I’ve got a confession to make – I’m forcing my seven-year-old daughter to play soccer. There, I’ve said it. I’m an unashamedly old-school mum, and believe it’s my job to make important decisions for my little lady until she’s old enough to make the right ones herself. I place playing sport in the same stable of non-negotiables as going to school, eating vegetables and observing a 7.30 p.m. bedtime. Setting clear rules to follow makes her feel happy and secure. And while I allow her to make many choices in her life, trusting her to decide whether to play sport is too important a risk. I’ve got good reasons for being pushy. And besides, we all know how important it is for kids in Singapore to learn through outdoor play and enjoy outdoor activities.
Here’s a little background on how ‘Soccergate’ went down. On noticing trials advertised in the school newsletter I said nonchalantly, “Oh, look honey, soccer try-outs are this week.” To which she replied, “Soccer’s for boys mum, I’m not playing.” Well, you can guess my indignant response: “Girls can do anything boys can do – why not give it a go!” With a wry smile she said triumphantly, “Boys can’t wear skirts mum.” And so sprung open a can of worms, and we had a little chat about gender equality, and cross-dressing…
I’m a quiet feminist – I take my girls to ride diggers while wearing pink tutus. Like my parents before me, I tell my daughters that they can be anything they want to be – a doctor, a writer, a ballet school owner, or even, ahem, the Prime Minister of Australia! AND be a mum, because career and family don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
What followed over the next week closely resembled the four stages of grief – a pitiful dance of tears, refusal, denial, and finally, resigned acceptance. In a bid for support, I asked her best friends if they wanted to join. Alas, no success. On the morning of the try-outs I held her hand as we walked onto the pitch. I joined in with the stretches and first drills before prying her little hand from mine and placing it inside her friend Jasmine’s instead. Tentative at first, she dribbled the ball, but as she ran about with the other girls and played five-aside she gained in confidence and cracked a winning smile. Phew! And she made the team – double sigh of relief. Since then the ups have definitely outweighed than the downs. From high-fives, to half-time oranges, this kid really hit her stride.
She’s learnt loads of life lessons through playing team sport this season, and some are still a work in progress:
- Be a gracious winner AND a gracious loser.
- Winning, while great, isn’t the most important thing. Trying your best and having fun is what matters most.
- Be a team player – setting up a goal is just as valuable as kicking it.
- Results require discipline – waking up at 6.30 a.m. for training week after week, month after month, is character building.
- Never give up, keep on persevering, and you’ll get there!
- You only get better with practice, it gets easier the more you do it.
- Stepping outside your comfort zone opens up a world of opportunity. Suddenly trying something new that was previously out of the question doesn’t seem so scary (like swimming lessons or choir).
- Exercise should be a part of your every day life – starting young imprints a roadmap for leading an active, healthy life. According to the World Health Organisation, childhood obesity is one of the most grave health concerns of the modern age. Obese kids grown into obese adults, with obesity rates doubling in the last decade.
- Through sport you discover not only your strengths but also, shock horror, your weaknesses. Kids can set goals for themselves to improve both.
- It’s perfectly natural and healthy to fail. Real failure only happens when you stop trying.
- If you try hard you are rewarded. My daughter’s reward was that her dad took time off work to watch her first game. Then we went out and celebrated with a family dinner.
- There’s nothing quite like the rush of adrenaline you feel when you run for the ball and kick a goal. Endorphins are nature’s high!
I’ve seen a positive shift in my daughter’s mind-set already. She’s now happily heading off to running group, riding her big mountain bike on the green corridor and leaping into gymnastics. At a recent parent teacher interview I was happily surprised to see how her sporting experience is reflecting in her work. She’d written about her weekend and said she had a fun active morning (at a water park) and had earned her ice cream. My heart swelled with pride.
My first foray as a soccer mum has taught me a few things about myself. More than once in the early stages my husband and I turned to each other and said, “Shall we just let her give up? Is the anguish worth it?” Against all odds we persisted through it all. Who knew that cheering screaming on the sidelines would be so fun?! I’m also well aware that an important part of this whole parenting experiment is knowing when to stop. When there’s just no joy anymore. And definitely before she develops a life-long aversion to team sports. If she doesn’t want to play soccer next year I’ll bow out gracefully and let her off the hook. But not entirely – she’ll have to choose another sport in its place.
I’m forcing my daughter to play sport now, much to her chagrin. But I know she’ll thank me for it later. I hope she’ll think of me in years to come when jogging around London’s Hyde Park, or when she’s playing netball with her uni friends. And maybe, just maybe she’ll do the same for her kids, and I’ll be the proud gran cheering from the sidelines…
Feeling inspired to get your little one out there bending it like Beckham? There are plenty of great kids’ soccer schools in Singapore including: