When our children are young, around 6 years old, they start developing an improved temperament for sports. This is something they do on their own and we as parents have to allow this without forcing expectations. I work hard at keeping my expectations in check, but sometimes as parents, we just want our children to not lose.
Early on, my son was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder. There are a few different levels but basically two ends of SPD. Hypersensitivity; this leads to sensory avoiding — kids avoid sensory input because it’s too overwhelming. The other is under sensitivity or hyposensitivity. This causes kids to be sensory seeking — they look for more sensory stimulation.
During this young time, when kids should be developing social emotional skills, my son was battling controlling an overstimulated body. Although my son was very particular about food textures, clothing bothering him, and some other hypersensitivities, he was definitely a sensory seeker. Early years were spent explaining to teachers what SPD is, weighted vests and blankets, sensory brushes, IEP meetings, and occupational therapy visits. Other frustrations included behavioral calls from school principals, struggling grades, and sad days on playgrounds when he was too rough with other children. My son wasn’t mean, he just didn’t know how to be gentle.
This led to incidents like my son’s removal from little league soccer games. He would plow over all of the kids to get to the ball, even his own teammates. I would watch and beg internally for him to slow down as I could hear gasps from the other parents around me. Obviously, they feared for the wellbeing of their own, precious child.
I knew my son’s confidence was struggling with daily reprimands at school, as well as team sports becoming less of an option. Although I realized the importance of understanding personal talents and the lessons in losing, I knew I needed to find a way for him to start winning.
By third grade I had him taking Taekwondo, in Boy Scouts, and running with me in short races. I found activities that brought discipline for him and safety for those around him! But when he ran, he started winning.
We ran 5Ks, the Savannah Bridge run, and the Tunnels to Towers run. There were barely any kids in my son’s age group for him to compete against and he placed almost every time. Even if he didn’t, he started competing with himself and his last race time. We would wait for the medals and hear his name called over the speaker. Nothing brings a parent more joy then to see their child’s pride in their accomplishment.
Finally, fourth grade came and with that, parks and rec football. My son could do what he did best and be praised for it; plow over other kids. He hasn’t looked back. By sixth grade I had to start convincing him to at least have a plan B if the NFL doesn’t work out. Yes, concussions and injuries are always a concern. I’m a mom, how could it not? Social and emotional regulation, confidence and motivation are also my concerns. He couldn’t regulate sitting in a classroom and he learned these skills in sports and Boy Scouts.
My son has continued to struggle to balance what he finds important, as all pre-teens do. However, finding talents in the things that condemned my son in the past has been a reward and blessing. I don’t know if he will be scholarship material and I don’t really care. Football is his motivation. He keeps his grades up and does his best to stay out of trouble knowing the coaches won’t put up with it. Maturity has helped him get his SPD under control, but sports regulates it and motivates him. He knows what it feels like to lose and he knows the joy of winning. Both are equally important to experience. Losing keeps us humble and teaches us to learn more. Winning is our motivation and pushes us to place our talents where they fit in our life, especially when they originated as burdens.
My son is 14 now, almost six feet tall and still my beautiful, rough, little boy. I know he will lose again, and it will break my heart to watch. I also know he will win again. The best part about being a parent is watching my son and daughter learn how to do both and being so proud when they don’t stop trying.