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The Unbearable Wrongness of Sportsing

The Unbearable Wrongness of Sportsing

By Mir Kamin

Of all of the parenting transgressions I have committed in the eyes of my children’s father—and I assume there are many, though because we are grownups (or just, you know, old and tired and divorced for about a dozen years by now) we no longer bicker about them the way we once did—my lack of enthusiasm about sports may just top the list. It’s not that I don’t enjoy watching various sports, it’s that I am not a sporty person, myself. I never played organized sports as a kid (save for a brief stint in Little League which hinged upon my devotion to the weekly after-game ice cream), and even now, I struggle to find exercise I enjoy. I grew up as an asthmatic bookworm who abhorred everything about the culture of teenage sporting, and now… ummm… well, my asthma has improved.

Listen, I put the kids in sports when they were little. I understand the importance of exercise and I think team sports offer lots of important life lessons. My standard approach was always, “Does that sound like it might be fun? Let’s try it!” Once a commitment was made to a class or a season, the kids had to see it through. For a while, there, I thought perhaps they did take after their father’s side of the family: My daughter gleefully twirled her way through both kiddie ballet and youth soccer, then devoted herself to Tae Kwon Do for years (though she quit once she reached a high enough level that she was expected to spar on a regular basis). My son’s experience with youth soccer was more complicated, as even “amoeba ball” presents a number of challenges for an autistic kid with sensory defensiveness, but we moved on to swimming (“No one is touching you! Just swim!”) and that seemed promising right up until a coach gently suggested that when the amount of crying exceeds the amount of swimming, it may be time to find a different activity. My daughter enjoyed swimming until a chronic skin condition forced her out of the pool. My son played baseball in a special needs league for a few years, but—like me, way back when—was mostly there for the snacks. My daughter took yoga with a friend for a while, then lost interest. I offered other options. I tried, for years. But the older the kids got, the more opinions and resistance they had. Lo and behold, by the time they made it to high school, neither of them wanted to do anything involving exercise. (Except marching band, of course. I’m willing to count that as a sport, but it’s not a very long season.)

My ex has a standard speech he gives about how he was never very good at the many sports he played, and that wasn’t the point; he did it for the exercise and the team-building and all of the other benefits of participating. He’s not wrong about it being a great pursuit for him. Where we disagree is on whether it’s a good idea for our kids.

On the one hand: I wish they would exercise more. I know it’s good for them. And I do think there are benefits conferred by team sports participation that are hard to get elsewhere. You don’t have to be the best or even particularly good if you’re willing to work hard and support your team, right? I would love to believe that’s true.

On the other hand: My ex went to school in a different time and place, and P.S., his parents were both teachers at the school he attended. While he wasn’t immune to bullying, I’m going to venture a guess that having his parents there (and often, having his parents as the coaches of the team) curbed a lot of the abuse he might’ve otherwise encountered. My kids attend a large public school known to be… ahhhh… well, let’s just say it can be a little rough around the edges. Some of the sports I might otherwise suggest as being compatible with my not-terribly-athletic children are ones where it’s not a question of if they’ll be bullied, but how badly. And while I wish they would be more physically active, at a certain point I think the emotional cost is too high. (Exhibit A: At one point I did extract an agreement to “try a spring sport” from my daughter, and her brief stint on the Track team was… unpleasant, to say the least.)

Throw in today’s teen culture of constant attachment to various screens, my daughter’s involvement in a dozen (non-sportsing) school clubs, my son’s deep and abiding love of Dungeons & Dragons and other sit-and-snack-while-you-slay-dragons gaming, and you have a couple of busy-but-sedentary kids and a mom who has guilt.

The good news is that the kids are lean and eat pretty healthfully, thanks to good genes and the fact that I have no guilt about controlling the food that comes into the house and cooking most of what we eat. But the bad news—as I am now discovering in my 40s—is that good genes only keep you healthy like that when you’re young. I struggle with forming good exercise habits now, and I need them, because I can no longer coast on youth to keep the pounds off and give me boundless energy. I’m working on it, and I would love to get those habits in place for the kids before they find themselves middle-aged and wishing they’d taken better care of themselves. Plus, I can see that both of my teens function better both emotionally and physically when they get regular exercise.

