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If You Let Me Play Sports

Back in 1995, there was a Nike commercial popularly known as “If You Let Me Play Sports” which featured girls reciting the statistics associated with female participation in athletics.  If the assertions are true, your parents hopefully got your ass onto a field at some point because women are 60% less likely to get breast cancer, more likely to leave an abusive relationship, and less likely to experience an unwanted pregnancy.

Unless you count running, I’ve never been much of an athlete.  I’m more of the just-grateful-to-be-picked variety when they were doling out the teams at camp.  I don’t know the rules of most games, therefore, I don’t really watch sports either.  I’m happy enough to be dragged to a baseball game, but again, it’s more that I like being part of something than eager to follow the game.  I am more likely to daydream the secret lives of the players than to focus on how many people are on base when a certain player comes to bat.

I wanted things to be different for the ChickieNob, mostly because my mind was influenced by that 1995 commercial and the unspoken message that runs beneath it.  If I don’t have your daughter on the playing field, she is going to be shit out of luck in the self-esteem department and suffer from depression.

So far, the ChickieNob’s obsession with ballet has eaten up all the time that could have been dedicated to a team sport.  She just started gymnastics, though her interest in gymnastics seems to stem from the fact that the Berenstain Bears take gymnastics and I’m not sure what will happen with that activity if the bears, let’s say, decided their time was better spent studying organic chemistry.

Though when we were watching the Olympics, she’d turn to me and shiver with excitement as the women went hurtling down the ice trail on their luge.  “I would never want to do that, but I loooooooooooooooooooove watching it!”

But is that close enough to letting her play sports?

*******

With the exception of when the object of her affection, Shani Davis, was on the screen, the ChickieNob wanted to exclusively follow the women’s events.  I taped her the men’s half-pipe and she watched it for a few minutes before asking me where the girls were.

The one exception to the rule was a certain male snowboarder that she informed me may look male but is “all woman.”

I’m not sure I love this route either–the exclusive desire to support female athletes at the expense of any male athletes.  What about balancing it out and supporting the most exciting athletes, the ones that bring the most interesting messages to their game?

She wanted me to fast forward past Apolo Ohno, Steve Holcomb, and Evan Lysacek, craving Lindsay Vonn, Noelle Pikus-Pace, and–since she can get pretty indiscriminate as long as the person had a vagina–any woman whose costume involved sequins and turquoise.

*******

I love this quote from Johnny Weir, which he stated to explain the fact that his parents never pressured him to conform:

Every step of my life it’s been one thing my parents had preached to my brother and I.  You must always be yourself and always enjoy what you are doing and take no prisoners. You can’t care what anyone else thinks because really there is no basis for that in your life.  You have to live your life for yourself. So even when I was little I was playing on a soccer team and running the complete opposite way pretending to be a zebra, an ostrich or something. So I have always been like this.

Say what you wish about Johnny Weir–I think he has a healthy attitude and it would serve kids well to have a quote of the day calendar spouting his ideas.  The people who call him the Lady Gaga of skating sort of miss his point, which is that each person is unique and should never conform, instead following their bliss wherever it takes them without regard to how it comes across to others.  All people, insofar as personality, are incomparable because unique beings should have no comparison.  Johnny Weir is no more the Lady Gaga of the skating world than Lady Gaga is the Johnny Weir of music.

Hearing his quote made me rethink the idea of letting girls play sports, because maybe it’s not about sports at all, but the idea of finally releasing the barriers that kept some girls–those interested in sports–in following their bliss.  Girls sport teams certainly weren’t as prolific and mainstream back in the early 70′s as they are now.  Generations of girls were funneled into “girl appropriate,” home ec-y activities (though there were always a few who luckily broke free of the mainstream pack and followed their bliss).  The ones who were naturally inclined to find their bliss through ballet and art and baking were set to go, reaping in the self-esteem that comes from doing something you enjoy–often times well because if you enjoy the activity, you’ll dedicate yourself to it.  The ones who were interested in sports but told they couldn’t play?  How could they build self-esteem when the message sent was this: you’re not good enough because of your vagina.

And how much internalized self-worth can a girl build if others make decisions for her?  If others tell her that her desire to play sports is unladylike and shunt her off to learn crocheting from grandma while her brothers play tag football?  At the same time, I can’t see it as healthy if we now berate our girls onto the field in the name of statistics without regard to whether they show any inclination towards sports.

Maybe the statistics associated with girls playing sports has nothing to do with girls playing sports, but instead is a sign of how much we used to hold our girls back and in releasing them to be themselves, we have by default built self-esteem and curbed depression, allowed them to find their voice because they are expressing themselves either on the field or in the art room by following their interests instead of having them dictated by outside sources.  Maybe girls are less likely to stay in an abusive relationship or experience an unwanted pregnancy not because they are finally handed a baseball mitt, but this statistic could apply to all people who are allowed to explore their interests with the full support of people they respect behind them.

Five-year-olds, I have learned, have the attention span of a pancake.  Today, the ChickieNob loves ballet.  By tomorrow, it may be dragon wrangling.  Or Cheerio sculptures.  Or rugby.  Therefore, I can’t tell you if she’ll ever make it onto the field.

What I do know is that one needs to be prudent to guide instead of lead, to allow a child to completely follow their bliss and learn all the rules necessary for playing the sport or performing the activity while still leaving room to be an ostrich running across the field.

