Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Reluctant Participant

Instead of infants, I’d rather discuss kids and sports starting about age 3-4 years when parents are no longer encouraged to join the classes. Yes, I’m sorry but you must start now. We all know if you don’t start them at 3 years of age (not 3 ½), they have already lost the college lacrosse scholarship at a Division 1 university…and a Division 2 school is looking a bit hopeless too….so hurry up, sign up, there’s not much time left, it’s time to lay down the groundwork (begin playing ominous music and the slow, lingering drain of checking account). I’m not saying you have to put your 3 year old in Stanford or Duke University’s 3-week summer, overnight, lacrosse camp for Elite players, but get cracking on the gymnastics and mini-kickers soccer classes. At this age, the kid is able to join groups and be taught without a parent in the group. It’s usually harder for the parent than the child. If you’ve worked them up into a proper frenzy (ie. done a proper preparation) in the last 3 or 4 days, most kids at age 3 barely turn around to wave BYE to mom when they run off to their first karate, soccer, or gymnastics class.
However, about 10% of kids are not interesting in doing anything without mommy and thus in EVERY SINGLE activity/sports group you will see from age 3-8, there is at least one kid clinging to mom and hiding behind her back (often crying) while the coach/teacher starts. Yes, I know this is totally uncomfortable for the coach and mortifying for the parent. You know all the other moms are already hanging out in the lobby having the best hour EVER, drinking Starbucks, and reveling in their supreme ability to spawn and raise perfect, athletic, over-achieving, super-confident children. Try not to worry about this, but, to be honest, that’s exactly what they are thinking…they’re not saying it, but they are thinking it. Now is a good time (while your kid is hanging on your leg and the coach is droning on) to say my Serenity Poem :

God, grant Jimmy confidence to do gymnastics without me next week

And, please give Madison and MacKenzie’s mom some extra crows feet

Now…..Preparation for the first day if you think you might have a Reluctant Participant on your hands.

Sign up with a friend…it doesn’t even have to be his friend, your friend with a similar aged kid will do…it helps the reluctant to go with someone he already knows. If your child is not the one who originally mentioned gymnastics/soccer/ballet/whatever, then, before you sign him up, you should ask him about it and make sure that he does actually want to. If he shows any type of inkling of interest, then go for it. It’s even a good idea to show him how fun it will be by taking him the gym or field with another class in progress before you say anything. Timing here is everything….he’s got to be in the right frame of mind. Playing in the backyard, kicking a ball or doing handstands is a good start, then say….hey, wouldn’t this be fun to do with other kids instead of just me and daddy? About 3 or 4 days before the first day, start mentioning it “ooh, I just remembered, only 3 more days until you get to start gymnastics” “only one more day until you get to play with the kids at karate”, how he reacts to those will give you some good clues on how it will go.

Anyway, being nervous and preferring not to participate at the moment the class starts is totally normal for some kids….how the mom and coach deal with this child at a young age is critical for his future in sports. To the parent, I recommend:

1) have “no worries” attitude,

2) go ahead and go out there with him and hang out with the group, trust me, coaches and teachers are used to it at this age

3) if you already know your child will be insecure, mention it to the coach beforehand

4) during the introductions act like whatever the coach is saying is totally interesting,

5) learn a few of the kids names during the first week so you can talk them up before next week…”guess what Jimmy…tomorrow we are going to get to see Jonathan again, won’t that be awesome!!!”

6) if he’s completely miserable, crying, screaming, hysterical, you may want to reconsider and think about doing it again next season after he’s had more time to become confident with separations and practiced interacting with new people one at a time, then in small groups,

7) you know your child best, often if just takes kids 20 minutes, or one session, or enough time to make a new best friend, so don’t give up unless you know it’s not going to work this time (again….you know your child best). But every time you let him quit in the moment of stress will make it harder the next time.

To the coach I recommend:

1) Have a ‘no worries’ attitude

2) Learn the kids name and talk to him directly a few times, but don’t ask anything that requires an answer…for example you can say “Jimmy over there looks like he already knows how to do a handstand, his arms look really strong” or “Jimmy has brought the right size soccer ball, that’s what we all need next week, a size 3” then move on to another kid.

3) Don’t pressure him to do much, but don’t ignore him either, you could be the hero that gets him going…every once in awhile look over and say “hey, Jimmy want to be Jacobs partner?,your mom can stay”

4) Hold his hand, if he’ll let you.

5) If he’s crying or screaming, just let his mom take care of him.

6) No matter how little he interacts, at the end of the seesion tell him “you did great Jimmy, see you next Sunday”.

1 comment:

Crabby McSlacker said...

Oh my goodness, I have enough trouble dragging my own reluctant butt out to exercise, so I'm glad I don't have kids.

But this looks like some EXCELLENT advice as to how to handle kids who need a bit more coaxing.