How to Raise A Natural Athlete

My first – and last – time playing soccer was in Grade 5. I joined a bunch of boys playing on the school field. Someone kicked the ball right at me and instinctively my hands went up to protect myself. I got a penalty for touching the ball with my hands and then was teased for not knowing how to play (which was true). After that, I never played again.

Until last summer. My son was playing as part of a pick-up league in the neighbourhood and I was pressed into service to make the teams even. I would have preferred to cheer from the sidelines. I played for my son’s sake. Well, it was fun. And I even blocked a goal! From a 4-year-old. (Still, I congratulated myself. And thought, I’m not going to give goals away – they need to earn them.) My son’s team won the game that night, 4-3. My son scored all four goals and, yes, the 4 and 5-year-olds scored three against me.

I have no natural sporting ability. None whatsoever. My parents put me into sports but nothing really worked. My partner and I, on one of our first dates, compared stories of our shared interest in flower arranging – others call it t-ball. For each of us, in little league in our hometowns, we were both banished to left field where we picked grass and made bouquets of clover and dandelions. I always dreaded a ball coming my way as not only would I have to fetch it (never did I even attempt to catch a ball) but I'd have to throw it back too (I was always teased for throwing like a girl, which is an insult to women, all of whom can throw better than me). Thank goodness my parents allowed me to drop sports and go to drama camp (seriously).

Our son, however, is naturally athletically gifted. He can do any sport that he tries: he was playing indoor hockey at 2, skating at 3, soccer at 4, basketball at 5. Oh, and swimming, golf, skiing, canoeing, rock climbing, archery and biking too. It’s a bit ridiculous. One day I asked what he wanted to do when he gets older: “Compete at the Olympics.” Oh, which sport? “It doesn’t matter – as long as it’s on tv.” (Which reminds me: my mom, after one of my futile sporting events, told me, “Well, you’ll never win a gold medal, will you...” She was honest! But she followed it up with, “It’s OK. You can thank me on live tv when you win an Oscar.”)

What to do? Use the village to raise our kid: several dads run the pick-up soccer league in the summer, my brother-in-law needs to teach him to play hockey, my sister and our son’s brother’s mom will teach him basketball and even a professional ballet dancer we know has said she’ll teach him baseball and how to throw. Like a girl – meaning properly.

I’ll always cheer him on proudly from the sidelines - or at the rink, the poolside, the court, the diamond, the track, wherever. I just won’t be one of the parents hectoring him about his skills, because he’ll know more than me. (He already does.) And, yes, I’ll cry when he’s on the podium receiving his Olympic medal.

+ Photo credit: Sport stress balls #1,

Posted by John Hart

John is a writer who was born and bred in Toronto (a rarity, apparently). He met his partner in 2002 and they started the adoption journey together in 2007. He enjoys reading, traveling and sleeping – passions he's also trying to instil in the children.

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