Did you play organized sports, and if so, which ones (and were you born in the sixties, seventies, or eighties)?  Did you want to play on an organized sports team but had no opportunities?  And what do you think you gained from being on the playing field if you were an athlete?

44 comments

1 Anjali { 03.02.10 at 7:36 am }

I was not much into organized sports. But my 8-year old daughter is starting football on Saturday. We are living the legacy of the Nike commercial!

2 Michelle { 03.02.10 at 7:53 am }

I remember that commercial! When I saw your title, I could hear it playing in my head.
I was born in 79 and my parents let me try every sport I wanted. The years of 8-15 were filled with many activities: scocer, softball, dance class, gymnastics, cheerleading & basketball. Basketball I stuck with for a years but once I was old enough to get a “real job” I wanted out.
I was never any good at any of these things. Basketball, I survived because I practiced a lot! As far as what I gained, I learned in order to be as good as the average girls on my team, I had to work really hard, much harder then they did.

3 Heather { 03.02.10 at 8:09 am }

I was born in 80 and forced into Girl Scouts and piano lessons. My sister and I begged to quit because we HATED both but we were told we had to keep going. Sports was not something ever discussed with us. I think we did a 6 week gymnastics course when we were very little but after that we never did anything again.

4 loribeth { 03.02.10 at 8:27 am }

Born in the 1960s & never played organized sports. I was lousy at team sports — always the last one picked, which made me a pariah among my sports-obsessed classmates & totally destroyed my self-confidence. We moved around a lot when I was a kid & somewhere along the line, I must have missed something, because suddenly it seemed like everyone else knew how to play all the games (soccer, baseball, volleyball…) & what the rules were & I didn’t. I am still not a huge fan of team sports, although I will watch the Stanley Cup finals, the Grey Cup, the Olympic gold medal hockey game (especially if Canada is playing, lol), etc.

When I was in high school, we did do a few phys ed units on more individual sports, like archery & gymnastics. Our school was two blocks up from a man-made lake, & we used to take canoes down there in the spring & cross-country ski across the lake over to the golf course in the winter. I enjoyed that. I also took swimming lessons in the summer & figure skating lessons in the winter, up until I was about 12. I wasn’t particularly good at either but I did have fun.

I think what’s important is to get kids moving — to do SOMETHING other than sit in front of the TV or computer all day. My sister & I were bookworms, but I think even we probably spent more time playing outside with our friends than kids today do.

Many of the papers here were noting that not only was this Canada’s best performance ever at the Winter Olympics, the majority of the medals were won by women. Girls rule!! : )

5 Terry Elisabeth { 03.02.10 at 9:01 am }

Ballet and gymnastics are sports even if it’s not a team sport. It allows girls to feel good about themselves even if they’re not on a team. It’s active, develops coordination, artistic sensibility, etc.

I was born in the seventies and I wanted to do gymnastics, I did ballet for a while, biked, walked but I hated team sports and I still do. I can’t stand the way people go insane when a teammate drops the ball. I have been years without any activity, my parents never pushed and didn’t have money for classes.

I started being more active in my 20s and I keep at it. I developed a better coordination, a love of challenge, an addiction for well-being and endorphins, a better respect for my body, more self-esteem all while doing step class, weight training, pilates, zumba, yoga, walking, baladi, hi-lo, aerobics.

6 Rebecca { 03.02.10 at 9:12 am }

That commercial really had an impact on me, too. I always remember it!

I was born in 74. I was a dancer from age 4 through college. Dance took almost all my time, so I didn’t do “team” sports. (Also, I had horrid eye-hand coordination.) I ran track for a year in high school (absolutely sucked at it, but it was fun). I was on the swim team for two years in college. So, I guess I was much more of an individual sport kind of girl when I wasn’t dancing.

I think playing sports that involved more team activities would have been really helpful to me. I think if I had grown up 10 years later I probably would have been hauled to soccer or softball and I think it would have helped me make better social connections at that age. As it was, other than dancing, I only did sports where I really only had to depend on myself.

7 Blanche { 03.02.10 at 9:13 am }

Born in the mid-70′s, and athletic activities were not a priority for my parents, so apart from a very horrible attempt at a ballet class (take one shy girl from private school, throw in with a group who already know each other from public school and watch the exclusion begin) they didn’t do much to promote an active lifestyle apart from letting me run wild outside in our woods. I was jealous of my male cousins who played SOCA though. It looked like fun. Consequently, I’m still not an athletic person and don’t play well with others. I want to at least introduce our child(ren) to as many activities as possible – maybe he/she will find something they love, if not at least they’ll know the rules and have a side bonus of learning how to play well with others even if you don’t particularly like the activity.

8 a { 03.02.10 at 9:17 am }

I was born at the tail end of the ’60s, and my mother claims that I was not interested in joining anything. I took piano lessons, but mom would let me quit every time the word “recital” came up. I’m actually too short and uncoordinated for sports anyway. Plus I am not much for the collective – I find that while people say “team,” they’re really thinking “how do I get the spotlight?” But, my friend is really into women’s softball, so when I would go and watch her play, they would always end up being short a player and I would be conscripted into playing catcher.

I think organized sports is great for people to find common ground with others. When you have to try out, you also get some satisfaction from making the team. I just never cared, because I knew I wasn’t particularly talented. It never stopped me from playing basketball in the alley with the boys, or taking great satisfaction during that one softball game when the entire infield moved towards home plate when I was up to bat and I hit it right over all of their heads.

