Young children don’t need much to entertain themselves; infants and toddlers are content with you watching them or playing on the floor alongside them. Many parents of young kids have experienced their little ones finding more joy in creating a fort with the Amazon Prime box than playing with the $100 toy that came in the box. However, when my son entered elementary school, I began to see his personality blossom and his interests expand. But my child was not interested in playing team sports.
My husband and I have made a conscious effort to avoid imposing gender stereotypes on our boys. It’s not always easy, because we’re human and we all carry unconscious biases. Having candid conversations with our children about gender identity is something our family has prioritized as our sons grow older and explore who they are or want to be. So when my son expressed that he wasn’t interested in playing team sports, we once again felt our preconceived gender notions being challenged. When you’re raising boys, you realize how much society imposes on them the “acceptable” ways to dress, play, and act. As such, there’s this unspoken (or sometimes even spoken) expectation and pressure for boys to play team sports when they reach a certain age. It can feel isolating to chat with fellow boy moms as they discuss their sports-mom worlds when you’re not “one of them.”
Our son has other interests, but playing team sports isn’t one of them. He is our greatest teacher—we love and accept him for who he is. Below are the lessons I’ve learned in the hope of helping other parents whose child doesn’t want to play sports.
My Child Doesn’t Want to Play Sports & That’s OK
Team Sports Can Be Hard for Sensitive Children
The drills, the heavy equipment kids have to wear, the constant competition, and the piercing yells from teammates and coaches at every game and practice can be stimulation overload for some kids. Actually, I feel like some adults can relate to these sentiments to—myself included. If your child is highly-sensitive like our son, these mainstays of any sporting event can overwhelm them to the point of completely disengaging with their surroundings as a form of self-preservation.
When we took our son to hockey tryouts because he’d initially expressed interest, we immediately noticed he shut down when asked to demonstrate his athletic ability. He would much rather watch games as an audience member at home on his comfy sofa than be an active part of the spectacle. Highly sensitive children like him often prefer smaller crowds with less noise. We’ve decided to have him guide us on what feels safe for him in terms of group engagements, sports-related or not.
Healthy Competition and Collaboration Can Be Learned in Other Ways
We’ve all heard the benefits of team sports for children, and I’m not denying they’re valid. Nevertheless, there are other ways for your child learn those skills. For example, being a member of the Boy/Girl Scouts, joining a science club, or taking dance classes are examples of alternatives that can instill in children the same value of collaboration and the lessons learned via healthy competition. Just because your child doesn’t want to participate in organized sports doesn’t mean their intrapersonal and interpersonal growth will be stunted. What matters is that your child feels safe to explore their interests and identity on their own terms.
Sports Involvement Can Be Expensive
When we got the list of the equipment needed for our son to join the hockey team, my husband and I practically felt our bank account draining. It can be very expensive to pay for team sports: uniforms and equipment, travel expenses, having to help provide snacks for the team. That’s not to mention the immense time commitment required. It’s okay for a parent to decide they don’t want to encourage their child to participate in team sports if there’s a chance of it negatively impacting the family.
These days, I feel we have a tendency to overcommit our kids and families, resulting in frenetic lifestyles. Our son finds joy in playing hockey at home in our driveway with his little brother—he’s developed a love for the game without all the added layers and complications of team sports.
I’m Empowering My Child to Understand Their Own Personal Boundaries
I was so proud of my son when he expressed his disinterest in being part of any sports team. I’m pretty certain he felt pressured by his peers to participate. So I admire his ability to step away and be true to himself. I feel like I initially took my son’s decision better than my husband. Looking back, I can see he’d had some preconceived notions of what their father-son bonding activities would look like, something he needed to process separately. He eventually came around, and I admire him for being open to evolving as a parent.
By accepting our son’s decision, we feel we’ve empowered him to protect his personal boundaries not only as a child, but hopefully for the rest of his life. Many of us learn this lesson much later in life (or not at all). So our goal is to embrace our son’s interests and wholeheartedly support his gradual independence by taking healthy baby steps. Ultimately, we want him to feel secure in who he is so he can love and accept himself as the beautiful human we see growing before us.