Get your gear, you’re signed up for soccer

Actually, she isn’t signed up for soccer. Even though her school offers it. Even though it takes place on a day that she stays late. Even though she owns soccer gear. Even though there’s no extra cost. Even though there’s no reason in the world not to.

Except that there is one reason: She said, “No thank you, Mommy. Maybe in the spring.”

How much input should a child have in selecting extracurriculars? We’ve always let the Maiden take the lead. We’ve exposed her to art, sports, music, science, language, drama, and dance–and then asked her what sparked her heart.

And she’s chosen. Within limits–otherwise she’d sign on to everything–but she’s chosen. Some activities she’s loved and has repeated year after year (dance). Some have been one-season wonders (baseball). Some have continued at home on her own (art). But the decisions have all been hers.

Not everyone agrees with this approach, however, and it isn’t just hardcore Tiger Moms. In one middle-of-the-road philosophy (apparently favored by Michelle Obama, among others), the parents choose one of the activities instead of giving both choices to the child. The reasoning sounds valid. The kids learn how to improve themselves at something they don’t like, and that’s a valuable skill.

But it’s not the only one. And when I see completely child-led afterschool scheduling, I know this with certainty: For my daughter, at least, the benefits far outweigh any others.

When the Maiden’s wrapping her little brain around karate vs. tap vs. gymnastics, she’s not just picking a fun activity. As time passes, there’s something far deeper going on: In making her own schedule, she’s slowly learning how to choose. And in choosing, she’s learning to listen to her heart.

I want my girl to grow up not just doing what she loves but knowing how to discover her dreams. I want her to learn that she can find her dream and chase it down. I want her to know that she truly can be anything she wants to be–but that to get there is a journey.

I want her to realize that she has to see before she can make decisions. That she can map out her path, little by little. That her choices are her choices, and she might make good ones and she might make bad ones, but each situation is going to help her know exactly what her next step needs to be.

I want her to know that whether she picks ballet or baseball, the choices are hers–and she also owns the consequences of commitment. I want her to see how decisions, even good decisions, don’t always turn out the way you want them to, but you have to learn to live with them.

And most of all, on dance days when she complains–days when tights are annoying to wear, she doesn’t feel like waiting for the other group to practice, and last week the teacher told her to stop talking and pay attention–then, I hope, she will come to understand that even pursuing our most deeply held dreams requires great sacrifice.

And that lesson is worth more than all the soccer moves and ballet combinations in the world.

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7 responses to “Get your gear, you’re signed up for soccer

  1. Running from Hell with El

    Awesome post! I agree–we let the kids choose, within reason. We do limit them to one sport a season, for everyone’s sanity!

    • thetwistingkaleidoscope

      I hear ya on the sanity thing! One fall was pretty crazy–she was doing her regular ballet and tap, and we let her try soccer at the same time bc it was a short season, and she started Nutcracker rehearsal early, and we let her do an art class–oh my gosh, it was insanity. She had fun, no doubt, but I put my foot down after that. Two classes plus a performance if she wants. Nothing else, no matter how awesome it looks!

  2. Well said. I fall into the ethereal “let them go where their drams take them” parental variety but I do it with a spreadsheet and a to do list. 😉 When kids are young they don’t even know the possibilities so we must give them exposure to the options and a chance to explore everything. As they grow we can give them more say. Kids (people) know what gives them a good sense of challenge and fulfillment.

    • thetwistingkaleidoscope

      Sounds like my summer camp spreadsheet! I lay out everything available and then we go through circling things.

      I totally agree on exposure to the possibilities. How else will they be able to say “Hey, I want to do that, too?” Summer camps have been so great for that–ditto with going to games, shows, and performances, and even watching YouTube clips or swinging by a ballfield or gym where kids are practicing. I’ve been amazed at how many free mini-shows there are out there, too. The Maiden’s first exposure to classical dance was at the public library!

  3. I think a lot of this just depends on the child. 🙂

    Our school offers a variety of extracurricular activities and I let each kid chose one to do in school and one for out of school. Well… I let my 4 year old chose. However, I think that each kid is different and some need to have a parent chose the sport because they aren’t read to make that decision for themselves. My older sister has 4 kids. Three had zero interest in sports and one would never do an extracurricular because he is just a little socially awkward and would rather internalize and play video games. She put him in football this year, against his wishes, but it did nothing but improve his attitude, make him some new friends, and help his grades because of the requirements. The other two with no interest in sports chose other outlets, one into music and arts, and the other heavily into academics and is vying for the valedictorian of her class.

    It sounds like the maiden has a type of mind that she can make up on her own and that’s fantastic! I hope my kids are the same way and so far my two year old has shown more signs in that direction than my four year old, but in the end, we will just have to wait and see and hope we are raising well-rounded human beings.

    Great post! Thanks for sharing.

  4. Now that she’s been exposed to a variety of activities, it’s time to let her choose. And she’ll choose what she loves.

    My son followed his brother’s path playing lacrosse. Big brother loved it. Little brother didn’t. So the sacrifices paid him minimal rewards. It was just work.

  5. You are a wise woman! I completely agree with your approach. I think it’s important for kids to make choices for all the reasons you list. I had 3 “rules” when it came to activities. Each kid got no more than 2 activities (to save my sanity and scheduling). They had to chose at least one activity (to keep them involved and trying new things), and regardless one activity had to be something physical.

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