On any Monday, you can find us shuttling off to swim where my daughter has been on the team for over a year. She settled on swim after two disastrous seasons of soccer, a few dance classes, a hula class, boot camp, and several other failed attempts to find a form of exercise she enjoyed. But after being on the swim team for a year, her coach occasionally asks one or both of us, “Soooo, have you signed up for the meet?” Spoiler alert: the answer is always no. We are just happy to have found an activity that she enjoys.

And then comes Tuesday, when we take my son to soccer practice. As we walk up, his teammates shout his name. The coach asks him to demonstrate a particular move. We never know which position he’ll play, because he plays them all well. There’s a good chance that when we get home and I’m making dinner, he’ll stay outside and work on his kicks against a fence.

It’s common knowledge that kids need a lot more exercise than they get at school. I am am a huge believer in the positive benefits of being on a team: physically, emotionally, and socially, and we’ve always encouraged our kids to find a sport or activity that they love. It was okay if they decided they didn’t like a particular activity. They could finish their commitment and move on to the next thing. Hence my daughter’s long list of attempts.

 

The tricky part is when one child excels at everything he tries, and the other has no interest in competing. This contrast has forced me to examine some of my own assumptions and expectations. When my daughter first started swim and she was the only one not trying to come in first, the insane urge to follow her around and flash her report card would course through me. Other moms would discuss their kids’ split times while I had to say my daughter had never been in a meet. The moms looked at me with puzzlement and even a touch of pity (or did I just imagine that?). In any case, it was certainly not the reception I’d received when my son kicked the winning goal or outran his opponent to steal the soccer ball!

I had to retrain myself to recognize what would be a win for my daughter, and to make sure she knew how proud of her I was. I also learned to ignore the looks and questions from the more intense sports parents. (Although, if I’m being honest, there MAY be a FEW times when something about her being a trilingual engineer slipped out in the middle of THOSE conversations!)

Nowadays, our talk at home focuses less on results and more on effort — for both of our children. I say things like, “You looked so strong and graceful out there. I could tell you were tired, but you dug down deep and ran/swam so well in those last few minutes. I could tell how much easier that was for you this time because you’ve been practicing so hard.” It’s sinking in. The other day, when we discussed whether or not she wanted to stay on the swim team even though it’s three days a week, she answered, “Yes, I’ll  go. I want to be strong when I grow up.”

Even though it came from necessity, and frankly I still yell my head off when my son’s about to score a goal, this new perspective has become a positive for all of us. We can keep the focus on growth and effort rather than achievement, which will serve them both well in life.