6 05/11/2009 parenting Motherhood

Kids Who Compete

100_0656.JPGI was a total non-athlete as a kid. I was a bit overweight and a lot lazy. Plus, I was intimidated by the thought of competition – basically I was afraid to look stupid in front of my friends. I especially hated Track & Field and Cross Country. I was so jealous of the kids who ran fast or jumped far. Life seemed so easy for them.

Flash forward 20+ years and I am starting to see things from a different angle and I’m realizing that everything isn’t exactly as perfect as I thought for the kids who win the race. Don’t get me wrong, winning is great fun and a huge opportunity. The problem is that once you’re good at something people start to notice. And people start to watch you. And people start to comment. And people start to have expectations. And, unfortunately, not everyone is rooting for you to do well.

My 9-year-old son is a great athlete and a gifted long distance runner. On top of that he is driven. The good thing is that the other kids are usually excitedly cheering him on. It’s not his peers who get all weird. Unfortunately, it is some of the parents. And a few of them can even get a little nasty. I’ve recently figured out that when you have a kid who is good at something there is an unwritten rule that you either pretend it doesn’t matter or pretend you didn’t notice. I try not to talk about it for a few reasons a) it makes him nervous and embarrassed, b) I don’t want to look like I am bragging and c) people don’t seem to want me to.

Sometimes people will ask “So, how did he do?” (just to be polite I think) and I’ll answer truthfully. Like one time a parent blurted out proudly to everyone “My guy came in 6th! Isn’t that fabulous! I’m so proud!”. When she asked how my son did I said “He came in 1st” and the parent actually responded “Well lawdy daw!” and walked off. Hmm. How should I have responded? After all, you asked.

Or another time when one parent was asking a group of parents how their respective children did at the Track Meet. When she got to me she said with a sigh “Don’t bother. I don’t even want to know.” Great. So as long as your child isn’t top of the heap you can brag about it loudly and proudly but if they’re #1 you keep your mouth shut?! That doesn’t seem fair, does it?

Just a few weeks ago my son ran his first 10k. He wanted to do it, we didn’t pressure him or even suggest it. Neither my husband nor I were running it this year so we had to make arrangements for him to run with another adult. But he wanted to try so who am I to discourage him? But I can not tell you how many people asked me how we could possibly allow a 9-year-old to run 10k. They were outwardly disgusted and were appalled to think that a kid had actually trained for a race – “That’s a bit over the top” one mom said with a smirk.

But then they were even more disgusted to learn that he actually didn’t train but just ran it for fun – “You weren’t worried about him getting injured?!” one mom blurted out in shock. It seemed that no matter what the situation, whether we were pushy uber-parents or extremely laid back, they had decided that it was just plain wrong.  

So, strangely now, I feel uncomfortable talking about how well my son runs. So much so that I find myself cheering twice as loud for the other kids and overcompensating in my congratulations. I feel awkwardly apologetic and I can tell that sometimes he does too. So, now I can see that although winning is awesome and fun and rewarding it comes with a whole bunch of other stuff that I never saw from the other side. 

  • http://chasing-distractions.blogspot.com/ Chasing Distractions

    So how did he do in the 10k? For me running was never my thing, it only happened when I was trying really hard to get to something, (i.e. chasing the school bus down the road), or trying even harder to get away from something (i.e. the schoolyard bully). As for your dilemma of how to react when your son excels, lead by example, if one spends their live worrying about what people think about them it can hold them back from their full potential. Who knows, maybe we’ll see your son in the 2018 Olympic Games!

  • Susie

    Parents sure are a pain, aren’t they? Just for the record, my daughter loves it when Jen’s son wins stuff — she’s very proud of her pal! So hopefully over time he runs into more people who are proud of him for the things he’s good at, and he’ll no doubt be proud of them for the things they’re good at. And they all learn to enjoy their successes and accept their challenges.

  • Jennifer

    I think (sadly) that Kath’s on to something. Since entering the (sometimes scary) world of competitive hockey via my two sons, I’ve seen more childish, immature and jealous behaviour from the parents than the players.
    We all want our kids to find something that they love; your son loves running. Your support and encouragement aren’t what make him run, but they are part of what will make him continue to enjoy it.
    Keep it up and keep cheering!

  • Kath

    It’s so true that the other parents suck. It just goes to show you that some people attain adult bodies but not adult personalities. They ARE jealous, because they’re living vicariously through their children. Why else would they care?
    Poo on them, I say!

  • Heather

    Good for him for running the 10K! I’m sure he’s really proud of himself – as he should be. I saw quite a few 10 to 12 year olds running that day and they were doing a great job! Maybe it’s not something they do every week, but it’s a great opportunity for them. In my opinion the other parents sound jealous. I hope you can shield him from those comments and if you can’t, they will at least provide topics of discussion for the 2 of you to have. I feel that most times when people use “put-down” comments they are just trying to make themselves feel better. Cheer 3 times as loud for your son – he deserves it and I’m sure knows how proud you are.
    Our eldest just made the track team for the first time. We’re thrilled for him and happy that he has ventured into the track world for the first time. I can’t imagine making a nasty comment to another parent of a child that placed better than mine own. I think they all deserve our encouragement, whether they placed 1st or 50th. That is our job as parents.

  • http://notthemoty.blogspot.com LoriD

    Those other parents suck. Why else would they be so jealous of a 9-year-old’s success? You know, the other parents were rough on Wayne Gretzky when he was just a little guy. How anyone can be that discouraging to a child is beyond me.
    BTW, my brother was a fantastic long distance runner when he was your son’s age- he’s still running and winning 50k races at age 42!

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