“Do you want to come take a walk with me?”
“No thanks.”

“Hey, who wants to go for a bike ride?”
“Not me!”

When they were little, I could announce they were enrolled in a class and put them in the car and take them there. I can’t force them, at this point. (I guess I could try, but I prefer to pick my battles, and I’m not sure this is one I want to have.) I offer up a variety of not-at-school options to circumvent the social shark tank issues, but no matter what I suggest, neither of them are interested.

I don’t know how hard to push, or what would be workable options at this point, even. I feel like there must be a solution rather than just letting them stay on the couch with their books. I’m just not sure what it is, yet. 10 points to Gryffindor—or my eternal gratitude—for any fantastic ideas on how to get my teens up and moving in ways they love. Hit me with your brilliance, please.

Mir Kamin
About the Author

Mir Kamin

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now ...

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now her life looks very different than it did back then: Those little kids turned into anything-but-regular teenagers, she is remarried, and somehow she’s become one of those people who talks to her dogs in a high-pitched baby voice. Along the way she’s continued chronicling the everyday at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, plus she’s bringing you daily bargain therapy at Want Not. The good news is that Mir grew up and became a writer and she still really likes hanging out with her kids; the bad news is that her hair is a lot grayer than it used to be.

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  • Pingback: Ice day! | Woulda Coulda Shoulda()

  • My older daughter (28 now!) is already pretty active. Although she share’s Monkey’s uncoordinated brand of autism, she has a deep love of swimming, and spends many hours a week at the pool. She also participates in a local, very low-pressure karate dojo, where she is appreciated and encouraged to move up at her own pace.

    About 6 months ago I got her a Fitbit, and she is now determined to get in her 10,000 steps (minimum) every day. With Fitbits — and probably other exercise trackers — you can share your stats with other Fitbit users. Would it work to have the two of them in a friendly competition to beat each other’s steps? It might get them moving. They would already be getting a lot of steps walking to classes, and might be encouraged to get more with the reward prompts from a tracker.

  • I never liked sports much either, but I have always liked hiking.  I still like it although winter here has put kind of a damper on it for now (although I still go occasionally when it’s cold out, just less than in summer.) I wish I had done more hiking when I was in my teens.  Is there some kind of hiking club at their school (not necessarily camping, just day hikes.)  Anyhow that’s just a thought.  I kind of wish I had tried some form of track or cross country back then but not sure how well I would have faired at it.

  • Heather

    I have no idea if this is an option, but my parents stopped giving me rides places, forcing me to walk or bike more. I thought they were horrible people (naturally) but it did help me learn to like walking (and I do it for exercise daily now, even though I’m a grown up with a car and everything! Lol.) You could also do an incentive thing, like every 30 min of exercise equals 2 hours of D&D or credits toward a special whatever they’ve been asking for.

  • Amy

    I was also a non-sportsing kid. Husband and I are both pretty anti-sports so I’m sure when we eventually have kids that they will be all into every sport. But I never played on a single sports team. Never. We had zero dollars for sports. So, I guess not being able to afford things does lend a special air. I actually never did anything active until my junior year when I decided maybe, I didn’t want to wear a size 16 pants. And then it was step aerobics (I know you’re imagining me doing step aerobics right now ).  Now I run and go to the gym because it’s my stress relief. They are finding their own way. I’m sure they’ll eventually find their way to the gym (if only to look at handsome fellas/ladies 🙂 ). Okay, fine, I’m not helping at all. But still non-sportsing kids work out fine. Just look at me and husband!