I guess when you’re from a family where almost everyone is female, you don’t get as much exposure to gender limitations. Or maybe I just have an unusual family. Yeah, it’s probably the second one.

9 Trinity { 03.02.10 at 9:35 am }

I may look a little more conformed and corporate these days, but the 1990′s riot grrl with a shaved head and super hairy legs and armpits who still lives inside of my core was totally melted by this post. <3 I totally loved this commerical, too. (I was born in 1978.)

I played softball up to my varsity days. While this is a team sport, it very much is a bit individualistic, to me. One batter at the plate. One runner on each base. One person playing each position. Sure, there was physical contact, but not much. Friends always tried to encourage me to play basketball or field hockey…but there was just too much physical contact, too many elbows and shoves. So, even though I did participate in sports, I still stuck to the one that was the least agressive. I'm not sure if that's due to a bit of deeply embedded gender role, or if that's just reflective of my personality.

I still think sports or any form of athleticism–regardless of gender, age, etc–should be about fun and resilience.

10 tash { 03.02.10 at 9:39 am }

I was born in ’69, and played soccer for over 20 years starting around age 10. In there were also some half-assed attempts at swimming, basketball, softball, ballet/modern dance. Around age 17 I picked up running, and I’ve been doing that ever since.

I think organized sports have helped enormously in a number of ways: I have an odd body type to begin with (short, squat/athletic depending on your POV) and I never suffered body image problems because I knew there was a place where my body was in fact good for something. My thighs couldn’t fit into all the designer jeans in Jr. Hi and HiS, but then again, those girls couldn’t bend a corner kick right into the goalbox. (They also weren’t good at breaststroke, which was my forte.) The guys-guys liked me because they knew I was a good athlete and could kick field goals, and presumably not because I had a nice rack (I didn’t), and I rather appreciated that, too. (I tended to stick with the nerdy smart guys, but was able to cross this line very deftly.) I ate healthy, I worked out, and the doctor pointed out that even though I was a few pounds over what I should be, my fat index was low — this was muscle. I never had an eating problem, I never worried (too much) about my larger than average thighs, I never felt like I didn’t fit in.

I should say during this entire time I also played violin (started at age 4-5), and eventually orchestra and rather serious competitions and whatnot so my time was really chewed up between school, soccer, and violin. And here’s where those activities are great: they don’t give you time to goof off. You need to be alert in order to do well. Chances are you’ll be surrounded by like-minded people who also love sports/violin and maybe, maybe would like to do something with them someday. Both of these venues made me realize fairly early on that I could escape my tiny town and go to college if I wanted, and hell if I was going to jeopardize that by getting pregnant or anything else. In that regard, they’re awesome for self-esteem, confidence, motivation.

I don’t necessarily want Bella to become a professional athlete, but we’ve decided that from here on out, she needs to be involved in a physical activity on some level whether it’s hiking or tennis, dance or hockey, regardless of her skill level. I’d ideally like her to find something she enjoys, regardless of how well she does that thing because those are the activities you keep for life.

11 serenity { 03.02.10 at 9:41 am }

I loved, loved, LOVED playing sports when I was a kid. I used to challenge all the kids in the neighborhood to races when I was a kid. My mom was my softball coach, and when someone told me I DIDN’T “throw like a girl” I thought it was the best compliment I had ever gotten.

But I was a tomboy who eschewed the dance classes. My mom made me take ballet once when I was 4 or 5, and I screamed “I’m a little teapot!” the whole time. That was the during time where I wanted her to cut my hair short so I could be a boy, though. So I can’t really compare!

I was born in the 70s and I was fortunate enough to have the opportunities to play whatever sport I wanted. I loved the confidence I had from being good at running and softball. And early in high school, when I wasn’t all that popular, being the starting centerfielder for my junior varsity team gave me a little more edge than if I were just a regular band geek.

But I will say – I wish I had gotten into dance. I’ve dabbled in it over the years, but am not all that good at it. But I love watching it. And the best part is that you need to have the same coordination you do to hit a softball or kick a soccer ball, but also need to coordinate your moves with the other dancers (if you’re in the corps). It gives you the same sort of benefits as if you were playing a ‘team sport.’

12 Geochick { 03.02.10 at 10:06 am }

As a former 5-year old obsessed with ballet I think it’s great that you’re at least trying to expose ChickieNob to team sports. My parents let me go on my merry way and pursue ballet which is extremely individual and competitive. Maybe wasn’t the best thing for me, but by 5 I knew what I wanted to do. As for ChickieNob? You can lead a horse to water…

13 susy { 03.02.10 at 10:07 am }

Born in ’81! and I, like you, love that I’m even included or part of than more involved in the game itself. I not athletic at all. I was in soccer in middle school, and that only lasted one season. I was also put in to gymnastics, but want to think that due to money didn’t last either and I don’t remember pushing for it. I’m a total music nerd though. I completely have thought and wanted to put any kids that I had into something active. HunHun is a football guy (that and wrestling in HS) and he wants to try to get the boys to do it early on. I’d love that too. However, I’m all for your last paragraph where you said we need to be prudent to guide than to lead. An ostrich running across the field is my kind. And the ChickiNob “girl” thing is probably an age thing. She identifies. And like the pancake, it’ll probably change w/ time too, I’m sure.

