Monday, February 14, 2011

Kids and Sports

One of my recurring pet peeves is parents who try to live their dreams through their children. Also, one of my favorite things to do is read Jeff Opdyke's semi-weekly WSJ column and rag on him for being a loser. This weekend I hit a double: a column about how he was living his dreams about being the dad of a soccer star through his son, who, it ends up, didn't really love soccer as much as Opdyke thought he did.

The parents who attend every practice and every game drive me nuts. You have to leave the kid alone for a while and let him or her see if s/he enjoys the sport for the fun of it or because mom and/or dad like it. The problem is that so many of these team sports are run by parent volunteers, and the parents make a commitment then can't let the kid back out.

I'm probably going to have to let me daughter give up dance soon. I hope she sticks with it, but she has been having a hard year. I'm sure 11 is a tough year for dancers (or whenever they have growth spurts and hit puberty). I think my daughter just feels tall and busty and gawky around the other girls who haven't reached puberty yet (well, my daughter technically hasn't yet, but just had a massive growth spurt). But I have to find that balance between being Amy Chua and insisting on mastery Or Else vs. forcing my daughter to do something that makes her unhappy. Nowadays, she loves music, anyway. It fills her need to perform and she is good at it. That's all I want for her--to practice something and become good at it so it gives her pleasure to do it.

I'm sad... though I won't miss those godawful competitions. I like the jazz and tap numbers, but the stupid endless power ballads for the lyrical dances and the annoying hip-hop songs drive me insane.

18 comments:

MH said...

My mom made me take dance lessons and forcing her to let me stop was the peak of my youthful defiance.

Amy P said...

Our school starts obligatory team sports in 4th grade, and I'm shirking the whole thing until then. Based on historical experience (mine and my husband's), I'm pretty sure that we haven't produced any sports prodigies. My family has produced a lot of runners (one of my uncles holds the mile record for our small town, and my dad's time was a second or so slower), but running is a convenient out for uncoordinated, non-team oriented people. When did we decide that everybody has to be athletic and a team player? It's not like anybody plays soccer or football into their 50s.

For now, I'm very happy having C stick to some horseback riding, some roller skating, some swimming, and some running. D's a bit more athletic, though. I think I may have to hide him from the school football coach like Achilles hid from the Trojan War draft.

Wendy said...

MH, ah, that explains why you are so amenable and easy-going now. ;)

Amy, ack, mandatory team sports? My kids just have phys ed, which is just playing, nothing more organized. Btw, with E we find that he thrives in track and tennis. E has good motor skills, never had the lack of coordination typical of many kids with AS. But he also doesn't much like working with others. Tennis is absolute perfect for him, and I am hoping track helps him socially in the future since CorruptSmallTown is known for its HS track program.

Amy P said...

MH,

Irish dance? There's a funny bit in the Angela's Ashes movie about Irish dancing.

The local ballet outfit (run by a woman known as "The Ballet Nazi") offers a 50% discount for boys.

MH said...

It was Irish dance. I had no idea what the teacher was trying to get me to do until years later when I saw some "Riverdance" on TV. No wonder the teacher always looked so exasperated around me.

Anyway, the classes became all girls by the time you got to high school.

zb said...

"But I have to find that balance between being Amy Chua and insisting on mastery Or Else vs. forcing my daughter to do something that makes her unhappy. "

Oh, let's not give Chua credit for the concept of insisting on mastery (or competence, or excellence, or whatever). I was, before I read the book. But, last weekend my name came up on the library waitlist and I read the book. Chua sounds exactly like an obsessed sports parent living her life through her children through much of the book She sits in on all of her childrens' music lessons, learns obscure, and probably above level for her musical theory and technique in order to be able to "coach" them, allows a music teacher to rap her childs' fingers, extravagantly celebrates their success and talents, including using them to show off to family, friends, colleagues, and even, in one event, Supreme Court Justices.

I didn't think that she'd want to live her life through her children, because her life seemed rich enough, but I guess that's no bar to forgetting that your children are not you and their success (or failure) is not yours.

zb said...

We thought we wouldn't have passed on any sports genes, either, but our son has become an avid team player. He loves everything about it (the aggressiveness, the speed, the excitement, the competition, the camaraderie, the winning). It's been an interesting experience being in the sidelines.

Our daughter was a slow sell, but we've discovered that she also loves it, when she's good enough (so, in her case, lack of mastery is what makes her unhappy about team sports, not the not liking of the sport itself).

And, in watching our children play, I've become convinced of the non-sports value of team sports (competition, team building, friendships, physical skills, social skills, . . .).

zb said...

Oops (zb is me, bj)

MH said...

Oh, let's not give Chua credit for the concept of insisting on mastery (or competence, or excellence, or whatever).

She did write the book on being a pushy mom, which is going to give her some precedence. Tucker Max didn't invent being an ass to women, but he wrote the book.

