If you spend time around children, you will inevitably discover the “Un-Sport” child. This is the child who does not enjoy traditional sports. Or, they enjoy them for a short time, and then seem to lose interest. This is different than the child who prefers individual sports over team sports… but that’s another topic.
Chances are good that this child would rather spend their time reading a book (usually fantasy, sci-fi or historical fiction), watch a movie/YouTube video or play a computer/video game. Often, they are talented writers or artists – even if they prefer not to share their results with their parents or siblings. They are fascinated by things with which parents and teachers may have a hard time connecting. They often love Anime (Japanese Animation), graphic novels, games of various types, and they have a superb sense of creative strategy.
Perhaps one of your children is an “Un-Sport” child. Do you wish they would be more interested in activities that involve exercise and live interaction with groups of people? Likely you do… because those two attributes are absolutely necessary for the healthy development of any youth. If it helps, you are not alone. There are very good reasons why your child isn’t interested in traditional sports. It has to do with that elevated level of creativity and a desire for limitless possibilities that drives them. They don’t like singular end results (get the ball into the basket or across the field). They don’t like uniforms that make everyone look like everyone else. They don’t want to be told that there is only one way to do something and be considered odd for wanting to try something different. They are bored with routine practice where they are commanded to do a drill they have no interest in because it leaves no room for free experimentation.
This is not a problem child. This is a child who craves the ability to explore… the stimulation of a variety of possibilities (perhaps some no one else has ever thought of)… a real sign of tangible progress towards their goal… and a sense of belonging to something larger than themselves without having to sacrifice themselves.
You won’t find these attributes in many activities nowadays. School is about fitting a standard test. Even classes about science, the single most Discovery Based career your could choose, is about memorizing formulas and so-called “experiments” that don’t make the grade if they don’t achieve a predetermined outcome.
Most organized sports are all about winning the next point. The team usually has star athletes who get most of the attention and awards. The structure and methods are all about doing what everyone else is doing and staying within your defined roll. The message endorsed by the above activities: If you don’t win or fit the standard, you aren’t talented or smart.
So how do you engage these Un-Sport children? Find an activity that allows for creative outcomes and allows for individual expression. These kinds of activities often involve stories (which tap that creative need as well as allowing them to feel like they are part of something larger than themselves). If your child is interested in Historical Fiction, bring them to an historical reenactment. Encourage them to join a program where they participate in re-enacting the past. Here, they will shine as their knowledge of the past can be used to create their character and define their objectives.
If your child is interested in Science Fiction or Fantasy, encourage them to try Live Action Role Playing… where participants can engage in NERF type battles with foam swords or blasters while playing a character in an interactive and dynamic storyline. These activities can actually simulate a computer game environment closely – except that they are running around and being physically active while socializing in a face-to-face environment.
Some other physical activities/sports that allow for personal expression include Skateboarding, Non-Traditional Dance, Drumming, Rock Climbing, BMX, Mixed Martial Arts (as opposed to Traditional Martial Arts), Snowboarding and more. Notice that these activities are considered “Non-Traditional”.
The key is that the activity must allow this child the freedom to experiment and provide an outlet for imagination or at least expression.
As a parent of this type of child, you may have to step outside your comfort zone. The sports that they are interested in might be adrenalized and somewhat dangerous. As a parent, you can research how to allow your child to participate in a safe manner.
Role playing activities may seem outlandish… thanks, in part, to the way popular media has portrayed them in a shallow light and labeled them as “geek” or “nerd” activities. But the truth is, these activities are outstanding for developing social awareness (empathy), negotiation (compromise) and communication skills, as well as providing an outlet for self expression and imagination.
The Un-Sport child needs to have the freedom to exercise and express their mind if they are going to be truly engaged in an activity. This is not a reason for concern. This is a sign of a highly intelligent and creative individual. Help them find an outlet for their imagination and enroll them in activities that keep them physically and face-to-face socially engaged, and they will thrive and grow to be healthy, productive and HAPPY adults.
Meghan Gardner is the Director and Founder of Guard Up! Family Swordsmanship, founded in 1999. One of Meghan’s hobbies, which she applies to her company, is the study of how the brain learns and retains information and habits (Neuroplasticity). Guard Up runs the Wizards & Warriors™ and the Zombie Summer Camps as well as Onsite Programs for many local schools. Weekly classes and birthday parties involving swordsmanship and NERF adventures are available at their facility in Burlington, MA. For more information, call (781) 270-4800.