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Why I Told My Daughter She Sucks At Sports

A couple weeks ago, we were leaving one of those insane, horrible giant trampoline bouncy places and my 11-year-old daughter says to me “I don’t think I’m very physical. You know, like Rocket [her brother]. He seems to be really good at sports and flipping and I’m not.”

What came out my mouth surprised me: “No, you’re kind of not.”

Okay let me back up. As you may have surmised, this child has been with me for approximately 11.5 years, not counting the time she was in my belly, so I’ve had ample time to observe her engaging in physical acts: jumping, climbing, running, organized sports.

And the kid is just like me: two left feet. If anybody was ever NOT a “natural” athlete, that person is me.

But even knowing these facts, and relating perfectly to the sentiment my daughter was expressing, my first instinct was to snow her with some BS: “Oh, no, honey. You’re good at sports! You just have to keep trying!”

But I decided to tell her the truth, without embellishment, and I could see it stung a bit.

So I said more, to explain myself: “Ava, we all have things we are particularly, naturally good at. Like you, and reading. You’re in 5th grade and read Charles Dickens. That ain’t normal. But you’ve done it without even trying. You just learned to read and BOOM! Success. But all of us also have things that we are NOT naturally good at. If we want to get good at those things, we absolutely can, but we have to put in twice the effort of the people around us to get to the decent point and even harder if we want to excel.”

She was nodding her head. She totally got it. You know why? Because it’s the truth. Sometimes I wonder why we run around spewing nonsense to our kids (the “I’m an infinitely supportive mom!” routine) when kids can handle the truth. And they can sniff B.S. from a mile away. In other words, if I started prattling on “You’re good at sports, Ava!”, her face may be appreciative, but deep down there would be a voice whispering “Nope. I’m not. My mom’s full of it.”

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And I immediately undermine my own credibility.

Beyond that, though it sounds nice and encouraging in theory to always point out the good in our kids, to foster what they’re good at without ever recognizing what they might not be so good at, I don’t understand how that prepares them for life, how that gives them tools to face REALITY squarely, even the things they don’t want to face.

I mean we all want to believe the world is open to us with big, wide open arms. We all want to believe our kids are the master geniuses of all the things. But the truth is they are amazing in some areas and they suck in others (just like us), and a mastery of those differences is what will result in a successful life. I want my kids to have a right-sized understanding of themselves – their strengths and weaknesses - so they won’t be shocked and appalled when things get tough, or the world isn’t delivering just what they wanted the second they wanted it. They will understand that many things, most things, require a nearly inhumane amount of WORK. Lots and lots and lots of work.

Things are not deserved, they are earned. Period.

But if my kid thinks she is the best in everything, wouldn’t she also think the world should be working for her?

There’s a word for that. It’s called “entitled.”

So yes, little girl of mine, you can be an Olympian if you really want to, but nobody’s going to hand it to you, and nature may be working against you, and I’m not saying this to discourage you kid, but rather empower you, because if you don’t know where you stand now, you’ll never know how to get somewhere new. 

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