Got the kit, now keep the interest

It’s sod’s law that your child won’t tell you that he hates rugby until he has the new boots and the head guard – he might even wait until you’ve had his three-figure mouthguard fitted at the dentist’s.

Even parents who weren’t the keenest joiners during their own school days love to see their offspring engaging with a sport. We all have so many expectations for them: friendship, loyalty, resilience, skills, discipline. These are positives you might accrue in an orchestra or with the girl guides but nonetheless most parents romanticise about team sports.

How best to handle the child who wants to pull out despite initial enthusiasm?

Your response will naturally tie in with your general child-rearing instincts. You might be a no-nonsense parent or you might prefer gently asking “what’s the matter?”. Either way in my experience it’s hard to elicit the right reason from the child. They might have had a set-back at training – a mistake that made others laugh. The coach might put them off. There might be an alternative activity on that night of the week which they’re angling for, and they start their little campaign by pulling out of what they’re already doing. And kids might be a little down sometimes and you won’t be able to analyse your way out of it. The upshot is that their enthusiasm appears to have waned.

While accepting this I don’t think it’s too hard to ask of any age group to agree to a pull-out time, and that time shouldn’t be today. Remember that coaching and skill levels are age-appropriate so there is no physical or mental harm coming from completing the term or the block of lessons or even seeing things through to a particular tournament or event. You’ve listened and you’ve agreed that they can stop, but the team-mates, the club and the coach are expecting your child to turn up in the next few weeks. Unless something is seriously wrong that is a good, basic message to learn.

While you’re hoping things will change themselves in the meantime, you can make adjustments. A child who enjoys training might not like the Saturday competitions. Any decent club focused on building their squad will allow children to turn up for training without competing. You can also look at the practicalities for the family. Are you stretching yourself too hard trying to get your offspring into the best teams? Is there a scruffier tennis club nearby, without the floodlit courts but which you can cycle to after school? And what if your kid isn’t super-impressive with her hand-eye coordination or her speed? She might be super-impressive at understanding the rules, at packing the kit she needs and about encouraging her mates. If the coach doesn’t see everything your child brings to the sport, then you might see it. You decide what counts, you decide what skill makes your child a winner.

It’s at this point that I turn to bribery. I wouldn’t pay a reluctant child to practise. But I have had a big, fancy sports trophy made for my daughter simply for finishing a block of football, as a reward for handling annoying, over-competitive, shouty boys with grace and dignity.