Pushing Kids Into Sports And Hobbies: When it’s OK

Dragging the kid out of bed and slapping a glove in their chest doesn't necessarily make you a bad father (except when it does).

by Fatherly
games and free play

Parents have a natural inclination to introduce their kids to the stuff they were awesome at when they were younger. That’s how we get NFL quarterback dynasties, two girls from Compton dominating women’s tennis, and President Chelsea Clinton in 2024. Of course, plenty of kids have an equally natural inclination to pull a pillow over their heads when you try to get them out of bed early to go fishing or practice their scales on the piano.

“Activities are ways to share something, to learn together, to spend time together,” says Dr. Ron Taffel, the author of seven parenting books including Childhood Unbound: Authoritative Parenting For The 21st Century. “It’s very hard for fathers and their kids to discover together and that’s one piece of it that we often overlook. [We] get focused on the production side of it and not on the connecting side of it.”

RELATED: New Study: Parents Continue to Push Kids to Specailize in Sports, Despite Doctors’ Warnings

So, when is it ok to respond to Junior hiding under the pillow with a super soaker aimed at the feet sticking out from under the covers? Dr. Taffel is glad you asked …

Focus On Exposure

Kids can’t know their interests when they lack experience, and your interests provide only a handful, so get them involved in just about anything they express interest in and some things they don’t. As long as you’re introducing options, go ahead and emphasize the thing you’re most passionate about too — you’re paying for all this stuff, aren’t you?

Know What To Look For

“Pay attention to what they could become good at, not just what they’re good at now.” Dr. Taffel says, “Keep an eye out for where you see traction developing.”

The ideal activity for your child is one where they show both potential and interest, not one or the other. Your ideal activity is something that allows bonding and shared experience. The hard part is checking off everything on this list.

“Try to find the kind of activity that matches your child’s temperament, their ways of learning,” Dr. Taffel says. “Sometimes it can go on where it just isn’t a child’s passion, and they can’t develop into it. Don’t get too discouraged. Just move on and find something else that fits your child better.”

Emphasize For The Right Reasons

This is the moment of truth. Let’s say the kid’s playing softball, taking swim lessons, and enjoys going to the driving range and swinging a golf club. Softball reminds you of your company’s forced fun policy, you’ve got too much #dadbod to hang around the pool all summer, and you’re rabid (and not half bad, if you do say so yourself) golfer.

Do you push the kid toward golf?

“Ask yourself, ‘Why am I pushing?'” Dr. Taffel advises. If it’s to build their resume or make up for your own past failures, check yourself. You may be on the verge of infecting your kid with something the doc calls a lifelong “allergy to passion” — basically, they’re going to develop a negative association with enthusiasm, because their most formative experience with it involved you making them do something they didn’t want to do, something that didn’t fit them.

Know When To Push

If you’re not trying to relive the past vicariously and your kid expresses an honest enthusiasm and aptitude for your favored pursuits, then don’t feel bad about cajoling them out the door on the days when they’re dragging ass. Childhood activities, Dr. Taffel says, “really ought to be about values, fun and time together,” but it’s also about “work ethic and grit.”

It’s like US Ski Team legend Daron Rahlves said about taking his kids skiing on bad weather days, “If it’s raining and snowing, we’re still doing it. We take more breaks, but [my kids] are tougher than the kid who’s always pulled out.”

Twenty years from now, when you’re sharing a father/kid weekend skiing or playing golf or fishing or whatever it is that they’re grateful you pushed them to learn, you can apologize about the super soaker.