Q. My daughter, a sixth grader at a Catholic school, is mad about volleyball and is on the JV team but she never, ever starts. And yes, I’m glad that she’s active and is with friends and I know we have to finish the season, but is it worth her time to be on a team if she just sits on the bench most of the time, watching six of her classmates play in nearly every game?
Sometimes this bothers my daughter and sometimes she says it’s worth it but it sure bothers me because her grades have dropped, her study habits have been disrupted, our family time has been rearranged and some activities have been eliminated, just to accommodate these games. All of this juggling is driving me crazy and I’m worried about her falling grades too, even though she’s not failing anything yet.
How should I “coach” my kid about the tradeoffs she is making and their impact on her personal time, her studies and her family?
A. As much as it hurts to see your little girl — your smart, sweet, adorable little girl — sitting on the bench, game after game, you need to let her stay on the team as long as she has decent grades because she is the only one who can decide whether the team is worth her time and whether it matters or not.
And, you may be surprised to learn, it really does matter because teamwork is teaching your daughter some of the soft skills she’ll need to deal with a wretched roommate in college, a lazy co-worker at the office and the family you want her to have even though she will have problems too. Every family does.
Your child will work through these problems again and again, however, because she is learning some soft skills in school but also needs to be on teams and in clubs and to hang out with friends and family because that’s where she will learn most of them. These experiences will teach her how to be a team player; to be empathic, adaptable and upbeat; to try hard even when things don’t go her way; to wait her turn; to listen carefully to others and then to say what she thinks, clearly and kindly. These soft skills, like good habits and good manners, will make life much easier for your child and may even help her land a good job.
Employers know that technical skills are essential for technical jobs but according to many studies, most of them think that the soft skills are just as important because workers who get along with each other nearly always produce the best work. And this brings us to the next question: If two equally qualified applicants apply for the same job, and one of them seems to have more soft skills than the other, guess which one the boss is going to hire?
Your daughter may not acquire these skills however if you push her to be the captain of every team and the star of every show because childhood is an apprenticeship of life itself. If you want her to appreciate its many privileges, she has to experience a little pain along the way. And so do you.
Parenthood is a marvelous gig, but only if you are willing to compromise your time and your plans many, many times so that everyone in the family gets the attention they need. Although you should take your daughter’s schedule into consideration, the family schedule shouldn’t revolve around volleyball. Nor should you have to go to every game. If once a year is enough to take a child to work — and it is — then one or two games a season is enough for a parent to watch.
Your daughter will keep up with her schoolwork more easily — and get more family time, too — if you limit her to one sport and one extracurricular activity each semester but let her choose her own sports and her own activities because she is defining herself with every choice she makes. If she falls on her tush in modern dance and makes her violin screech every time she picks up the bow, don’t fret. She will gravitate to her strengths when she discovers her weaknesses because — like any child — she would rather do a great job than a mediocre job and she would rather get there on her own, even if she doesn’t know where she’s going.
Let your daughter choose her own goals. You have the right to be ambitious for yourself but not for your child.
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