14 Mrs. Gamgee { 03.02.10 at 10:12 am }

I don’t recall that commercial, but I will say that I totally agree that it’s more about following your bliss than being on the playing field.

I was born in 74, and my major ‘activity’ when I was growing up was being a baton twirler. I did a stint in t-ball when I was little, and then girls softball in middle school.

Twirling was something I did well. I practiced, I competed, and I participated in parades and special events, on my own and as the lead in our troupe. I loved it. Softball, not so much. But my dad was convinced that I needed the experience of being on a sports team. He didn’t take into account that middle school girls can be very cruel and heaven help you if you really do ‘run like a girl’.

Being active is important, but I really don’t think it matters if you dance, kick a soccer ball, swing a bat, or run marathons… so long as you are doing something you love, you will get the same benefits.

15 Ellen K. { 03.02.10 at 10:22 am }

I was born in 77 and I didn’t play sports at all, although I was in swim classes nearly every weekend for several years and took some dance but somehow never developed a sense of rhythm. I was pretty uncoordinated, and my athletic ability was not helped by being increasingly nearsighted. But I could have been in track or cross-country; those would have been good fits. I really do wish my parents had pushed some sports participation, though, and my mom wishes the same in retrospect. I think they let me do my own thing too much, and my own inclination was to be sedentary and alone in my room, reading. I was certainly in the minority. Most girls I knew played at least one sport or had at least the ability to catch a softball. Sports and fine arts participation were big in my high school; I tried to do the latter but was pretty half-assed about it. I never even played softball in our subdivision’s grade school league, and as an adult I’m terribly self-conscious about being so uncoordinated; I’m also afraid to try new activities. When I found out I was having twin girls after IVF, I decided that I would push my girls a little harder to tap into their athletic ability.

16 Cheryl { 03.02.10 at 10:38 am }

I was born in 71 and cannot my imagine my life without sports. While I was always the 1st or 2nd girl chosen in school for sports ie kickball, softball,etc I wasn’t the girl that could play any sport
:(. I will say that I absolutely believe that girls who are involved in sports have much needed discipline and structure in their lives not to mention good self esteem and less time to devote to other, less appealing activities. The happiest moments of my childhood and 20′s revolve around sports, sleepovers with the team, going out to dinner, traveling etc. It has been an absolute blessing in my life and I would hope that my “some day” child would enjoy sports just as I did. The only thing I wish my parents had done differently was make me to stick to one as I was always content to keep changing things up and that bad habit followed me into 20′s. Stability is good and I now know that! For now, I’m still addicted to sports and much like your little one, I enjoy the female sports better than mens although I do love my SEC football and hockey. Your little one is fortunate b/c she is now growing up in a time where there is so much more available to girls. As good as my life was back then, I can’t even imagine how amazing it would be to grow up now. Hope she has fun with it!
P.S. I’m miss the Olympics!

17 Tally { 03.02.10 at 10:41 am }

Born in 1972, I was a dancer from the time I was four until I left high school (19). I was never considered for team sports (though I desparately wanted to play). My phys ed teachers all uniformly classified me as the “fat one” (their words, I swear), and passed me only to get me out of their classrooms. Although I will never forget the day my mother came home from a high school parent-teacher interview, uncertain as to whether to be proud or angry when the phys ed teacher exclaimed how proud he was that I could do a somersault (I was mortified). That ended any thought of continuing in phys ed for me.

If I ever have a daughter, I don’t know if I would “encourage” her to pick one pursuit over another. I just want my child to do what s/he wants to do, in a safe world that will allow him/her to do it. I see my job more as a facilitator to expose my child to the world, and let them figure out their own bliss.

18 HereWeGoAJen { 03.02.10 at 10:54 am }

My philosophy on sports is not that a child needs sports, exactly, but that a child needs something they can win at. (And win just means in the general term, not competitively. You can win at ballet or cello.) I think each child needs a thing, like “hey, the ChickieNob is a ballerina” or “the ChickieNob is the world’s greatest cup stacker.” I think that sort of thing gives a child some identity when identity is such a hard thing to come by when growing up. (I was “hey, Jen, she reads.” It didn’t quite work.)

19 Delenn { 03.02.10 at 10:58 am }

I played in women’s field hockey league and a women’s football league, neither one lasted long. I loved team sports but never had as many opportunities. (I was born in the early 70s). If I had been born later, I am sure I would have been on a women’s soccer team. ( I love Bend It Like Beckham)

Now I prefer hiking and swimming and other individual type things.

I love that quote and I aspire to that with my children, no matter what they do.

For my son, I tried many sports, but with his ADHD, team sports just don’t work–but he has been in karate since he was 4 years old and enjoys it.

For my daughter…I will give her the same choices I gave my son and we shall see where that takes her–all options are open.

20 Jendeis { 03.02.10 at 11:31 am }

Born in the late 70s, did not do sports. I did dance when I was little and that gave way to lots of music and acting stuff — bands, orchestras, singing groups and drama clubs. I don’t think the important thing is the sports, I think it’s doing activities with others and some alone as well.

21 sunflowerchilde { 03.02.10 at 11:38 am }

I was born in 78 and I did a lot of various activities, including sports. Some because I wanted to, and some because my parents wanted me to. I did soccer (I sucked), softball (I loved it, but I wasn’t great), ballet (not sure why), horse-back riding (my favorite!), and ice skating (my sister’s favorite – we’re twins, my parents always made us do the same things). I don’t do any of those anymore.

