Home > Uncategorized > Helping My Son Find His Way (Or How My Son Will Be the Next Michael Phelps (but probably not))

Helping My Son Find His Way (Or How My Son Will Be the Next Michael Phelps (but probably not))

Samuel, my 7 year old son, is not me.  He might have the misfortune of looking like me, but he is his own person with his own unique interests.  That might be the one of the toughest parenting lesson to learn.

I played team sports at the YMCA growing up and loved it.  The practice, the games, the jerseys (which were nothing more than cotton t-shirts with a number on the back), and beating the other team.  Whatever the season, I played that sport- football in the fall, basketball in the winter, and baseball in the spring.  At home, I would play those same sports- throwing a football at a tree in the backyard while pretending I was the quarterback, shooting hoops in the driveway, and practicing my pitching by throwing a tennis ball up against the house.

So when Samuel came along, since he looked like me, I figured that he would be like me.  And rather than waiting until the second grade to get him started in team sports, as my parents had done, we started him in kindergarden.

Start them early.

Soccer.  Practice once a week with a game on Saturday.

Did he want to work on his soccer skills in the backyard between practices and games?  Not so much.  Occasionally.  If it wasn’t too hot outside.  Or too windy.

I noticed that during the games, he tended to disengage, to not enter the scrum, but to hang around the fringes of the pack, rarely ever kicking the ball.

He needs motivation, I thought to myself, and I knew the trick.  Just before the start of the next to last game, I pulled him aside and offered a toy if he kicked the ball ten times.  I figured it might take him all game to accomplish this task as he hadn’t kicked the ball ten times all season in a game.

Yes, I resorted to bribery.

And it worked.

Samuel kicked the ball ten times in the first quarter.

I pulled him aside at the end of the quarter and upped the ante.  “If you kick the ball thirty times the rest of the game, I’ll get you that really nice (i.e. expensive) toy that you’ve been wanting.”

Goal accomplished midway through the fourth quarter.

Before the game the following week, Samuel asked how many times he had to kick the ball to get that other toy he’d been wanting.

“Last week, you proved you could kick the ball.  Now go do it.”

He resorted to his normal post outside the pack.

We signed him up for spring soccer and towards the end of the season his interest began to wane.  When he played the following fall he completely lost interest halfway through the season.  He didn’t want to go to practice and he didn’t want to go to the games.  He couldn’t be cajoled into kicking the ball.  Still, we made him finish out the season.

We’d also tried basketball, but got the same results.  He stood on the perimeter and rarely got involved.

“So maybe team sports isn’t his thing?  Maybe he’s not a competitive person?” Angela proposed.

What?!  Not competitive?  How could that be?  He looked like me, so wasn’t he like me?

“He likes to swim, maybe we could get him on a swim team,” Angela suggested.  She googled swim teams for Arlington and found one for kids his age.  He would have to try out and if he made the team, he’d be going to practice twice a week.

We pulled up some videos up Michael Phelps on youtube and showed them to Samuel.  “Would you like to try something like this?”


We went to the try out.  He didn’t do so well.  His backstroke looked more like a wounded fish floundering on its side.  His freestyle was, well, pretty free and wild, lacking in any form whatsoever.  Stopping halfway down the lane to catch his breath didn’t help either.

His tryout took place at the same time an older group of boys were practicing.  They were in the lanes next to Samuel.  The coach told Samuel to once more do the freestyle as fast as he could.  He could start when he was ready.  One eye was on her and the other was on the older boys in the lane next to him.  Another coach was counting them down for their start.

“On your mark, get set, go!”

As they exploded in the water, Samuel pushed off at the same time as well, thrashing about.  I won’t lie you and say he was a born natural, easily beating boys four and five years older than him.  They dropped him in three strokes.

But we’d seen a competitive spark.

He wasn’t quite ready for the swim team.  He took swim lessons (saturday mornings at eight am, arghhhh!) for three months, learning the freestyle, the backstroke, the breaststroke, and the butterfly.  At the end of those three months, he tried out again for the team and this time he made it.

So now, twice a week, Samuel goes to swim practice for forty minutes, where they work him into the ground.  And he loves every minute of it.  There’s a smile plastered on his face the entire time (except for when he’s posing for pictures- then he puts on his game face). So he may not be the next Michael Phelps, but he’s found the thing he loves to do.

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