    • Deb

      Ha!  You’re right – you’ll end up with sporty kids!  My athletic ability was very, very limited and completely ran out in high school and the same with my husband. We are tall, so everyone assumes we played basketball but neither of us did.  Now, of course, we spend our weekends going to sporting events.  My 10 year old currently plays football, basketball, tennis, and lacrosse and he is obsessed with sports (falls asleep with the football stats, collects all the cards, loves to watch it on TV).  My two youngest are only 6 an 4, so we’re testing sports and everyone loves tennis, and it looks like they will follow in their brother’s footsteps.  Good luck to us and to you!

  • mar

    A few completely non-related , or what the professionals call “silent sport” activities – maybe not anything they would do all the time, but at least a way to get everyone off the couch a little more often.

    1). Climbing – if you have a climbing gym near you, it’s a great fall/winter/spring activity. Most have climbing gyms have both walls and bouldering activities, and have monthly passes to make it more affordable.

    2) We have an indoor badminton court near us, and it’s a fun way to get an hour or so of a exercise in a less traditional way, and good to do as a family or let them do it with a group of their friends. We had a big group that used to do it on Sat. afternoons all Jan. and Feb. – nice chance of pace.

    3). With your shiny new bikes, you can buy a stationary trainers stand. This way, you use the bike you already own, the trainer stand is not very big, it gets out of the way, and if they want to watch TV, they can still do so – just while on the bike. My husband and son are full blown cyclists, but it’s hard to train in the winter in the Northeast, so they do that more than a bit this time of year.

    4). My personal trick is to pick an athletic charitable event, and use that as my carrot to train. 20 mile charity bike ride, 15 mile walk-a-thon, etc. Maybe that would work for them as well.

  • My oldest (extremely sedentary) aspie got interested in a running app having to do with escaping zombies for a while, there. If you think it might interest Monkey, I’ll get the info from Q. You wear earbuds and follow instructions regarding running/walking in intervals to evade the zombies, and seemed sort of fun an engaging for otherwise non-activity-oriented folks.

    • Ruth, that could be up his alley! Send me the deets?

      • Kate

        It’s called “zombies, run” and it’s available on the iTunes store

      • Rachel

        I believe Ruth is talking about zombiesrungame [dot] com. There’s also a dungeon battle fitness game called Dungeon Runner: Fitness Quest that would probably appeal to a DnD geek (it’s why I bookmarked it). Both intrigued me as motivators for my own exercise and yet I have downloaded and tried neither.

        Both of my kids continue to enjoy Tae Kwon Do. Neither like sparring but our school doesn’t put a big emphasis on it. The kids weren’t very much into team sports either but my daughter is having a great time on the demo team for TKD.

  • Chris

    Oh I was going to suggest track/cross country before I realized that didn’t work out.  My kids school still requires exercise or a team sport and we added a you must do at least one team sport requirement (which was a fight for my less athletically, got a serious concussion sort of kid).  Now, she will be one of the cross-country captains next year on a team that includes great runners, average runners (her) and some of the slowest but nicest kids you have ever seen.  I guess we are lucky in the team supports them all and roots consistently for those who year after year finish well after the rest of the pack.  

    I also like the fitbit idea but what about the 7 min workout?  It would be better than nothing and if done consistently would make sure they have core strength at least.

    • I’ve heard our cross country team is great (very different from the track crowd) but it’s the same season as band. Hmph.

    • WrittenPyramids

      I love this app (apps!) it’s called ZombiesRun! there’s a regular one and a couch to 5k one that is great for getting started. The same company makes an app called The Walk which is an ongoing mystery story (I think) where you unlock part of the story by walking ore steps. I dunno what OS their iPhones are, but Six to Start has another app also, but it’s only for iOs 8. The rest work for earlier versions as well. The Zombies app are AWESOME! 

  • Cordelia

    I am neither of your kids, but I loved fencing in high school. It doesn’t have much of a team element, (which is good and bad I suppose,) but you definitely learn sportsmanship. Plus you sweat and you feel so cool!

