The majority of my childhood summers were spent on the softball diamond. It was the only thing to do in a small village in the summer. We travelled to neighbouring towns, playing some pretty good ball. To say the league was competitive is an understatement. We played to win and so did our rivals. Hot nights under the lights and the crack of the bat are some of my best memories. And those rivals? We ended up in high school (still playing ball against each other) and became friendly rivals.
Besides the love of the game, it’s the comradery, learning to play with teammates, and a sense of purpose that make playing a sport so invaluable.
My first year, at about age eight, I warmed the bench but I learned some valuable lessons keeping that wooden slab heated. Was I defeated? No, as a result, I improved my game and worked hard to earn a spot. I became a sub then eventually first string. Pride in my accomplishment overcame any dents to my self-esteem from sitting on the bench.
Cheerleaders are vital. My parents came to every game they could. My dad took my sister and me to the ball diamond to practice. They encouraged and believed in me.
It also didn’t hurt that I have a healthy competitive spirit. Later I took that spirit and work ethic into the dance studio and other facets of life.
But when does the sacrifice outweigh the good lessons learned on the field, court or ice rink? Or does it?
In my new novel FACE OFF I explore the world of elite sports, including dance. (Dancers are athletes too.) Shelby and Tristan, the main characters, have sacrificed a lot to get where they are in their individual sports. Is the sacrifice worth it? These athletes have given up normal teenage experiences because they’re busy at the gym, dance studio, or arena so they can play at an elite level. Do they ever wonder about what they’ve missed?
How does the pressure to perform by coaches, parents, and their own expectations affect self-esteem and mental health? Watching the Olympics or other elite sporting events, I’ve asked these questions. In FACE OFF, Shelby and Tristan need to find the answers as part of their journey.
For the average person, teen, kid who wants to play sports, is it worth the time, money, and energy to invest? And what happens if they want to strive for that elite level?
I’m no expert just to be clear but my opinion is YES. Yes, getting involved in sport is worth it. Here are my reasons why:
-First of all, we are all unique with individual personalities. Some of us rise to the occasion when we’re told NO. Others run away. The key is to learn what response is the best in a situation. Fight or flight? Maybe the No is a good thing. Or maybe we need to fight and work hard for what we want. Instead of going with our usual MO, a different response can be learned.
-Hard work always pays off. Does that mean you’re going to be first string, win every game? Not necessarily but learning a good work ethic will benefit all areas of life. Practicing a skill, we’re not good at or can’t pick up on the first try teaches us mental toughness and stamina. It boasts self-esteem—mastering something you failed at first is a great feeling. We may never be the best but we tried our best and that’s what counts.
-Playing a sport teaches kids to handle disappointment. It’s way easier to learn that on a soccer field, or baseball diamond early on than later in life, when the stakes are higher.
-As I stated above, support systems make a huge difference. Coaches, teachers, parents, siblings are all important in helping build self-esteem and motivation. And don’t forget to thank those coaches, parents and friends who do encourage and cheer these kids on!
-Finally, what if your kid or you want to play in the NHL, NBA, WNBA, or dance for the National Ballet of Canada? Let them dream and then do everything in your power to help them chase those dreams while teaching them boundaries and balance. No one ever regretted trying—the regrets come when you gave up or didn’t try.
Competition and rivalry in the right proportion never hurt. It ups your game. And it’s fun.
These are a few of the lessons I’ve learned as I engaged in sport growing up and have watched my kids play their own sports.
FACE OFF comes off the press on June 4th. Hope you enjoy the competition between Shelby and Tristan as they square off at an elite sports camp.