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Pushing kids to compete can take joy out of sports

The Baltimore Sun

DEAR CAL -- My 6-year-old son has a lot of natural athletic ability, and appears interested in different sports (baseball, soccer, wrestling). However, when it's sign-up time, he tells us that he has changed his mind, and comes up with reasons not to commit. We try to explain that sports are important to his development, but he says he doesn't like it, even though he loves physical play. We are reluctant to force the situation. Any ideas?

Rick Heldmann, Richmond, Va.

DEAR RICK -- I think the first question that you should ask yourself is whether your son has truly shown an interest in sports. Sometimes when a child shows some natural athletic ability, as yours has, parents might force him or her to participate in athletic activities. Your child might seem to enjoy playing ball around the house with you, but the idea of competing against other kids without you around might be intimidating.

Continue playing around the house with your son. Teach him how to throw and catch, and introduce him to activities that you think he might enjoy. Discuss the possibilities of his playing competitive sports, but don't push it. You might think about taking him by a local field one day to see other kids enjoying sports.

Eventually, your son might ask you if he can play competitive sports. If that's the case - if it's his decision - it's much more likely he will enjoy the experience than if it's forced upon him. As long as your son stays active and you enjoy the time spent together, it's a win-win.

DEAR CAL -- My 7-year-old son is a natural athlete who loves to play and practice every team sport. I worry that sometimes he's not humble enough. When I try to explain to him that when he plays with his friends at recess, he might be too competitive and take the fun out of playing, he says, "So, you want me to lose?" I don't want to squash his drive or assertiveness, but how do I teach humility?

Kristi Erickson, Chicago

DEAR KRISTI -- All great athletes have confidence that allows them to succeed. To be successful in sports, you have to believe that you have the ability to win every time you step onto the field. That competitive flame is something that burns inside all great athletes. It cannot be taught. In that regard, your son's actions may indicate he has something inside him that can take him a long way athletically.

On the other hand, I can understand your concerns about humility. Learning to be a good sport - win or lose - is an important lesson on and off the field. Throughout life, we face situations in which we succeed or fail, and our ability to cope with those situations might ultimately determine the level of success we experience in our personal and professional lives.

Keep in mind that your son is 7 years old. At some point, he's going to be faced with a situation in which he doesn't succeed and someone else makes him feel badly about that. Use that situation to illustrate how his previous behavior might have affected another child. There are many lessons to be learned by competing in and watching sports, so use those to your advantage.

Have a question or issue arising from your involvement in youth sports? Send it by e-mail to

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