By Whitney from RookieMoms.com
Today my son Julian is a football fanatic, memorizing player statistics, playing catch with his dad in the backyard, and dreaming of becoming the fastest sprinter in his school. But it wasn’t always this way. Last year Julian didn’t like sports, let alone want to play them himself, or care about catching such things as the touchdown pass. Last summer Heather’s son Holden went to sports camp, and I told Julian that there are camps where you do eight sports each day, knowing pretty well he’d hate that idea. He looked at me with amazement and disgust.
At that time, he spent his recesses sitting on the bench with his female best friend discussing the detailed characteristics of their Webkinz, a set of plush animals with online lives. They enjoyed this fun virtual world they were imagining together, and I had no problem with it. He attended science camp all summer and avoided kick ball games by hanging out with the counselors, making friendship bracelets.
I’m not really a sports person myself, but I worried that he was missing out on important social skills like the ability to join group games or play catch. I didn’t have to worry for long. Last fall, everything changed.
My husband had joined Fantasy Football in an office pool. Since our kids weren’t interested, he assumed, he only checked in on his Fantasy team after they were asleep. He rarely discussed it at home.
One day at breakfast, he mentioned a big score he’d earned with his virtual team, putting him in position to win the workplace league. Julian’s ears pricked up. Dad was going to win something? He asked a ton of questions and absorbed it all.
Soon every morning, Julian was checking in on his dad’s Fantasy league standings on the computer. He memorized the names and positions of the players. We bought him a set of football cards, and a full-fledged hobby was born.
His interest went beyond the fantasy league. Julian started watching televised football games too, rooting for his dad’s players. He grew obsessed with the stats, the scores and other numerical comparisons being made by the commentators.
Suddenly he was eager to play catch in the back yard and talk about how many yards he and his dad could throw. He spent his mornings before school rearranging his football cards, reading player stats online, and asking his dad millions of questions about the game. On the weekends, he ran football plays with his little sister.
By the time the Super Bowl aired, Julian was a football fanatic.
We hosted a kid-friendly party for the event, and helped the kids win quarters and prizes for participating in a “betting” pool. The other parents were shocked and amused to see my formerly-mild-mannered, un-athletic son stand up and yell at the TV, cheering for “his team” and making astute observations about the game.
This 180-degree transformation was inspired both by loyalty to his dad and also by an unquenchable thirst for measuring points and rankings on the computer screen. I am thankful that these interests moved into the real world and inspired him to develop some skills that are healthy for both his body and his social life.
Since his passion for football began, Julian has now also embraced basketball, baseball, and the Olympics. He tells us he is training to be the fastest sprinter in his school. Also? He spent all his recess time at the end of the school year playing kickball.
What did I learn from this experience? In the future, I’ll be more creative in enticing my kids to try new things. In this case, it wasn’t the joy of playing the games himself that got Julian interested; it was the details, the accessories, the bling, if you will. Showing kids videos of celebrity athletes, pointing out the rituals, the uniforms, and attending live events are all worth trying. You never know which aspect of an activity will be the one that harnesses a child’s enthusiasm.