I Thought My Son Would Love Sports: Here’s How We Bond Instead

written by CHRIS WALKER
what to do if kid hates sports"
what to do if kid hates sports
Source: Shutterstock
Source: Shutterstock

“Dad, does it ever make you sad that I’m not ‘into’ sports as much as you are?”

This recent question from my teenage son cut through me in a way I never could have expected it to. It was especially jarring because he asked it while I was excitedly cheering on my favorite football team in the middle of an important scoring drive. I began to wonder if seeing me actively root for “my team” every weekend prompted my kid to wonder to himself if his dad was disappointed that he didn’t share these same passions or was bothered that we weren’t bonding over football.

I recognized right then and there that the moment required a thoughtful and genuine response.

“No, bud,” I said, giving him my full attention by turning off the TV. “I’m not sad that you’re not a sports fanatic like me or that you don’t play sports because that’s not who you are. And I love who you are.”

Accepting the initial answer, my son and I talked about it for a good 10 minutes longer before he eventually smiled, grabbed a snack, and went to his room, indicating that he was fine with me finishing the game separately from him. Later on, we reconnected for some father-son bonding without sports by playing a video game together. 

All in all, it was a good day—it didn’t even matter that my team had lost.

As “sporty” parents, it can be difficult for us at times to understand how to connect with our kids if they don’t have those same interests. That’s especially true for bonding with our teenagers. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible. With good communication between you and your kiddo and a little work on your end, you can still find interests that you and your non-sporty child can share and enjoy.

I grew up playing and watching sports 

As kids, my parents encouraged my brother and me to play your typical “boy” sports—baseball was big in our household, but we also played soccer, basketball, and football. My brother and I joined the swim team in our high school years, and I lettered for the tennis team, too.

I was never being scouted to become a professional athlete or anything like that, and I never considered myself a jock—a college scholarship based on my athletic abilities was laughable. But I always tried to practice and play the games with as much passion as possible, especially in my teen years. 

While I wasn’t remarkable, I wasn’t bad, either. I knew the fundamentals of every sport I played, which helped when I wanted to play “pickup” games with friends beyond high school. I also learned a lot about sportsmanship and drive—why it was important to do your best in every task set before you, for example. This became applicable to later scenarios, including when I got my first “real-world” job and still “gave it my all” despite hating it. 

In my young adult years, I grew to enjoy watching sports just as much as playing them. Weekends watching football, taking part in the occasional game day tailgating party at baseball games with friends, and watching championship games in other sports became an “escape” for me—something that, when done in moderation and in a positive way, is a helpful tool for improving mental health.

When my son was born, I began looking forward to teaching him how to play sports the same way my parents had. But life took a different turn…

father-son bonding without sports
Source: Anete Lusina | Pexels

How my son discovered he wasn’t passionate about organized sports

A few years after my son was born, his mother and I signed him up for youth sports, just as my parents had done for me. He played flag football and briefly tried soccer. We practiced these sports in the backyard. 

But after a while, we noticed something about his demeanor that couldn’t be ignored—he wasn’t having as much fun as the other kids were. Rides home were more glum than cheerful, and after a few weeks in, he seemed to dread going to practices and games altogether. 

We had him “stick it out” for a full season through each of those two sports, but when the time came to possibly sign him back up the following year, we had earnest conversations with him about whether he even wanted to. He told us that he didn’t, and we responded by saying to him, truthfully, that that was OK. 

We did have one caveat, though: He couldn’t sit around all summer watching cartoons or playing video games. So we signed him up for other activities: summer school, crafting lessons at the library, and more. Occasionally, his grandparents took him to visit state parks, too. And he developed other physical hobbies, including bicycling.

My son eventually found hobbies that gave him greater joy than sports did

I came to understand that my son was never going to run down a basketball court to shoot an impressive jump shot or catch a pass from a quarterback and run in 30 yards for a touchdown—things I got to live out as a kid during youth sports after seeing my sports heroes do them, too. But those were experiences I had desired wanting to live at the time. My son, not so much.

What did he end up doing? As he got older, video games, including Minecraft, Roblox, and Nintendo, became big things in his life, not just as hobbies but also as a great way for him to make friends at school. More years passed, and he became an outright “gamer”—a kid who regularly plays intricate (and interesting!) games, both online and in person, with a deep passion. 

I was wary of him becoming too dependent on gaming, but I soon noticed that these games weren’t just entertainment. They also provided him with the ability to learn problem-solving skills. And the leadership and teamwork aspects that I learned through playing sports as a kid? My son was learning that through these games.

I came to understand that his version of catching a touchdown pass might be defeating a level with his peers that was previously unbeatable or creating a DnD (that’s Dungeons and Dragons) world that is completely original. 

My son and I connected in ways outside of sports

It took me a while to catch on to some of the things he liked—and in some ways, I’m still learning—but encouraging these passions of his has given me greater joy than forcing him to do something else. Ultimately, at the end of the day, if my son is happy, it means more to me than seeing him do the things that made me happy as a kid.

Diverting from sports helped us form bonds in other ways, too. My son and I both enjoy comedy and regularly try out new funny jokes we’ve just heard on each other. We’re also total Marvel movie geeks—we’ve seen all of the films, and getting him interested in them when he was younger was a real joy for me. Getting away from sports gave us more time to cultivate these hobbies.

We’ve connected through his new after-school interests as well. I’m hugely interested in world affairs and current events, and when my son signed up for Model UN without me even prompting him to, I became very excited about helping him prep for his events, and hearing about how they went down later on put a big smile on my face.

And it’s not like we don’t play ANY sports—we’ll throw the occasional ball outside, and he recently bested me in a one-on-one soccer match in his grandparent’s basement. But when it comes to playing organized sports, it’s just not for him. And I’m perfectly fine with that.

father-son bonding
Source: Canva

It’s about shared interests, not your interests alone

This lesson applies not just to sports, but to any hobby or interest that matters to you as a parent that might not matter to your child: Accept that they’re not “into” it and move on to find new things that do interest them that you can take part in, too. 

Heck, that’s a main component of the great human experience: meeting people and finding shared interests, while still being open-minded enough to care about their separate interests even if you’re not as passionate about them. We do this with every interpersonal relationship that we have—with our friends, our co-workers, our romantic partners, and, yes, even with our children.

I’ve seen parents who get sad or down about their kids not liking their same childhood sports or disliking any sport at all. It’s OK to feel this way, too, as every parent’s expectations for raising their children sometimes require a shift here or there. Take that emotion and accept it… but do not dwell on it or let it define you or the relationship you have with your child. 

For parents who played sports—or who got passionate about any other hobby—and who hoped to pass that same passion along, it can be frustrating to see your children reject it. And to dads, in particular, sometimes imagining father-son bonding without sports can carry a pang of disappointment. But finding happiness with your child isn’t about imposing your hobbies onto them. Rather, it’s about forging deep emotional connections, which is not only possible but easier than you might realize, even outside of the interests that you initially had. And doing that is incredibly rewarding.

My Son Doesn’t Want to Play Team Sports—And I’m OK With That
Discover More