    • Karen in Michigan

      I was going to suggest fencing, too! I fenced a little in high school, then took it up again in my 30’s and 40’s. I’m not a “sporty” person and was too much of a geek to do anything in high school (yes, the popularity monster controlled team sports) but I could get behind fencing. And some clubs put more emphasis on practice and learning than on actual bouts. And I wanted to be Zorro when I was young.

  • Genevieve

    If your school has an ultimate frisbee team, or if there’s a rec team around, they tend to be very friendly, laid-back people.  It’s a sport that offers a lot of exercise (running around as much as soccer) but non-contact (but might not work for Monkey as there’s a lot guarding/blocking people to keep them from throwing, similar to basketball but less contact).  

    Love the idea of the zombie running app.  

    As a very non-sportsy person myself, I found as an adult that I really want the endorphins from exercise, and got myself a recumbent bike.  Also go to the gym sometimes and use the elliptical.  I bribe myself with watching things that no one else in the family wants to watch while I bike.  

  • Kylie

    We have an indoor trampolining place near us that the kids love. I jumped with them the first time we went – great cardio workout

  • Lucinda

    This is a constant push-pull between my husband and I.  He was the athlete as a kid and I was not.  At all.  Although both my kids have more athleticism than I ever had, neither are very interested in sports.  I gave up on my daughter years ago and my son is slowly participating less and less.  I worry for all the reasons you mention but at the end of the day I decided that at some point t hey have to start making their own choices.  We have talked about all the pros and cons of sports, the value of exercise, the changing of metabolism as you get older.  But truth be told, not everyone likes sports. Both are making noises about spring track though….so I’m crossing my fingers.

  • Good ideas here, thanks for posting. My 10yo has tried t-ball/baseball and jiu jitsu with varying levels of interest, but neither one stuck. I’m eager for new ideas for him – his school doesn’t offer a lot. I want to try tennis, since we live where it’s warm most of the year, and I think in HS he could get into running possibly… but he couldn’t care less about any of it. Sigh.

  • Carla Hinkle

    I did dance & cheer in HS but wasn’t sporty, and then became VERY sedentary in my 20s, which was fine while I was young & naturally skinny but is no longer feasible in my 40s.  I have found some athletic things I really like now (barre & running)…the key seemed to be to keep trying activities until I found something I REALLY ACTUALLY LIKED.  Then once I was in shape, everything was more fun and now I try all sorts of stuff.

    For the kids…the only thing I can say is to keep trying different activities & help them find something they like. My 3 kids are various levels of sportsy, some more than others (ages 5, 8, 11).  They are younger than your teens but we don’t really give them a purely sedentary option. Everyone has to do SOMETHING a few days per week. School PE, soccer, gymnastics, martial arts, running with me, riding bikes, swimming…we try to help the kids find something they like because we don’t want to be forcing exercise, but we also try to communicate how important it is.

    Right now the kids are doing some monthly challenges with a sticker chart on the fridge (prob your kids are too old for that, but maybe you would like it??).  A website called “shrinking jeans” has a bunch of fun, not too overwhelming monthly challenges (Jan was pushups & squats, Feb is abs, etc) and the kids love to do it with me. Also my 11 yo (truthfully the least athletic of the bunch, but she likes data/charts/checking stuff off) and I signed up for a 5K run in April and we’re training together…

    I was always a person who hated exercise until I was almost 40 so I know how hard it can be to motivate and find something you like (both for you & the kids). The only real advice I have is to just keep at it! There is really some activity out there for everyone, I really believe it. 

  • Alice

    As someone else in the naturally sedentary camp, I can sympathize! If you have limits on TV or suchlike, you could tie in exercise with getting more of those things, and I like the zombie running ideas, too. But I think that a lot of it will only come when *they* realize that they feel better after being active.

    I can say that it’s probably helping that you’re changing your habits while they’re still living at home – having exercise be a normal thing will help them slot it in mentally when they’re ready.

