As a child, I played soccer at my father’s insistence and I hated every minute of it. I had very poor coordination and it was all I could do to “not fall over” when kicking the ball. It did not really mattered all that much because I could never run fast enough to keep up with the ball. I quickly lost all interest in the game. Of course, my dad got really into it and I ended up playing for about six years mainly because it made him happy.
Unlike some children, I never developed scoring anxiety because I never considered that I might actually be able to score. I eventually became friends with another boy who had a similar disinterest in the game. I remember that he would become quite anxious when our team members and coaches said that we’d let them down. It did not upset me – one of the big advantages to being deaf is that you don’t hear a lot of the bad things being said about you.
When I had kids of my own, I took my five year old to soccer and we played one painful-to-watch season. Clearly, he’d inherited my lack of skill as he did not kick the ball once during a match. While the soul-crushing accusations of “letting the side down” never materialized, I could see some parents taking it too seriously with their own kids. Concerned that it was only a matter of time before they would start pointing the finger elsewhere – we decided to get out of soccer.
A Move to Scouts
I moved my son to scouts and immediately noticed a huge difference. Instead of competing with each other, scouts were encouraged to work together towards common goals. They were taught to support the less able members of their troops and to delegate tasks depending upon skill and interest. There were also lots of neutral activities such as crafts, drama, group songs and games.
Having found this to be such a good fit for my kids, I asked my parents why they hadn’t sent me to scouts. They told me that they “just didn’t think that I would like it”. It was such a missed opportunity. They had mistaken my lack of interest in competitive sports for a lack of interest in any social activities.
Once we decided that scouting was the way to go, I became a scout leader and I learned how to run games. Some of these games had clear winners but some did not. I would always choose the games carefully, often depending upon the makeup of my troop. When I had scouts with clear failure or scoring anxiety, I would either run “neutral games” or I would give them a job outside the game, such as score-keeper. Of course there were still times when I did run competitive games because it’s still important for children to learn about winning and losing but when I did, I was always watchful for anxiety.
A Quest for Activities
As my kids got older, we left scouts and I made it clear to them that I wouldn’t accept “sitting on the computer, iPad, smartphone, gamepad or console” as a sport. Seeking physical activity, we looked at non-competitive sports, such as bike riding and ice skating. For us, the learning curve and the falls and failures proved to be too much. I’m still hopeful that they’ll improve in these areas but I’m not prepared to keep pushing their anxiety buttons.
I’ve noticed that recently, there’s been a trend towards “not counting the scores” in competitive games at school. The problem with this is that somewhere, someone is always keeping score and that as they grow older, my children will eventually have to face the competition. I’m not a believer in non-scored competitive sports.
Since I still need to protect my kids from scoring anxiety as they have significant problems with failure, I’ve chosen activities which are fairly cheap to do and easy to learn. I’ve deliberately avoided sports which include the kind of nasty falls you can have in surfing, skating or skateboarding. It also helps if improvement in the sport is measured not against others but against one’s past achievements.
For us, that means walking, karate and indoor rock climbing. So far, these are working very well. Of course, there are plenty of other alternatives; fishing, canoeing, sailing, flying or driving remote controlled vehicles and general fitness work.
It’s important for kids to get out and be physical but if your child reacts badly to losing, then it’s best to choose things that won’t set off their anxieties.