In high school and college, I started to do the activities I still do today – music (marching band), swimming, triathlon, biking, and outdoorsy stuff (climbing, hiking, backpacking, skiing). I learned that I suck at team sports – probably the pressure to perform well because others were depending on me, versus only having to worry about performing for myself. It helped my self-esteem immensely, and I only wish I had started these things sooner, but I also think I needed to be older to become dedicated to these things. I was a bit of a quitter as a child.

Your post also makes me think of something else – the SAHM. I was such a little feminist (I was going to be the first women’s baseball player, ha!), I NEVER wanted to give up my career to raise children. Now that I’m older, I want to raise my children, and I’ve come to understand that what I really wanted was a choice – I wanted to be able to choose to stay home or go to work. And I’m happy that I have it. But I still think that things are very one-sided – that if a (heterosexual) couple decides that one partner should stay home, it’s almost always the woman. I just want to know that all these women are choosing it because it’s what they want, rather than what they grew up knowing was expected of them.

Sorry to write so much – thanks for the provocative topic!

22 Tracey { 03.02.10 at 12:49 pm }

I was born in’71 and was in the first wave of Title IX-ers. I mainly played soccer and tennis. In fact, I played against some of the women who won the World Cup when I was really young. I was never very good and I hated running without a purpose (hence the balls). But, it gave me structure and friends as well as it got me more involved in school. I learned valuable time management skills and how to deal with pressure. My time playing sports was not always smooth (given my lack of talent) and it taught me tough lessons that have helped me throughout my adult life.

As far as the Nike commercial, I think an activity that allows a girl to challenge herself and work with others is what creates those later life impacts. Sports are just the easiest way to measure it as Title IX created an easily delineated before and after.

23 Krist { 03.02.10 at 1:28 pm }

My dad tried very hard to get me to play sports. I am terrified of balls hitting my face so if it involved a ball I was out. It wasn’t until he signed me up for t-ball that he gave up. I was out in the outfield picking flowers. The ball went right by me because I was sitting down picking flowers. He said fine sports aren’t your thing.

They did get me my 1st horse when I was 6 and I LOVED it. I rode and rode and rode some more. I started showing when I was 7 and kept showing into my mid 20′s. At 9 I joined 4-h which gave me so much self esteem. My mom tells me I use to be so shy and quite until I started to show. As the blue ribbons came in my confidence grew. 29 years later I still ride a couple days a week and spend lots of time with my horse.

I absolutly want my children to be active in sports, art, music, etc as long as they are following their passion. There is no doubt my DH will push sports he really believes in them. He started playing soccer at 3 and still plays twice a week at 45.

24 Chickenpig { 03.02.10 at 1:32 pm }

Those statistics, like all statistics, are skewed. Your daughter is less likely than other girls in high school to use drugs/be in an abusive relationship/get knocked up if she participates in ANY group activity…sport or otherwise. That includes marching band, glee club, debate, cheer leading, and many other clubs. The more time spent on the activity out of school (like practice, fund raising, or games etc) the better. It is the time spent doing something, friends who have the same goals, and dedicated coaches/directors/instructors that keep kids out of trouble…not sport. The same goes for all the efforts in inner cities to keep kids out of gangs…dance,fencing, debate, choir,science clubs. Whatever it takes. As far as the breast cancer thing…I seriously doubt it. There are studies going on now as to whether the chemicals used in keeping playing fields up to snuff contribute to higher rates of cancer…mainly prostrate cancer in baseball players.

I myself, was a band geek. The incredible amount of time spent at games, competitions, and in practice kept me out of trouble. Also in shape, marching for hours burns a lot of calories.

25 Rayne of Terror { 03.02.10 at 1:49 pm }

Did you play organized sports, and if so, which ones (and were you born in the sixties, seventies, or eighties)?

late 70s: I played kindergarten soccer and elementary school basketball (my sister and I were the only girls). In middle school I tried out for everything but didn’t make any teams, freshman year I began the swim team and went to state my very first year. Sophomore year I switched schools and dropped out of swimming because marching band was mandatory and doing both had me at the high school from 5 am to 9 pm 5 days a week. Junior year I switched school again and did no sports and senior year I played basketball.

Did you want to play on an organized sports team but had no opportunities? I wanted to play any sport so bad in jr high and it was pretty painful to not make the cur over and over again. Luckily the swim team cut no one and I turned out to be a darn good swimmer.

And what do you think you gained from being on the playing field if you were an athlete? At the time I don’t know if I gained very much because I jumped around sports, but it’s pretty nice now that I’m a parent of a five year old to be able to teach him the basic of basketball, soccer, and swimming.

26 Barely Sane { 03.02.10 at 1:49 pm }

Born in ’71 and grew up playing all sorts of sports.

My first true sport was skiing, which morphed into an absolute love for the outdoors which was a good thing because we camped a lot! We did sports as a family – skiing, hiking and I did all sorts of team/individual sports. Floor hockey was the major force in my life for years and I still play the sport, some 30 yrs after picking up my first hockey stick. Team sports gave me a sense of belonging and I learned early on that you win as a team, you lose as a team. I also gained a lot of self-esteem from sports I did well and a sense of determination from those that never came easily. Even as an adult I have picked up new sports – had I not decided to learn how to play softball, I never would have met DH!!