Wendy said...

bj, OK, point taken. And I agree there is value to sports. In many ways, I wish my son were more into team sports; he could use the social skills that are built in sports teams. But for parents of kids with AS. we always toe a fine line when we put a kid who needs social skills in a situation where social skills are necessary.

Amy P said...

"And I agree there is value to sports. In many ways, I wish my son were more into team sports; he could use the social skills that are built in sports teams. But for parents of kids with AS. we always toe a fine line when we put a kid who needs social skills in a situation where social skills are necessary."

Yes. As in so many other areas, the Matthew effect is very important. Team sports probably do increase the social skills of children who already have them, but they may not have much positive effect on children who start with little or nothing. Not to mention the emotional effect on children whose motor abilities and reaction time are poor and who know it.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matthew_effect_(sociology)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matthew_effect_(education)

zb said...

Yes, I agree that team sports are demanding of social skills, and in fact, his social "skills" (they're not exactly skills, but more comfort and an intense desire to be in the most social environment possible at all times) is probably one of the reasons my son likes team sports.

My daughter, on the other hand, is an example of someone who benefits from the learning opportunities. Team sports may not be a way of teaching everyone (or even, more particularly, children with autism) social skills, but they do seem to help for some kids. Perhaps for those not atypical, but just on the lower end of a spectrum of social skills?

An interesting question is what does teach children on the autism spectrum the social skills they want or need? I've been generally unimpressed about the data on "social skills" classes, which seem to have turned into a bit of an industry.

Amy P said...

"An interesting question is what does teach children on the autism spectrum the social skills they want or need? I've been generally unimpressed about the data on "social skills" classes, which seem to have turned into a bit of an industry."

Beats me. I don't know what the benefit of $100+ an hour games of Candyland with a child psychologist is either. Daughter dearest goes to social skills group at the school of education here. It's free and it's part of the training for the school of education graduate students. As far as I can tell:

1. It does no harm.

2. It's FREE.

3. It's helpful to the graduate students.

4. C has a chance to have weekly friendly, structured interactions with kids other than those at school.

5. They play social skill games and do activities together and C looks forward to it.

Does it transfer to real life? Who knows?

I know that C is in a much better place than she was two years ago, but I'm not sure what to attribute the progress to, since we're doing a kitchen sink approach. She sees a psychologist once a month, she goes to social skills, she does therapeutic horse riding, her private 3rd grade class has only a dozen kids in it, I try to check in with the teacher every couple of weeks, I try to make sure she does a lot of camps and classes in the summer, etc. Her 3rd grade teacher tells me (to my surprise) that she is very reassuring to classmates, very kind, and that she works well in groups (!!!). That's not exactly what I see at home, but two years in, she can really exert herself for good, although not 100% of the time. At her best, she reminds me of some stuff that Drama Mama (likeashark.blogspot.com) wrote about her tween daughter, who started very autistic:

"Miss M is truly, authentically, Miss M. She still fits some sort of criterion, I suppose, though I just can't put my finger on something and nod and agree and ascribe any behavior to "stimming" or "perseverating" or whatever. This is a kid with a stunning intellect, a terrifying vocabulary, an old-world view of manners, and a heart of gold. It's like she's been transported from another time. As if she jumped into a time machine and has arrived from Planet Jane Austen, where civility reigns, and one must fan oneself and take tea."

Amy P said...

Wendy, you're going to love this. I got a couple of handouts on playdates and friendship from a graduate student in social work at the social skills place on campus. I'm not sure where this is from, but it jumped out at me: "Mothers' interpersonal skills have been found to correlate with children's social competence (Princestein & La Greca, 1999). Mothers of rejected children tended to elicit less positive affect from other mothers (Ladd, 1992), suggesting impairments in their ability to form functional social networks with the parents of potential playmates for their children. The quality of mother's best friendships correlated with child popularity and quality of child's best friendships (Doyle et al., 1994)."

Doom, doom, doom!

Cranberry said...

Amy P, which way does that correlation run? When my daughter had lots and lots of friends in her fifth grade class, I had good social skills, but when she became a social pariah in sixth grade, I lost all my social skills?

I would say that, at that time, we mothers were avoiding each other because it was too awkward. What would we say to each other? "Your daughter's a mean queen bee." "Your daughter's a crybaby."

I prefer team sports at school to (shudder) P.E.

Amy P said...

Cranberry,

You're totally right. I wonder what age the kids were in the studies? I also wonder about the genetic component of social awkwardness.

cranberry said...

My daughter claims drama helped a high school classmate learn social skills. He's an identical twin. Both boys are very, very bright. The twin who acted in plays is now more socially adept than his twin.

Amy P said...

Cranberry,

It totally makes sense that drama would be very helpful in learning to present an appropriate public persona. I've read a number of times about Aspie actors (maybe in Tony Attwood?). That suggests that it should be possible to create an effective social skills program, even if not all current programs are effective.