When to push, when to back off

Every time I think about organized sports, I begin to feel ill. I remember that time in first grade when I went out for T-ball and hated every single moment of it. I made myself sick worrying that I would strike out. Or get called out. Or fall on my face. Or not be able to propel my chubby, unathletic body around the bases. I cried before every practice and every game, fearful of failure and embarrassment and pathetic ineptitude. Once that season ended, I put any notion of athletics out of my head and settled in to a life of flabby bookworm nerdiness. Picked last in P.E. Never able to do more than hang on the climbing rope for (barely) the required time.

Fast forward to junior high, when my P.E. teacher -- in an effort, I think, to boost my confidence and get my fatness in check -- encouraged me to try out for volleyball. I showed promise, she insisted. After the first practice, I couldn't move for several days. And I quit.

Ever since, I've done my share of aerobics classes, biking, and even occasionally running (it's really jogging slowly, but in addition to being unathletic, I'm also a bit delusional).

Now it's my kid's turn. He's already shown less than no interest in baseball or football or soccer. He took an ice skating class once and did more sitting on the ice than gliding. We've had him in swim lessons and gymnastics, and I thought we were doing it more for ourselves, to look like engaged and encouraging parents attempting to keep our kid from becoming a pint-sized couch potato, than because he showed a real interest.

However, something happened over the summer. He passed level 4 of the Red Cross swim lessons. And he advanced from beginner to intermediate boys gymnastics. All of a sudden, he showed a spark of something -- could it be athletic promise?! -- that had me exploring local swim team information and gymnastics advancement possibilities.

And here I am, feeling ill again. I'm remembering my athletic failures and fears and desperately wanting something different for my child. I want him to have fun and enjoy sports. I want him to succeed. I want him to be GOOD and AMAZING and TALENTED! I want coaches to come to us and say, "Wow, he's a little dynamo. We see him going far in this!"

And then I see him in action, not breathing to alternating sides during lap swim. Not holding his body the right way. Not listening to his coaches when they say, "Eyes on me! Listen!" In gymnastics, he runs around a lot and does what he's told. Sort of. But if THAT is a cartwheel, I'm Mary Lou Retton.

I so don't want to screw this up. I want to encourage him to do his best and enjoy the activity and learn and grow at the proper rate. I want him to find his place in the world, his niches, his passions. I don't want him to be affected by my fears and dreads, my anxieties and recollections of my own shortcomings.

I want him to be able to do anything he wants to do. But first, I must make sure it's what he wants, not what I want for him. Or for myself.

I keep having to remind myself: he's only 7. He's still allowed to be a kid, first.

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