I have three daughters, all of them in school, all of them involved in both hockey and dance. And all of them participating in their extracurriculars at a recreational level.
Whenever asked about their future in sport or dance (and we’re asked about it much more than I expected), my husband and I regularly respond that we have no plans on pushing them into rep or competitive. Luckily, because none of our kids have yet to develop a deep desire to do it, it hasn’t come up.
We’ve dodged a bullet that seems inevitable among parents and kids these days. It’s not a matter of if they’re going to get to a higher level of sports and activities, but when.
Let me be honest: I’ve always claimed that if I had the next little Billy Elliot on my hands, I would do my best to see if we could make higher-level activities work. But I don’t. My kids love to dance and play hockey. They also love swimming lessons and gymnastics and soccer. They haven’t decided that they are intensely in love with one activity over all the others, which is a good thing, I think.
Because the truth is, I have mediocre children. In fact, I bet most of us do.
Okay, so I don’t really think my kids are mediocre at all. My daughters are smart and good at school and fast skaters and make me tear up whenever I watch them dance simply because of the way they move. They can read well and are good at math and have so far aced their quizzes and tests at school. More importantly, they’re kind, empathetic human beings who love one another and are curious about the world. I’m intensely proud of them.
But they’re not the best ballet dancers in their dance school. They aren’t Karen Kains in the making. And when they’re on the ice, they aren’t mini Hayley Wickenheisers, either.
And that’s okay. It never occurred to me that they should be.
I could recommend they practice more, take extra lessons, do dry-land training, and they would likely enjoy it and have fun—I see loads of kids who do it and seem to love it—but that would be more work for me, and they’ve actually never asked me to do it. So I don’t suggest it.
When I look around at my peers, my friends and coworkers, I notice something about us all: for the most part, you can’t tell which one of us grew up swimming competitively for hours and hours each week, or spent their childhood in a dance studio. It’s hard to see who made hockey or soccer their life. For the most part, all of us work pretty regular jobs. We buy homes and cars, we love our kids, we go on vacations, hang out with our friends and spend time with family.
We’ve learned to enjoy the good things in life, we’ve learned to take it easy. Adulthood becomes a great leveller for us all. We’re all pretty much equal, give or take, when it comes to how we live our lives.
We may spend hours on hobbies, or take up a sport or learn something new in our downtime. We may even make a side-hustle out of whatever it was we spent our youth doing. And, yes, while some of us can make a life and career out of that extracurricular we spent our youth doing, most of us don’t.
Most of us do things now solely because we enjoy them. Not because we want to get to the next level. It doesn’t matter if we’re bad at them, because they’re simply for enjoyment. So why should it matter if our kids aren’t really, really great at that thing they’re doing?
There are already so many pressures on our kids. On all of us, really. Be good at school, make friends, work hard, don’t sit in front of a screen too long, make good choices. When you’re an adult, be sure to get a good job, take care of yourself, raise good children, make time for your partner, have great hair and skin, work out and do that damn neverending pile of laundry.
Should our downtime activities also be added to the heap? Should we make our pursuit of a fun hobby work?
Again, I’ll be clear. I know that many people get a lot out of pursuing higher levels, pushing yourself and working hard. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. If you or your kids have an innate talent and a passion, I would never suggest you shouldn’t go after it. I think it’s great.
But if your kids want to play something simply because they have fun doing it, with no hope of ever being excellent, I think that’s great, too.
They might just find when they grow up and look around them, everyone else is quite okay, too.