My little boy, Arthur who is 7, doesn’t play any sport. He *doesn’t like any sport. My 5 year old girl also isn’t sporty (though she strangely does kick a rugby ball all over the house, insisting it’s a football, and accompanied by a running commentary that would rival John Motson’s skills). So neither child is, at this moment in time, showing a remote interest in sport. Does it bother me? No, I’m not sporty either as an adult. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t worried about it. And, yes, I have worried more about the boy child than the girl child. Is that gender stereotyping? Maybe, but that’s the world we still live in. Boys are kind of expected to some degree to like football etc. When girls do it’s seen as cool and a bit different. When they don’t no one cares.
Both my husband and I were raised in sporty houses. My dad and brother are both sports mad. Ad’s whole family love sport. He played football and other things as a youth but he doesn’t care for football today. He’d watch an international game but that’s about it. I hated PE and sport as a kid, though I was quite good at them naturally. Apart from a brief interest in footy as a 10 year old, probably as there was a cool girl in Jossy’s Giants or something, I never really got into it. Then as a teen it was accidentally discovered that I had a raw talent for athletics, being a lanky stick insect that could run fast and jump high. Who knew? Anyway, I ended up representing Derbyshire and breaking a few records with my awkward hurdling – I even got a place at a specialist sports school – before I quit as the whole thing didn’t grab me. It was scary and nerve wracking and you had to practise and stuff. And at 15 there were definitely more ‘interesting’ things to be getting up to, none of which were good for me or allowed by my parents. Let’s just leave that there shall we… (I can still hear my parents sobbing over what could have been!!)
As adults neither my husband or I watch sport in the house – apart from sticking the Winter Olympics on for a few minutes and then getting bored. I do show things like the Olympics to the kids and feign interest; I don’t actively discourage them or anything, I’m just admitting that we aren’t sporty, and that’s probably a big factor in how they perceive sport. Saying that, I do think sporty parents can put off kids if they push it too much. We have always encouraged our kids to get involved in clubs and sports, but they just really don’t seem to want to. We are an active family though. I walk the dog every day and we walk as a family at the weekends, something Artie now will accept but Bea gets very moany about.
Artie is cut from another cloth to the sporty kids, though thankfully quite a few other kids at school are too. I can spot them a mile off! Like them, he’s the ‘geeky’ type (I say that word fondly – geeks are cool!). He loves Lego, science fiction, programmes about engineering, gaming, nature programmes, history (especially if it’s gruesome). He is made for home education, really (as it’s very much about digging deep into the things that interest you rather than spending time on the 3 Rs because you ‘should’). It’s something we tried but that didn’t work out (purely down to me, not them – they loved it). He’s very self-motivated to spend hours at something if it engages him.
We noticed that his physical confidence wasn’t very high when he started school. Sports days are painful for him. Watching Artie play sports with other kids is hard, as it doesn’t come naturally. The need to chase the ball, or get stuck in just isn’t there. Once I took him to a football club and he spent most of the time staring at the sky, bless him. We wondered if it was related to his slight dyslexia; a difficulty with ball sports can be a symptom of dyslexia and related learning difficulties (hate calling it that as I see dyslexia as just being different rather than disadvantaged). Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. Who knows?
When an event like a cross country happens (they do it way too young I think) he’s allowed to stand on the side and cheer if he wants, which he did for the first few years and then he finally had a go last year! I was thrilled. He did really well and was chuffed not to come last! Sports day is still painful but not so bad. I just remind him all the time that, yes so and so might be really fast (or that girl really good at handwriting) but he is the LEGO KING! Everyone is great (and not so great) and different things.
My advice to anyone who has a non sporty kid is this. Don’t panic. Accept them for who they are. Keep giving them lots of opportunities to get involved but don’t force it. If you’re worried, make sure at playtime there are others who don’t play footy (there will be) and that he or she is being included in that group. Find their passion, whatever it is (yes, even if it’s Minecraft!) and explore it – how can they get even more involved? Artie goes to a Saturday STEM (science, tech, engineering and maths) club and when there is a Lego convention on or similar we take him to it (that’s where he is in the picture). I’ve found a coding club too that I want him to start going to. Remember that they may not always hate sport – at senior school they may discover a love for high jump or something random that they haven’t tried yet.
It’s easy to panic and think they will be social lepers all through school and life as they don’t fit the ‘lad’ mould. Or that they will be unfit and lacking in strength. Just because they don’t play organised sports doesn’t mean they don’t love running around like lunatics. As I type I can hear the screams from the playground (we live really close to school) as they all play chase and generally get rid of some pent up energy from sitting in a classroom all morning. I know for a fact that Artie will be running around with them and the image makes me happy. Ultimately our job as parents is to help them find their lane and encourage them to go as far as they can in it, no matter what that might be.
*After writing this post I spoke to Artie over dinner last night and he really enjoyed PE that day when they played Dodgeball. Also he said he’d been enjoying netball in PE lessons. So it just goes to show you that even the most stubbornly unsporty kids can come around to some things in their own time. Still, I won’t be expecting a flurry of sports medals anytime soon. Science ones, maybe… and that’s perfectly fine with me.