My 6-year-old hates playing basketball. I don’t really blame him. He was the worst one on the team last winter. I’m not being mean. It’s true. He’s got two left feet and is totally confounded by the concept of dribbling and running at the same time.
As a former worst-one-on-the-team athlete myself, I can feel his pain. It’s excruciating to be the player no one picks or passes to. But when he came to me asking to quit the team, I said no. “You’re part of the team and they need you,” I told him.
He wasn't happy, but he kept showing up to practice and to the games.
As soon as basketball season was over, I enrolled him in flag football. I was determined to keep him playing sports, even if he didn't really want to. Here's why:
1. He needs to learn that he's not going to be good at everything. This is true in school, sports, work, and life. You can’t quit every time you’re not good at something.
2. He's part of a team and they're counting on him. Even if you're not the star player, your team is counting on you and quitting lets them down. Even when things are tough, it's important to learn that your actions affect other people.
3. He's made a commitment and he has to keep it. If you value commitments, the people you commit to will value you. It’s never too early to learn that your word has value.
4. He's learning the importance of being on time. The game starts when it’s scheduled to start, not when you show up. That means you have to get used to being on time and to paying attention for the whole game, not just for the part that interests you.
5. Sports aren't taking him away from something else. I never force my kids to do something because everyone else is doing it — except when it comes to sports. His friends are playing sports, so, why should he be any different? It’s not like he’s missing out on work. He’s 6. He doesn’t have to be anywhere else.
6. He's learning a skill that will help him stay fit. At 6-years-old he may have the metabolism of a hummingbird, but that’s not always going to be the case. It’s important to have sports and athletics be a part of your normal routine as a kid so that leading a healthy lifestyle comes naturally later on.
7. He might discover something he's good at after all. Not everyone is an instant athletic start. Some of us take a while to master a sport. In fact, even though basketball was a bust, my son has discovered that he's pretty good at flag football. He’s working hard. But more importantly, he feels good about it. Score!
8. He'll make friends on the field. Once a group of kids has worked together as a team, the bonds run deep and the friendships can last a lifetime. Why miss the opportunity to be a part of the group and connect with your potential friends for life?
9. He'll learn how to deal with conflict. Whether it’s the guy who cheats or the kid who won’t pass you the ball, sports are rich with opportunities to navigate interpersonal conflicts. Just like life.
10. Sports will help keep him out of trouble. Between the practices and games, sports leave kids little time for silly stuff like causing trouble or complaining that they’re bored. Sports give kids structure and discipline. We can all benefit from that.