Am I Setting My Daughter Up to Think She’s An Athletic Failure?


When I was in elementary school, I was the definition of an athletic failure.

This was completely ok with me, though. All my friends were fairly athletic, but I never really took to sports. I never cared enough to even watch sports until I started watching hockey three years ago when my son and husband wanted to start watching. I won’t watch baseball on TV, though I do enjoy a game in person, particularly when my kids are playing.

My husband and I disagree when it comes to sports. He’s of the mindset that our kids need to stay active and should play a sport each season. On the other hand, I feel that as long as our kids participate in one sport or activity that they are passionate about, then that’s all they need.

Where sports are concerned, my son is a natural. He loves hockey and baseball, and a lot of our family time is spent with him at games and practices. My daughter is older than her brother but has shown less interest in athletic pursuits. She likes ballet, and my husband and I try to encourage her in every way.

athletic son, baseball
My athletic son

(Disclaimer: Because this post certainly needs one. I’m fully aware of how awful of a mother this post is going to make me sound to some. I’m also fully aware of my children’s strengths and weaknesses.)

My daughter is not a natural athlete. She simply lacks interest and passion for competitive sports. My son, on the other hand, is born to play, and is mature beyond his years on the field or rink. Because of this, a large part of my daily parenting is focused on trying to shelter my daughter from my fear of her athletic failure while still supporting my son’s athletic prowess. The problem with my caution about my daughter, however, is that I have not allowed her to learn and grow on her own.

I’ve been so afraid of her failing at sports, that I haven’t given her a chance to succeed or to fail.

My fear is that my daughter is only interested in sports based on what her friends are interested in. Success isn’t common when motivation isn’t self-driven. This is true for many things, not just sports. I don’t want my daughter to take part in an activity simply to follow the crowd. I want her to participate because she has a true desire to play the sport. She had never once shown an interest in basketball until she became closer to one of our neighbors (and now she is apparently devoted to the sport), which leads me to believe that the neighbor is the only reason for her interest.

I am scared that if my daughter follows her friends, and fails at basketball, she will be hurt and won’t want to participate in other activities in the future. The question is- does it matter why she wants to play? And also- am I protecting her from hurt and failure- or am I setting her up to fail?

After 4 years of ballet, my ballerina decided to take a break. In December, she had her last ballet class and prepared for basketball to start. This was also when I realized my actions were setting my daughter up to think she was an athletic failure.

basketball athletic failure

How do I know that? These two themes stuck out at me:

  1. Athletic Persistence.

I cheer my son on and push him to be better. I never let him give up when his sports get harder, and I constantly push him to reach the next level. I’d rather my son be challenged by his sports than stagnate at a level where he is bored. He responds well to my encouragement too.

On the other hand, I tell my daughter it’s ok if she doesn’t want to play. If she finds something challenging or too hard in her sport, I tell her it’s ok if she doesn’t want to continue. She also does not respond well to my offers to help and instead shuts down. When my husband and I try to help her correct a swing, she gets bored or decides she is done practicing. When we show her the correct way to dribble a basketball, she responds with, “I’m going to just play four square instead.”

In the end, it’s easier to just allow her to give up, then to encourage her to play when she doesn’t seem to want to enhance her athletic capabilities.

  1. Athletic Comparison.

I love watching my son play games. He’s just as competitive as I am, so to watch him play with such fire and passion in his eyes is exhilarating. And he’s a natural athlete. He does well in whatever he plays, he has fun doing it, and he loves to practice.

Watching my currently passionless and uncoordinated daughter playing makes the game feel long. With basketball, she didn’t want to run up and down the court. With machine pitch baseball, she often runs from the ball like she’s playing dodgeball. Watching her play is generally not something I enjoy, which I am horrified to admit. Her lack of success makes me feel like I am failing her.

That is, until the other night. After countless hours of practicing every moment from the time she got home from school until bedtime, something clicked for her. During her game, she connected on a swing and it was beautiful. And instead of comparing her hit with her brother’s follow through in his swings, I was proud of her. She was successfully two for two at bat that night! She even almost caught a beautiful pop fly and has an interest in playing catcher. And I made sure to tell her how proud I was of her.

girl, baseball catcher

I’ve spent far too long comparing her athletic capabilities to her brother’s. And I realize I have been too focused on athletic success as the only successful sports outcome. They say, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” and it’s not my joy I’ve been stealing, it’s hers.

I’m the one setting her up to feel like an athletic failure.

Coming to this realization is heartbreaking. No parent wants to admit that their actions have been detrimental to their child’s spirit. Mine were though. I will no longer allow the athletic capabilities of one child to be compared to the other. Instead, my focus needs to be on their individual strengths, improvements, and enjoyment.

I admit that I hope my daughter decides to go back to ballet because she had so much more passion for it, and was progressing beautifully. But no matter what, I promise to always support her, even when she makes decisions that are different from what I would have wanted her to make. Sports and all.

I may have been an athletic failure growing up, but that doesn’t mean she is.

Have I made my daughter think she's an athletic failure


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here