You Can’t Teach Little Kids to Win at Sports

Just because chances are super thin that a child will be awarded a sports scholarship, that doesn’t mean that parents shouldn’t have a damn good time trying.

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Hey Fatherly,

I watch the NCAA tournament with my kid every year. She loves it. In fact, she won the family bracket pool two years running. She’s only 6, but she loves playing and watching basketball so much, I believe she might go on to land a basketball scholarship. How do I make her a legend?


Louisville, Kentucky


It’s awesome your little girl loves basketball so much, Brett. I, for one, have been in the bottom of the bracket pool for the last decade, which makes me kind of resent your 6-year-old daughter. But, don’t worry, I’ll take my frustration out on you instead of her by answering your question as frankly as I can. No, you can’t make your daughter a basketball legend. No. No. No. And if you try, she’s likely to end up wishing you hadn’t.

The reality is that all those kids you see on the court during the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments are the exception. It is exceedingly rare for a kid to get to that level of play and have the great honor of doing unpaid labor for massively endowed schools (don’t worry, I’m not going off on that particular tangent). In a practical sense, that means the best thing you can do to optimize for joy is just keep her happy and playing. And it’s worth noting that this approach may actually best serve her athletic development. You know who quits sports? Kids who feel like losers. You know who doesn’t? Kids who have fun.

That’s important. Once a sport stops being fun, a kid will stop excelling in it. How do you keep it fun? First off, don’t overwhelm her with pressure. Make sure she knows that win or lose, you love her. And help her understand that losing happens. That’s not a bad thing as long as she learns from loss. Tease out those lessons in conversations over pizza after the game. You can’t expect her coach to run point on everything.

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Finally, to have the best shot at being a legend, let your daughter diversify. That sounds counterintuitive. But the thing is that early sports specialization can lead to burnout and injury from repetitive strain. By changing things up with a season of soccer, or tennis, or swimming, she can develop a greater range of muscles and skills to take back to the court. Tennis will help her with reaction time. Soccer will help her with spatial reasoning and teamwork. Swimming will improve her cardiovascular system. It all works together. Wait to specialize until she’s in middle school or high school.

Also, I’d appreciate her help with my bracket next year.


My wife and I are expecting a baby in about two months and I need help settling a debate we’ve been having. Which are better, disposable or cloth diapers?


Columbus, Ohio


I’m not normally one to take sides in a debate between a husband and wife. That’s doubly true when the wife is jacked-up on pregnancy hormones. So, in hopes of helping you reach an agreement, I’ll offer you information rather than a ruling — frustrating as that may be.

There are a huge number of reasons why parents might choose cloth or disposable diapers. The most abstract reason, outside of money and time commitments, is environmental. Many opt to go with a cloth diaper system to keep disposable diapers out of landfills, where they will remain, undecomposed, long after the child is grown into adulthood. That’s great, but not so simple in practice. Cloth diapers have an environmental cost as well. They require water, energy, and detergent to wash. They remain the green option, but not by much.

That leaves the potentially more pressing issues of time and money. On the money side, cloth diapers require a bigger upfront investment in a full diapering system that will include shells and reusable inserts. Parents will also want to beef up their utility sink with a high-pressure sprayer to knock off the diaper Klingons prior to throwing them in the washing machine. That said, once the initial investment is made. Nothing else, besides electricity, water and detergent for the washer need to be purchased. When amortized over the diaper wearing career of most babies, the cost is actually lower than disposables. That said. If time is money, then your spending through the nose. That’s because cloth diapers require way more work.

ALSO: Stop Overcoaching Your Kids When They Play Sports

That’s what disposables have going for them. They may be more expensive in the long run, but they are damn convenient. That convenience comes from more than just being able to toss them. If your unhappy with a disposable diapers’ performance it’s way easier to switch brands than it is to switch a cloth diaper system.

So in the end, that’s where the decision should rest: convenience. If you’re going fifty-fifty on diaper duty, then mull it over. If not, then the person who will be most inconvenienced should probably have the final say. And if all else fails, capitulate to the pregnant lady. In fact, that should always be the final lesson. The one about to give birth wins.

Dear Fatherly,

My seven-year-old boy is a super sweet kid. But sometimes I get really uncomfortable with how affectionate he is. I’m okay with hugs and kisses, but he goes overboard. How can I make him give me space without hurting his feelings.


Spokane, Washington


Your question is a little bittersweet for me, Matthew. My seven-year-old recently started refusing to give me hugs and kisses. That bums me out, but offers a way into my advice for you. Because while I’m sad my boy doesn’t want to give his old man a kiss, I am not about to make him. I will respect his boundaries so he understands that physical boundaries are to be respected.

How is that relevant to you with an affectionate kid? Well, much of what a child understands about the world they learn by watching you. That means that by making him respect your boundaries, you will be teaching him a valuable lesson and potentially instilling great habits, like offering affection instead of thrusting it upon people. It’s all about reinforcement.

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Start by asking that he asks for your consent before coming in with hugs and kisses. Ask that he do the same with his mother too. And when he doesn’t ask, try not to push him away with anger, which could backfire. Let him know that while you’re grateful he wants to be close to you, you also need your personal space, and again, he needs to ask before being affectionate. It’s important he feel close to you even when he isn’t physically proximate.

Finally, let him in as often as your comfortable. Teaching boundaries is not black and white. If he asks to hug you and you’re cool with being hugged, open up those arms, man. I can tell you from experience that it’s no fun when those hugs go away. Cherish that embrace while you still have it.