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Sports and Your Shy Child

Category: Parents & Kids Magazine September 2011 Issue

Parents Kids Family Mississippi Sports and Shy children

As the mother of an extremely introverted child, I do have definite opinions about not forcing a shy child to play sports. What has worked best for our family is relaxed group activities as opposed to organized group sports. I am in no way against organized sports; if one of my other three children expresses a desire to play a group sport, then we will be on the side of the ball field, cheering our lungs out. But for my oldest, who is eight, group sports are too overwhelming, too intimidating, and too emotionally intense to even consider. I will not force her to play group sports; however, I do believe that she needs to learn to interact with other children in a team-like setting, negotiate with others, and engage in activities that require her to compromise, give and take, and otherwise learn important social skills that will serve her through the rest of her life.

 

Instead of forcing my shy child to play a group sport in the hope that it would break her out of her shell, I will provide opportunities for her to experience aspects of team scenarios in a less-threatening environment. The advantages of becoming a team player can be achieved through less rigorously defined situations than playing a team sport on a ball field; learning to negotiate with others, share resources, and sacrifice oneself for the good of the team can be practiced elsewhere. Non-traditional sporting events still require a shy child to play by the rules, conduct himself according to set standards, and respect others. However, the pressure to perform on a team is removed from many non-traditional sports.

 

Non-traditional sports include such varied activities as fencing, golf, shooting, archery, horseback riding, swimming, biking, and even geocaching. Traditional team venues such as soccer, baseball, softball, basketball, or football are all physically demanding sports whose athletic aspects can be achieved through other sports, such as tennis and ballet. However, many non-traditional sports do not require the shy child to be faced with large numbers of children on a ball field. Shy children typically take a while to ease into a new situation; participating in a non-traditional sport might offer an environment that is less threatening than a soccer field or a baseball diamond.

 

The first step in determining what sport, if any, your child should participate in is to ask. Get his feedback, learn a bit about what his goals are for the sport, and make a decision as a family about what is best for your shy child. If he enjoys something that is a bit less mainstream than soccer or baseball, then some research is in order. The Internet is of course a great resource; the local parks and recreation department in your town most likely publishes online lists of the programs offered. Your child might just find his perfect sport - one that he enjoys, one that helps him feel confident, and one that he can participate in without damaging his self-esteem. Shy children are usually cautious children; by letting him take some responsibility for his activity choices, his sense of self will mature and his confidence will grow.

 

Navigating the world of interpersonal relationships can be rocky with a shy child. Naturally gregarious children need little prompting to play team sports; outgoing children may even thrive on the attention and spotlight of traditional team sports, but a shy child might suffer more than is healthy by being forced to play a season of a traditional team sport. Recognizing your child’s needs can be a positive first step toward helping him become a functioning adult. We all want our children to do well and be successful; being successful might just look very different for your child than you anticipated. Perhaps you have a legacy of a particular sport in your family. Realizing that your child might never play that sport can be very disappointing. However, your shy child needs success at what he loves in order to mature well. Adapting your own expectations in order to provide a positive environment for your child is very important. Perhaps you won’t have the chance to cheer for a field goal or applaud loudly for a home run; that doesn’t mean that your shy child is a failure or that you have not succeeded as a parent. Instead, it can be a wonderful opportunity for you to come alongside your child, perhaps learning something new about both of you, and cheering for him no matter what sport he chooses to engage in. It is just as easy to cheer for a well-placed feinte as your child participates in a fencing duel as it is to whoop for a three-pointer on the basketball court.

 

Recognizing your child’s particular talents and passions is one of the greatest gifts you can give him; his self-confidence will benefit, and who knows, maybe your shy child will mature into a beautifully well-adjusted adult who only vaguely remembers battling shyness as a child. But what he will remember is the love and support that his parents showed him, encouraging him as he participated in a sport that was perhaps not the first choice of his peers or even his parents. By not forcing your shy child to play a traditional team sport and being sensitive to what he needs in order to thrive, you will be facilitating the growth and personal development skills that will serve him for a lifetime.

 

About the Author: Kathleen Foster is a homeschooling mother of four in Clinton, MS.

 

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