The battle over sports practice

Q: It's a screaming match every time I ask my 8 year old son to get ready for wrestling practice. His dad is passionate about wrestling, and wants our boys to wrestle. But getting him to go to practice is driving me crazy. I told him he needs to go to practice to stay active, but he doesn't have to compete in tournaments. That was ok for a few weeks, but now he doesn't even want to do that. I don't know if this is a power struggle, if he truly hates it, if I should give in or be persistent. All I know is I am so tired of fighting him before every practice. Any advice is very welcome.

A: This is a terrific question, and I know many other parents will relate to your dilemma. Thanks for submitting it.

It's only natural, and even a very good sign, that you feel confused about what to do right now. There's still some information that needs to be gathered. Good for you for not jumping to premature conclusions!

You mentioned that his dad is passionate about wrestling. Is your son? If he's not, then there are no parenting tricks or techniques that can overcome his natural and appropriate resistance to spending his leisure time doing something he doesn't enjoy.

You might start by asking your son about his experience. "Son, it seems you really don't want to go to practice lately, and I hate arguing with you so much. What's up?"

Listen to his response quietly and attentively, without interrupting or trying to convince him to see it your way. He may not give you a complete answer right away. If that's the case, you can say, "That's okay son. Just think it over for a while, and if there's anything you want to tell me later, I'd like to hear it. I'm sure we can figure this out together."

Sometimes kids can't identify the source of their reluctance out of the blue, but can respond yes or no to a checklist that you present. If that's the case, just take some guesses, and his acceptance or denial of your probes might prime his pump a little bit.

When he finally does tell you what's up, repeat it to him in your own words to make sure you've understood it accurately. Then let him know that you want to share where you are coming from.

You might start by telling him that you know what it's like to want to quit something when the going gets tough, because you have felt that way, too. And that sometimes you were glad you stuck with whatever it was, because you ended up really liking it once you figured out how to solve the problem you were having. And other times, you were just really happy to quit and do something else instead. Let him know that's why you have been pushing him to keep attending practice; because you want him to stick with it long enough to see if he loves it or not.

You are not looking for his agreement or trying to convince him to do anything ... simply letting him know where you are coming from.

Then fill him in on why you and his dad wanted him to wrestle in the first place. Still not with the intention of convincing him to change his mind; simply so he can hear your values and understand your reasoning. Some examples: Dad loved this sport so much when he was a kid and he thought you might love it too... We want to make sure you get some exercise... We thought you should learn how to defend yourself ... We wanted you to have a team experience ... etc.

Keep it brief and simple, and then ask what he thinks about what you just told him.

If he tells you that he just plain and simple does not like wrestling, together you can brainstorm some other ways for him to enjoy physical activity, get some exercise, learn self-defense, or play a team sport. (soccer or karate come to mind)

It may be that he does like to wrestle, but somebody made fun of him, or grabbed him in an uncomfortable place, or the competition is too intense and he's ashamed when he loses, or he is embarrassed about wearing the tight little uniform ... you get the idea. The possibilities are infinite, and he's the only one who can tell you what is going on for him.

After you each know where the other is coming from, you ask, "What can we do?" And you work together on generating some win-win solutions.

Some examples:

talking to the coach, moving to a different wrestling team, doing karate instead, role playing what he can say to other kids who make fun of him, showing him pictures of his dad looking silly in his old uniform, reading some books about winning and losing ... once again, infinite possibilities.

You don't have to have a plan all mapped out before you sit down with him. You can just find out what's up for him, tell him what's up for you, and then work together to figure out a solution that satisfies both of you.

Then try out the new plan, and see how it goes. If it doesn't work well for either of you, generate some more options together and keep experimenting until you find a solution that does.

The lesson he will learn from this process:
Together, we can solve any problem.

Sounds a lot like team spirit and good sportsmanship, doesn't it? Way to go, Mom!

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