  • Pamela

    I never really played sports in school for all the reasons you list above (I was on the swim team for a bit freshman year, and then refused to wear a bathing suit in public until years later, long after I’d acquired a decent therapist). However, I played lots of sports in college. Now, I know it’s going to be 12 years before even Chickadee is old enough to go to college, but depending on the school she picks, I bet her options will really open up. House league teams are often desperate for warm bodies, and more people get the idea that it’s supposed to be a good time.

  • Kate

    There was a school around here for stage combat  and stunts-
    called ring of steel. I think they are a national group, though. That might appeal to the DnD fan, if you have it near you.

  • AmyBall

    geocaching. Free app, basically a treasure hunt with a gps. It’s the only way we can get our 3 and 6 year olds to hike with us, basically for the same reason: copious whining. There’s millions of loot hidden, probably even in or near your neighborhood

  • traci

    I think it is a battle you need to pick. Speaking as someone struggling now, the health (both mental and physical) benefits require it. This is not an added benefit, but a basic need. Have a sit down with them. Discuss the health needs (your body needs this like food and water) and give them parameters. For example, you must choose one active activity a season or you must do 30 minutes or an hour of active time a day. Let them choose the activity or how they spend their active time. It can be anything from the great suggestions above to just getting outside and playing. Even gardening is pretty active. If you have to frame it as your choice or I make the choice if you don’t pick. You might have to tie it to no screens until after. But it is worth it!

    Also, kinect games are great for getting moving (more so than Wii).

  • Brittany

    I was a marching band kid in high school too and my school had an indoor colorguard which performed in the off season of marching band. I played an instrument in the band, but liked colorguard because I already knew a lot of the members and the instructor. It also has the same kind of musical and teamwork emphasis that I liked about marching band. It definitely required learning some new skills (spinning and tossing a flag), but my teammates were very patient and I wasn’t the only person who was new to it. Maybe an idea for your daughter? Another great thing about both marching band and indoor colorguard are that a lot of colleges have them so it’s a great way to make new friends at an unfamiliar place!

  • Lily

    The older I get the less I enjoy exercising so I try to do physical activities that are fun. Lately, I’ve started taking salsa lessons. It’s been great because I get to burn a bunch of calories and can show off my new moves when I go out. I don’t know if there are places around you that offer lessons for teens but it might be worth checking.

  • Erin

    I hated participating in sports growing up, but my parents kept suggesting/trying new things like ice skating lessons and group ski trips. That push to keep trying different stuff was key – I realized that I liked “individual” sports… skiing, rollerblading, hiking – things I could do on my own. In college, I realized I could do those activities alone OR with people – and I also discovered that I really loved being outside. Now I live in the mountains and am an active sportser/camper gal. I think the push as a kid to explore lots of activities and find what suited me was invaluable.

  • ladybug

    I’ll second geocaching/orienteering/hiking as fun activities that can keep them moving.  They can hide as well as seek caches.

    My kids took hapkido, which had no competitive sparring.

    Fencing is very athletic.  And I have one kid that’s into Parkour, although I don’t recommend it if your children are at all breakable.

    Defy Gravity (indoor trampolines) are a huge amount of fun, but pricey to do often. As a reward, though, awesome!

    And I actually do refuse to drive them sometimes, which may not be practical where you live.

  • Shelly

    Had to jump in as I can’t believe no one has mentioned music and books on tape yet. As a early 30 something I can still remember being a bookworm at school. But I enjoy moving, and the two things that have worked the most for getting me off my butt are music and books on tape.
    Get them a mp3 player, give them their favorite (upbeat) band and push them out the door with sneakers on. Or download a new book by their favorite author (you can often get them free with your library membership). Make a rule they can only listen to it while moving. They’ll get through the book quick enough. Of course I’m assuming your kids are old enough and independent enough to go walking in the neighborhood by themselves.

  • Photomom

     I have always hated sports, I have always had terrible balance and coordination…. the only sporty thing I have ever loved is jujutsu…. my dojo was non competitive and I loved it. My reflexes and reaction time and balance improved immensely… perhaps something to consider?