Right now we have MG in gymnastics & swimming and the benefits are countless. She is learning social skills, developing motor skills and of course, possible life saving skills with the swimming. Once she is a bit older, she will be put in team sports but which ones is mostly up to her. We’ve had her on skis, gotten her in the canoe and been ice skating. Anything is better than sitting in front of the tv.

27 PaleMother { 03.02.10 at 2:35 pm }

I was born in the late sixties and I did not play an organized sport, but I think (?) that was due as much or more to a lack of encouragement/exposure from my family and my own lack of coordination and interest than it was due to a lack of opportunity. My parents were were more academic than athletic. At the elementary level, sports was something my parents would have had to deliberately seek out for me and commit to injecting into my routine; they did not.

In grade school, ‘athletics’ were limited to gym and recess … and those experiences were ‘self-limiting’ for me because they were unrewarding or worse. Gym sucked for me at times … probably the same way academics sometimes sucked for my equally not-well-rounded athletic peers.

Later, I went to an all girls private high school and there were lots of team sports available there; many girls took great advantage of it and sports were encouraged and rewarded (socially). But by then I was convinced that my talents lay elsewhere …probably rightly so, although I think if you look hard enough … some sports can be a better fit than others. Fortunately the school also offered a range of other extracurriculars where I fit right in. I was lucky that I was able to attend such a good school.

As for the benefits … sports teach discipline and they teach about striving for goals. And some teach about being part of a team. All critical life skills. Anything that gives you a positive experience of yourself = self esteem. I didn’t get that in sports, but I got it in theater and art and writing. All collaborative, creative activities. Same as sports did for athletic kids.

28 Ceejay { 03.02.10 at 3:40 pm }

I have a very complicated relationship with sports. Well, really not that complicated. I hate anything that involved a ball and hand-eye coordination. But the reason I hate said activities is that I believe that I suck at all sports, and had many embarrassing moments in gym class in middle & high school. And I think this was because I never played anything organized in elementary school, which was because we lived in another country where I didn’t have the access to do it. And of course, I end up marrying the guy who was the jock star athlete (football quarterback, basketball star, homecoming king) in high school. Go figure.

29 PaleMother { 03.02.10 at 3:51 pm }

This is just spilled out from reading your post … it’s on the theme of the ill-effects of fitting in/not fitting in … sports vs. other activities … You don’t need to be athletic to be physically active — but unfortunately I think that too often the baby gets thrown out with the bath water … if you don’t have natural physical coordination, it’s easy to get turned off to physical activity. And that’s a real problem. I think the same is true of kids who aren’t natural at creative endeavors. They get turned off even though there is still benefit in participation. Most people end up categorizing themselves very narrowly. :( There is benefit in challening your weaknesses as well as feeding your strengths.

Our elementary gym teacher rags on my kids constantly (they take after me) … at least in their report cards. It’s affected the older one’s attitude and the younger one will probably follow. And that pisses me off. Too many teachers (I’ve seen it with coaches in particular) refuse to meet the child where they are at and bring them along, inspire them, which is their job, after all. You don’t get to just teach the easy ones and diss the rest. Giving kids a negative experience of physical ed … just like teachers who turn kids off in the classroom … can have terrible, lasting negative effects. My kids won’t always be natually skinny and if they’ve learned to loathe physical activity from an early age, that will shorten their healthy lifespan. !!

Remarkably, although motor coordination and attention are a challenge for my son, (in spite of his gym teacher’s opinion) he is currently working happily away on his senior yellow belt in Tae Kwon Do and loves it. The sport and the teacher (who is very positive and gets great results instead of complaining about what kids can’t do like the gym teacher) are a great fit.

We kissed a lot of frogs to find a good fit for him … initial attempts at sport/rec activities remind me of Johnny Weir’s ostrich EXACTLY. But everyone is good at something; parents just have to help kids identify those unique things. I think you are correct when you observe that … having a postive experience of yourself is what is critical. Unavoidably too many experiences in life will beat you down. Looking out for kids means seeing to it that they have some antidote experiences to immunize them against the badness and the poison.

There is so much parenting advice out there, GAH. But now and then you run across a tid bit that just sounds so right, you can’t help but seize it. Some experts … who studied teens and what makes some prone to self-destructive choices and others more immune to negative peer pressure … noted that the more ‘bullet proof’ kids were the ones who had GOALS … the ones who had found some PASSION. Their passions led them to make choices in favor of protecting and investing in their dreams and in their future. They didn’t need to waste time acting out, defying authority or trying to escape in a short-term feel-good moment … which is what I think happens when kids are filled with negativity and are forced into molds that don’t suit them. When they aren’t taught to trust their inner voice. Because in the end, your inner voice is all you have. And if your parents mess that up for you, you will be forever lost, rudderless.

It’s the old, “Bring forth what is within you and what is within you will save you … if you do not bring forth what is within you, what is within you will destroy you.” I identify strongly with that from personal experience. My parents were always tampering with me out of their own anxieties … trying to define what I was and wasn’t good at (my mother was a poor judge of me, for some reason), second-guessing my (“risky”) passions (you can’t make a living at that — Oh yes I can and I did!) … their input just confused the hell out of me, wasted a tremendous amount of my time and caused me terrible angst.

