I played sports as a kid, as did most of you, I’m sure, and I have great memories from the experience. I played an assortment of sports, was on different teams (some won, others not so much) and learned much about how to work with others from being on a different team every year. There’s nothing like a team victory. To steal a line from Gene Hackman’s character in Hoosiers, which is the consummate team movie, the essence of a team is when “all pistons are firing at the same time.”
But as a parent, I learned that team sports are about so much more than winning, especially with young girls.
Even before my daughters were born, I assumed they would play team sports. Why not? They’re fun, you make new friends, you get some exercise and you get snack at the end of the game.
Well, as a parent, I learned that kids are their own people, and there’s no guarantee that your kids – boys or girls – will share your interests. Not in food, music, clothes, or hobbies. It took some time to wrap my head around that.
When my daughters were young, I found myself taking them to gymnastics class, which I loved, but also playing with dolls, pushing a stroller full of dolls around the house, and watching them dress up in my wife’s clothes. All stereotypical “girl” activities that I had never done. And while I didn’t love helping Barbie pick out a new outfit, I did love sitting with my daughters, watching their minds work, and making them laugh.
I never pushed them into sports, and they never showed any interest beyond gymnastics (which is a great sport, by the way), but at age 5 Emily said she wanted to play soccer. So we signed her up. Erin, who was almost 8 at the time, had no interest.
Well, that was 2003. Eleven years and countless teams later, I give team sports a huge amount of credit in helping our girls develop their self-esteem and love of a sport, build their self-confidence, make new friends, and see the world a bit broader.
Sports for them was not about winning when they were younger, but about participating and learning. They loved putting on their jersey and showing it off to friends and family. They loved cheering for each other, and at the end of the season getting a trophy and having a team party. That’s what team sports was all about.
As they grew, it became about improving and competing, and only when they become teenagers were they pushed into winning. But at every step on that timeline, it was team, team, team. They celebrated come-from-behind victories and they lost with grace. They learned the written and unwritten rules of respect in the game, and they dealt with teammates more talented and less talented than they were – all life skills.
Whether your daughter is the best on the team or the worst, the point is she’s part of the team, and the team supports her – a key lesson I’ve found with girls.
A last thought on your daughter in team sports: Be a coach.
I know it’s a big time commitment, and I know it means leaving work early, but it means a lot to your kids, especially when they’re young.
They don’t know that you may not know much about the sport. All they know is that their Dad is there with them – and that’s a big deal.
I started coaching my kids, not knowing the first thing about soccer but intent on making sure all the 5-year-old girls on the team had a good experience and didn’t wind up with a coach who yelled at them. I read everything I could about the sport to stay ahead of their learning curve, and much to my surprise the girls liked it. (They may have liked the uniforms and hair bows more than anything else, but so be it). The girls learned to play together, to talk to each other and how to confront problems — again, all life skills. Amazingly, 11 years later, the core group of that team was still together as friends and teammates. Not only did we develop great family friendships, but my daughters and I have a bond that we’ll share forever. They took (and take) pride when talking about their team, telling others that their Dad was the coach. (A big side benefit was that I got to see how they interacted with the group and how they handled problems.)
You don’t have to be the head coach. In fact you don’t have to be an official coach. Just be at practices and the games to help out and cheer. Trust me, you’ll reap the rewards.