a picture with little regard for the ball.  Once she scored for the other team by accident and celebrated with a cartwheel. 

Girls' soccer only lasted one season in our household. I still want the girls to play sports, but I am realizing that I cannot (and should not) try to determine what sport they play.  I've also realized if I want them to do something, I should encourage them to do the opposite.

Over dinner one night, I told the girls that I didn't think cheering for the boys' team (even with some gymnastics mixed in) counted as a sport. Within a few days, they had fashioned pom poms out of construction paper and were out on the backyard trampoline practicing cheer routines for future try-outs.   

Ava struck out with tennis and track before deciding she liked volleyball and sailing. After a painfully awkward season of ballet classes, Maia discovered horseback riding (the most expensive sport imaginable). Suddenly she was begging to be dropped off at the barn for a full day to shovel poop.  If you knew my child, you'd know this meant love.

To this day many of the women I played soccer with at the youth and adult level continue to be my friends. That same resolve to get back in the goal and put one foot in front of the other was probably the most important lesson I learned as a young person.

I don't know where my kids' love of country club sports came from, but I've decided to stop meddling and to be happy they found sports they love, at least for now.

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