My daughter has tried a number of sports, from the predictable (soccer, swim team) to the less obvious (ice skating, tae kwon do), but while she was reasonably good at all of them, she wasn’t particularly excited about anything.
Each new activity started out well, but soon enough, getting her to practices became a battle. I struggled with letting her quit each time (shouldn’t I teach her to stick it out?) but always relented eventually. I just couldn’t see the point of investing all that time and money into something she didn’t enjoy. Besides, I was a quitter too. Throughout my childhood, I quit dance, gymnastics, basketball, softball. I know there were more, but I guess I quit keeping track, too. Like my daughter, I was more interested in books and school than sports. And I turned out (mostly) OK.
The one thing I didn’t take away from my years of trying and bailing on sports was an appreciation for physical activity. I didn’t want my kids to follow in my fitness failure footsteps, so I kept dangling new options in front of my daughter, hoping something would take. Then finally, about a year and a half ago, when she was 10, we landed on a winner: tennis. Inspired by her interest, I decided to take up the sport too.
She quickly progressed through the rec classes and was invited to join the high-performance program. I took private lessons and got good enough to be an alternate on the club’s doubles team. We bought a ball caddy filled with four dozen pink tennis balls and practiced our serves together on our neighborhood court. Last summer, I took her to a local pro tournament, and her eyes lit up as we watched the top female players battle it out just a few yards away.
She started to get pretty good, and her coach frequently commented on her rapid progress. I tried to get her interested in some local tournaments, but she always refused. When sign-ups for our YMCA’s tennis team were announced this spring, she reluctantly agreed to join, but she dreaded the practices and begged me not to make her challenge other players for a higher ranking.
Her dad asked me one day if she really liked tennis. She always assured me she did, but now I was starting to wonder. I asked if she thought she’d ever want to play tennis competitively. She mumbled, “Yeah, maybe,” but stared at the ground. Around that time, she started to get stomachaches before lessons.
I tried to talk to her again. I explained gently that I was concerned that she might not be enjoying tennis and suggested we cut back on the high performance program for the summer and stick to one lesson per week. She agreed, but said she was disappointed. The stomachaches continued, always miraculously vanishing about half an hour after practice ended.
I was at a loss. On the one hand, the tennis lessons are expensive, more than I can afford comfortably, and the practice times don’t fit well with our schedule. On the other hand, I really wanted her to excel at something. Her little brother is a successful competitive gymnast, and I thought it only fair that she have her own sport where she could shine. And I liked that tennis was an interest we shared.
Finally, with the deadline to sign up for the fall session fast approaching, I brought it up again. “Tell me why you want to take tennis,” I asked. She burst into tears. Between sobs, she finally admitted she wanted to quit, but felt terrible about all the money I’d spent and thought quitting would mean it had all been wasted.
I tried not to do the math, but what I’ve spent on lessons, tennis racquets, court shoes and tennis skirts could have paid for a very nice trip to Europe, so I see her point. I explained the concept of “sunk costs,” that we shouldn’t keep investing time and money on something she doesn’t love just because we already put so much into it. She kept crying. I handed her the Kleenex and told her I was proud of her for being honest about what she wants.
Later that night, we made the final decision to stop. I found myself both relieved and shocked that she was really quitting, though the way I framed it to her and to her coach is that she’s taking a break. Maybe she will go back to tennis someday, but I’m OK with it if she doesn’t. I’d rather we spend her time and my money on activities she really loves.
I have to admit I’m still fuzzy on when to make a child stick it out and when it’s time to quit. The belief that I needed to “stick it out” meant I stayed far too long in unhealthy relationships and bad jobs, and I don’t want that for my girl. Then again, you can’t just walk out when things get tough. What about that old Vince Lombardi quote that “winners never quit and quitters never win”? No one wants their kid to be a quitter.
But she doesn’t quit everything. She’s a talented musician who plays three instruments and has never once complained about practicing. She’s a dedicated student who manages her own homework and studying with no help or reminders from me. She’s a skilled artist who spends hours sketching. So she’s not a tennis player. That’s OK.
I have held firm to my requirement that she do some sort of physical activity, so she’s decided to try fencing next.
Anyone want to trade a tennis racquet for an épée?