Ester Marsh column: Your child has to have the desire
This summer, many youth athletes are in the middle of, or gearing up for, their upcoming seasons to play sports in school or for a club team. So when is competing too much for a growing child?
Growing up my first 22 years of life in the Netherlands, and as a European baker’s daughter, we were and still are a very active family. My brother has been to three Olympics as a field hockey technical coach. His team got silver and bronze in two of them and finished 4th in the other. I have a niece, who at 14, was Dutch national champ in the 1-meter and 3-meter diving events and was prepping for the London Olympics. Another niece has competed in tae kwon do on a national level. I have two nephews who excel in soccer and another nephew is a top nationally ranked break dancer. And, of course, my son is a talented runner. We are a very talented, competitive family!
However, we also know and believe your heart has to be in whatever you do to make the sacrifices top-level sports require. When you are nationally ranked in most countries, everyone is talented! In some sports, pure hard work and determination can get you there, but for any athlete competing at that level requires complete dedication, sacrifice and blood, sweat and tears.
The U.S. would have been great for me in high school. In the Netherlands, we do not have any school sports, we have club sports. Having the opportunities our American kids have playing sports in school with opportunities that can get them scholarships for colleges and universities is unthinkable in my home country. As competitive and athletic as I was, it would have been great to have the opportunities our kids have here. My parents owned and ran a bakery and it was hard for my parents to get us anywhere due to busy schedules.
All four of us were great talented athletes. My brother and I were willing to sacrifice a lot to become better, and both of my sisters are talented and just like to “play sports,” and there is nothing wrong with that. My niece, who was prepping for the London Olympics, had a talk with my sister about how much work it required. Even though she really wanted to go the Olympics, my niece said she couldn’t put in the effort, which involved 25 hours of practice a week. She wound up stopping, and there is nothing wrong with that.
As a top competitor, I know what it takes to get to the top. As I mentioned before, it doesn’t come easy and everyone has talent. But who is willing to put their life on hold to be able to perform on top level? A severe back injury stopped my judo career. I could have had surgery and extensive rehab but I also knew that it was not a sport that could pay my bills so I lost my passion. Other doors opened and it has been very good for me — it got me into fitness.
So now to get to my point — your child has to “want it.” Just because they are talented or excel in that sport does not mean they are willing to sacrifice. A parent of a Charlotte track team All-American asked me how I manage my son on getting him to bed on time and wanting to go hang with his friends. I mentioned to her that I can guide him but I can not “want it” for him to run. The teenage years are a very challenging period, so pushing them to do something they don’t want or are not ready for can backfire. So you, the parent, has to figure out what is best for your child. I always tell my children that school, learning and being healthy are your top priorities. Additional activities and sports are extras. Even with awesome scholarship opportunities, is your child willing, ready and able to make that sacrifice?
I have spoken to many youth athletes, and sometimes it was the parent or the coach who pushed them into the sport. It’s sad because, most of the time, they started to hate the sport. It’s tough enough being a youth nowadays, because the pressure to succeed, not only in class but also in sports and life, is super high. So before you sign your child up and push them to be the best, sit down with them and see what they want. It might be your child who is pushing too hard and you have to help set their limitations. You can’t re-live your dreams through your children. Schedule an appointment with a professional. You can talk about this when they get their annual health check with their family doctor. But most of all, listen to your child.
Sometimes less, or less competitive, is better — better for a healthy spirit, mind and body.
Ester H. Marsh Health & Fitness Director JF Hurley Family YMCA