The Drevitches, Week 25: How to Find the Right Sport for Your Kid

Filed under: Healthy Families Challenge

One thing I've learned in 10 years of parenting: Soccer is not for every kid. At least, it's not for my daughter.

All parents, it seems, try to find a sport that their child can fall in love with. The search is very much worth it because the benefits of sport are clear and long-established -- a reduced risk of obesity, positive self-esteem, better focus, the lessons of teamwork and leadership and, if it all works out, a lifelong commitment to good health.

Here in New York City, the quest for that just-right sport, like the search for the perfect SAT-prep class, starts unusually early, and usually in the same place -- the soccer pitch. Benjamin, now 10, joined friends for lessons after school starting in first grade. But while he was a speedy, athletic fellow -- and remains so today -- the game just wasn't for him. He liked being out with the other boys, but his interest faded (in other words, he wasn't that good) and when he was old enough to start Little League, he left the world's game behind.

This winter, he's started playing basketball at the Jewish Community Center of Manhattan, and has completely fallen in love with the sport. I enjoy picking him up from the JCC on the way home from work so I can watch some of his weekly game. His custom Reebok Zig Slash high-tops are already on order.

gary drevitch picture

Our little gymnast, happy at last. Photo: Gary Drevitch

Natalie, my 8-year-old, has had a more up-and-down search. She started with ballet lessons, but although she enjoyed the camaraderie, after a few years, she'd had enough; dance instruction was too slow for her. Last year, she tried one season of soccer, pushed somewhat by her mother, who -- rightly -- felt our girl needed a little more athletic activity in her life. But the season was something of a flop. The team never won, for one thing -- that doesn't help -- and game-day transportation requirements strained our weekend schedules.

At the same time, Natalie had convinced us to sign her up for an after-school gymnastics class at New York Kids Club, here on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Now this, she liked. When a new school year began this fall, Natalie dropped ballet altogether and passed on a new season of soccer. Gymnastics is what she wants to do, and she's now at the "Gymnastics Club" level, a two-day-a-week commitment.

Watching her in class each week when I come by the club to take her home is a real thrill. The outstanding coaches -- two or three, depending on the day -- put the girls through their paces, getting the most out of the club's space, which lacks Olympic proportions but offers enough room for floor exercises, trampoline routines, uneven bars, vaults and a balance beam. The girls hustle from station to station, alternating between apparatuses and exercises, and getting one heck of a workout -- more exercise than the boys get in a typical two-and-half-hour Little League game, that's for sure!

But what's really great about the class is the level of seriousness the coaches bring to it. The girls are reminded to act as teammates, cheering their peers on and pushing each other to work harder. Veteran girls like Natalie are asked to be leaders and role models for newbies. Girls work one-on-one with coaches to design their own floor and beam routines, tailored to their strengths -- which, for Natalie, happens to be strength. She's a power-packed sparkplug and she loves it.

I'm thrilled that we've resisted the urge to push Natalie further in soccer. Not only has she found a sport she loves, but she found it on her own, and that makes her feel prouder of herself and her abilities. As we apply the lessons of the Healthy Families Challenge with all three of our kids -- we know that Adam, 4, will be pushing us to get him in uniform soon -- we'll remember to let them continue to lead their own search for the right place to get in the game.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.