My big kids are 10 and 7 … and my experience was that early on, you are right … their passions can range around a lot … especially when they are little. But gradually their strengths and true interests emerge. There’s something to be said for encouraging them to try lots of things, to experiment … and something to be said for working on specific skills over time for ‘equity’. I constantly wonder if I’m getting that balance right when it comes to encouraging them. And I’m always trying to figure out … how not to burden them too much with my opinons about what they should persue, about who they are and who they ‘ought to be’ and yet … still give them saavy guidance. Parents are so powerful; it’s scary easy to become an obstacle.

PS I stumbled you a post about how one person’s “gift” is another person’s “disability.” I think it was Madeline L’Engle that advised about “making a virtue of your eccentricities.” That is true for all ugly ducklings. Johnny Wier is a big heads up for me. A well raised child hopefully never has to feel like one. Although some alienation teaches compassion …

Sorry to go on so long. You inspired me.

30 Vee { 03.02.10 at 3:55 pm }

I played and loved softball when I was in primary school age 12. I had body issues back then I was developing a lot faster than my peers and got picked on but I loved that I was always cheered on when I was playing because I was really good at it.

20 years later I remembered how good that felt and started playing again. I loved it once again, I am not as good as I was but one of the better players on my team. I love that women of all ages can play softball. I really miss it and can’t wait to get back into once I get chance.

I would like my son to have go at a sport that interests him. It is up to him if he wishes to continue but to at least to have go is important.

31 TexasRed { 03.02.10 at 4:14 pm }

I did not play sports growing up, but mostly from a lack of interest in them. I did participate in 8 years of Scottish highland dancing, but don’t think there are any statistics compiled of how much that might have helped (or hurt me).

I definitely think you’re on track with your idea of following your bliss being one of the keys to those statistics. I also think there’s some element of encouraging kids to find something productive to do with their time and creating healthy social networks of others who are interested in the same types of activities.

32 Photogrl { 03.02.10 at 4:19 pm }

Born in 1976….loved sports.

I swam competitively from the time I was 5 years old, until I was a sophomore in college. In high school, I was a 3 sport a year person…soccer, swimming, softball. Like Tash, I’m short and stocky, but never felt like I was too heavy. I knew my big calves kicked butt in the swimming pool. (distance was my specialty)

The only thing I regret is never taking a dance class.

I’m not exactly graceful, if you know what I mean! ;)

33 coffeegrl { 03.02.10 at 6:13 pm }

I’ve never been an athlete. Hated having to work at anything athletic in gym class. I never gave athletics or my body much thought until 2005 when I dedicated myself to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer 3 Day walk. I did it for lots of women I know who have/had breast cancer, but just as important for me, was the desire to push myself to finally do something really athletically challenging. (By this point I had taken up some light aerobics on occasion and some yoga so I was trying to improve my overall health.) I figured this event was dedicated to such a great cause, was such a celebration of life and overcoming struggle that I would push myself to tough it out and I did. I walked over 500 miles during the course of the months leading up to and including that event. I persevered through all 60 miles and all 3 days of the event even though others around me were too tired or hurt to continue (and that’s totally fine at an event like this one which truly isn’t about crossing the finish line anyway). But in the end, I can say I have never in my life felt so *powerful*. Which brings me to my point. I’m not sure I’d push my daughter into organized sports for the sake of sports. But I do think that making sure she feels she has the freedom to really choose those sports is critical. I also think there is something really empowering about participating in a physical activity that can imbue you with a sense of self that you didn’t even know you had before even if it’s *just* walking.

34 NotTheMama { 03.02.10 at 6:40 pm }

Born in ’81, into a family blessed with natural athletic ability (notice I didn’t say I, myself, had that natural ability!) I had a coach who told my parents that if the whole team worked half as hard as I did, we would’ve been unbeatable. I struggled to prove I was “good enough” in summer travel softball, and there were lots of tears over the coach only putting me in when we were behind and he needed a win. In high school, I won several awards. All that hard work paid off, not because I was good, but because I learned early on the value of hard work and dedication, and gained the tenacity needed to face other things in life, like infertility. I also think it has a lot to do with our parents not letting us quit something just because we got bored or decided we didn’t like something. You finished the season, unless your life was in jeopardy… I was also involved in band and orchestra in high school, and did pretty well there, too.
As for self esteem and health, I don’t really think the specific activities matter a lot… As long as children and teens (and adults, too) have SOMETHING to do besides school or work. I think it’s important to be a part of the whole, and sports, band, dance, chess, debate, etc, etc – whatever activity – can teach people a lot of life lessons.

35 Sunny { 03.02.10 at 8:15 pm }

Did you play organized sports, and if so, which ones (and were you born in the sixties, seventies, or eighties)? I was born in 1980. As a little girl I got very involved in dance and competed until high school. Then I ran cross country and track.

Did you want to play on an organized sports team but had no opportunities? My parents let us decide what we wanted to play/do, whether it was a sport or music lessons. They always believed that we had to do SOMETHING, but whether it was a sport or another activity didn’t matter.

And what do you think you gained from being on the playing field if you were an athlete? I learned about the benefits of hard work — you practice more, you perform better. I gained confidence in myself and really loved being part of a group/team.

I do hope my boys play sports, for their physical health as well as learning confidence, accepting a loss, teamwork, and sportsmanship. But I believe they can still learn those off the field, too, through other activities. If they are following their interests, I will be happy.

