Is she disappointed? Yes. Am I disappointed? Yes. But she's ten. And more than anything at this stage of her life, I really believe she needs to sleep this one out on the couch. And I'm human, and I totally own that little voice inside my head that is saying, "but she REEEEEEALLY needs to lower her seed time. She needs to swim faster. She needs to do this... She needs to do that..." But she's ten. I hear from this little voice quite a bit when it comes to my daughter's swimming, because it's amazing to watch this little human that you've created and shaped and loved with all of your soul truly excel at something, and it's easy to get caught up in it and to let this little voice take over in the name of doing what's best for your child. But I've learned not give this voice too much credence. Because she's ten.
I've heard kids at swim meets chattering about how much money they've been promised per race if they place first, second, or third. I've heard parents offer their child obscene amounts of money if they beat a particular child in a race. I've heard parents appeal to their 8 and unders with the threat of no My Little Ponies if they don't do their best in a race. Has it always been like this? I certainly don't remember it being so.
I'm not soft. I'll be the first to tell my daughter to suck it up and realize there are much bigger things than whatever non-crisis crisis she may be getting worked up over. But she's ten. So she's got eight years in this sport in front of her if she decides she's going to use her talent to take her somewhere. Eight. Years. In those eight years, if she continues to work hard and own her gift, who knows where it could take her. It's fun to speculate. But she's ten. And eight years is a long time - almost another whole lifetime for her so far. Who knows what other opportunities will present themselves or what changes might precipitate a huge and unexpected shift in the course of her life.
Competitive sports offer a wealth of personal growth opportunities for children. There are things kids can learn from being a part of an athletic team that they cannot learn elsewhere, and I would love to see every child participate in at least one sport. But uber-competitive parents who give in to that little voice, or who may be seeking their own recognition through their children, have turned athletics into another vehicle through which modern society is threatening the sanctity of childhood. It is one thing to support a child in pursuit of a goal if the drive and desire is genuinely the child's. And it's one thing to recognize a sincere gift in your child and encourage him or her to embrace and explore it. But we have to stop pushing our kids to the breaking point at a younger and younger age. Bribing and threatening and scaring them into performing when they still go to a school that has recess. And we have to stop paying our kids for performance. Whether it's a certain cut time in a sport, or a home run, or first place, or an A on their report card. This pay for performance movement is happening at younger and younger ages as well, and it robs children of the opportunity to simply feel pride in a job well done. It robs them of experiencing the beauty in the sense of accomplishment that is the natural reward for hard work. And it teaches them instead to immediately put a hand out and ask, "what do I get?"
Elle just woke up. She was panicked that we might be late to the meet. When I told her we weren't going, she immediately said she wanted to go. She had to go. And... she didn't want her team, her coach, or us - her parents - to be upset with her. Gut check moment. So I rubbed her head, gave her a kiss and asked her if she thought she should swim. Still a little panicked, she said, "No, but..."
I'm a goal-oriented person. I'm a pusher. And I sincerely hope that my daughter grows to pursue her goals with immeasurable tenacity. But she's ten. So for now, I hope to always have the wisdom to ignore that little voice when it's best for her that I do. And I hope that I will always recognize when she truly needs to be cuddled rather than pushed. And I'm hoping that you will strive to do the same.