36 JC { 03.02.10 at 9:24 pm }

I was “forced” to do balet and tap and some other dance stuff when I was little. I hated it (except tap) and I HATED performances! HATED IT! I remember the first time I went to a basketball camp one summer with my brother and his friends, I felt so cool. I later played softball on a co-ed team (I think I was 9) and LOVED that. My bro was on a different team. But after that one basketball camp I was hooked on team sports. I played basketball, volleyball, and golf all throughout high school. Played club vball after season, and played vball in college. I had great experiences and the most fun with those teams. It’s like having 15 sisters. I would definitely encourage it but I’d listen to what they like, want to do, or enjoy doing. I was forced to play a sport every season of high school to keep me busy and out of trouble. But I’m glad I had to. (oh-born in the 81)

37 Liddy { 03.02.10 at 10:03 pm }

Knowing where you live, even though ChickieNob fast forwarded Apollo, the speedskating skating club in your area is awesome. They were just featured on the NBC Nightly News last night. I am going to write about why I returned to speedskating at a later date. But my speedskating family, I’d never trade them.

38 Susie { 03.02.10 at 10:08 pm }

I was born in ’71. Being a pretty focused nerd in all things, I became very competitive in elementary school with those Presidential Physical Fitness tests — anyone remember those? I became obsessed with getting the patches (which my mom sewed on the arms of a blue terry cloth jacket with red trim… I can still see that awful jacket in my mind… at least I knew enough to not really wear it out anywhere, LOL!) and I also took great pride in seeing my name in the local paper when they published the names of the kids who excelled in the different events. My dad even painted lines on the garage floor so I could practice the broad jump. I was a really serious, determined kid! Having some athletic ability helped build my confidence in a big way.

I finally discovered my sport — volleyball — in middle school. I played Varsity for four years in high school, went to summer camp, coached summer camps, and dreamed of playing in college. It was such a great experience. Being a bit of a nerd, playing volleyball helped me become friends with girls I otherwise would have never gotten to know. My team worked so hard together and we were practically undefeated for four years. I still remember how I felt one night after a game my team won — so completely happy, like I was on top of the world and nothing could top that. Did that help keep me on the right track? Absolutely. I am so grateful for those experiences.

39 Bea { 03.03.10 at 6:23 am }

Do I have to say when I was born? Ok – it was the seventies. I was allowed to do kind of whatever, but it was also kind of assumed – in the absence of input from me – that I would want girlish sports. So I got ballet and gymnastics (and swimming, but where I’m from that’s a given regardless of gender), but then luckily I got taken to Girl Guides and then I could do orienteering, canoeing, sailing, hiking, rockclimbing, etc. Also, we had bikes.

So that answers the question you asked but to answer your broader point: I think you are spot on. Emphasis should be on the word “let” – it is not “make me play sports”. Although I’m sure some of those stats do have at least something to do with physical activity rather than (in addition to, more like) exploration of self (exercise should help with breast cancer, self-image – all those endorphins! – and mild forms of depression – but that could be something like dancing, rather than sports, as such).

Bea

40 Calliope { 03.03.10 at 12:39 pm }

I never played a team sport. ever. But I do have a mom that totally let me follow my bliss. I loved theatre and she totally supported that and never pushed. I do worry that I will fail W in the sports world…

41 Kir { 03.03.10 at 12:44 pm }

I was born in ’70 but was never into sports. I like to watch them and would rather go to them if I have to. Baseball being my favorite. Hockey is too hard to follow (but John LOOOOVES it) and mostly I know scores to impress boys. Even today.

I tried Karate and Softball..I even tried Video Games, I was good at none of it and looked ridiculous. I hate working out to this day but I danced from age 3 to college. I was a cheerleader from grade 8 on…I was never very good at the gymnastics of it ..but the dance and cheer part, I held my own. I was naturally happy and bubbly with made things like Tap and cheerleading good for me and fun.
I wonder what the oodle twins will like. Often. I am not an outdoorsy type of girl (we didn’t even play in the snow these past few snowstorms) so I worry that they will like to camp and hike etc. John doesn’t really like those things either, we’re really hoping they will like to travel and visit museums , like dinasours or something. I kid…sort of. I guess we’re just waiting for them to decide their path and we’ll follow, as long as we comfortably can do so. :)

42 LJ { 03.03.10 at 3:04 pm }

I always played organized sports, being born in the mid-70s. When I was old enough to play ball, I wanted to play baseball because “softball is for girls”. If the boys did something, I wanted to do it too, just because I could. I loved every minute of it. And I wore pink stirrups under my uniform to keep it real.

43 Battynurse { 03.07.10 at 4:04 pm }

I played organized sports for two years (5th and 6th grade) and even though I wasn’t great at it, I loved. The schedule however got in the way of church too much and my mom quit allowing me to play. After that I wasn’t allowed to participate in much of anything like that as it took too much time away from church and I would have spent to much time with non-believers. I look at it now and it’s kind of sad and wonder how something like that or simply just a matter of deciding for myself what I wanted to do would have changed who I’ve become. I hope so much that if I ever do manage to have children I can let them be their own person instead of pushing them to become what I think they should be.

44 jodifur { 03.11.10 at 6:36 pm }

I was born in the 70s and I played soccer. Everyone I knew played soccer.

I liked your 5 year olds have the attention spans of a pancake comment.

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