School of hard knocks

Yesterday I spent the day (all day) in middle school with my son as part of American Education Week. Have I mentioned that sitting through a day of middle school is exhausting? Yes it is. But fun also, to have a day to see your child’s typical day away from you. I’m thrilled that at 11, my son still likes having me there with him in  a public setting.

Speaking of parenting: As a mom, there are few things harder than to watch one of my kids go through a tough time. I know you other mamas (and dads) know of what I speak.

http://misszippy1.comMy son has so many gifts and talents–of course I think this–and he’s a genuine joy to be around. He’s probably about the easiest going kid I’ve ever met; not much rattles him. But lately, he’s been having a tough time facing the fact that his athletic talent isn’t that of what some of his friends is. Don’t get me wrong, he’s no slouch out there. But, we happen to live in a neighborhood where the three other boys his age are somewhat freakishly talented. One can touch about any sport and magic happens. The other two each excel at their sports with ease, too. My son? If he wants it, he has to work at it.

And right now, he finds that frustrating. He sees his friends show up for any tryout and make the team with ease. If he wants to make a team, he has to work hard, very hard. And even then there are no guarantees.

So we’ve been talking a bit about this, about how yes, it stinks not to have the natural ability that others might have. But how if you want something badly enough, hard work can get you pretty darn far in life. I use my running as an example for him–I have friends who have incredible talent, who don’t have to work all that hard at it and yet, they can kick my arse any day of the week. Am I jealous? Sure, but do I work hard to try to make up the difference? Of course, because I love it and anything you love is worth doing well.

I don’t know that my son is quite old enough to connect all the dots yet and get it done, but I hope he is listening and tucking away the lessons for the future. I don’t care at all how he does in sports, just that he leads a healthy, happy and active life. But I do want him to understand that if he wants something, it’s worth working hard for it.

Ahhh, parenting!

Does running come naturally to you or do you have to work at it? If you’re a parent, ever faced a similar situation with your kids? 

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  1. says

    Such wise words here. Yes, hard work is such a valuable trait to have in life. If not one of the most important. I’d much rather my kids have a strong work ethic over natural talent and smarts, etc. Hard work has gotten me farther than I would ever have gotten if I had just relied on what comes easily. Knowing what I want and going after it by giving my best self…this has been so important. Now Talent AND hard work…what a perfect blend. Good post Amanda!

  2. says

    Ahhhh, it’s so tough when your kids are struggling. I agree, hard work is so important, and it’s great that you’re emphasizing that.

    I’m NOT a natural at running, and I’m surrounded by super fast, super talented women here in OC. It is what it is – I’m older, I have 3 more kids than my friends do, it’s not a fair comparison, but it’s hard to ignore.
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  3. says

    You are an awesome mom and I know one day (very soon!) he will look at you and all the hard work you put in to do the running you do and realize this is much more rewarding then having special gifts. I always think swimming is so easy for me and therefore doesn’t hold the same value as running does. It comes easy and feels sort of cheap. Sometimes the best things in life are the things we have to fight and claw our way to the top for! I’m sure you are a huge inspiration to him :).
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  4. says

    I don’t have any kids of my own, but as coach at the local university I call them my kids and well yes they are mine for a couple of hours a week for a couple of years. Now I see guys with talent and guys without, but there is one talent that is needed to go far… HARD WORK (I only have it in running!)
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  5. says

    This was written about my son, I think. He’s got the naturally talented friends, and he has to work for everything athletically. Thankfully, he likes to work hard, or I should say, has learned to enjoy the work.
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  6. says

    I would definitely fit in the category of your son. I have to work real hard at sports. Even then I don’t necessarily excel. Thankfully I do it more for the challenge and joy. But it is often hard when others fly by, can run a race (or many) at the drop of a hat, while I struggle to make training for a measly half marathon.
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  7. says

    Oh, Amanda, what a great post! I’m definitely going to bookmark this for when AJ and Ryan are a bit older…
    I think it’s all about perspective too. I WISH I could run as fast as Kara Goucher or even someone like Jen Bigham…They are insanely fast and I would give just about anything to have that talent. But I’m sure there are people who look at me and think the same thing. Yes, there is always someone faster than you, but there probably is also someone slower than you trying to catch up to you. So I try to remember that when I’m frustrated that I can’t run what they are running. =)
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  8. says

    It’s such a hard line with kids! I have one that’s just like your son and it’s so hard – especially since his brother is so naturally talented. Agh! I just gently remind him to keep on keeping on and that we ALL have different gifts. For example, report cards came yesterday and he breezed through the trimester, whereas Mr. Jock in our house struggled a bit more. Each child has different skills! But it’s hard when they don’t align with what they want to shine!
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  9. Rob says

    Your story reminds me of my daughter a few years ago. Athletics taught her the value of hard work and now she describes her greatest strength as a hard worker. She is an average athlete but her hard work in athletics and academics are paying for most of her college.

    It sounds like your son is learning an important yet difficult lesson.

  10. says

    There are just some parts of parenting that are so darn hard! Running does come easily to me I think, I seem to have some natural ability. I often wonder how good I could have gotten had I started running sooner (than 45). My daughter seems to have a natural ability for running as well, but doesn’t like to practice and doesn’t like that it’s hard sometimes. She wants to be able to just “do” stuff without really working too hard at it. She is enrolled in gymanstics though which she loves, but isn’t very good at. So she gets frustrated when she can’t do something or doesn’t progress in the levels. I say that to her as well, that everyone has their own “thing” that they are good at, and if they like something that they are not that good at, then do it becuase it’s fun.
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  11. Lisa says

    This is so interesting, and I was just listening to a story the other day about the idea of embracing “struggle” as it relates to education in Eastern vs. Western culture. Here in the US we don’t tend to hold up “struggling” as a virtue–you’re either naturally good at something or not–what a terrible message that is to our kids! So, bravo for encouraging your son to work hard for what he wants, even if it doesn’t come as easily as it might for others. He will certainly be better for it as he navigates the challenges he’ll face at other times in his life. To struggle and then succeed is such an incredible confidence booster!

  12. says

    You’re an amazing Mom! Such incredible lessons you are giving him and a living example of what it is to go after your dreams. Sorry your son is struggling, so hard to watch your kids go through that but, in my experience the people who have struggled in life always end up being the more inspirational people in life. When you don’t have to work for something, when you’re then presented with other situations that require work, the people that have had everything handed to them always fail, they have no idea what hard work really is.
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  13. says

    I have always had to work extra hard at at any sport. The only sport that came easy to me, I quit because I didn’t like it. That was basketball. I haven’t played since high school. In college I was never the fastest or strongest runner on the team. I had to work my tail feathers off to even get the coach to pay attention to me. In high school I was the only female runner so I had to run with the guys which was not easy. I think that because of my previous experiences I like running by myself now. I can’t stand to run in groups or with someone else. I guess I am an anti social runner? At least it works for me.
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  14. says

    Love this Amanda! I’m going through the same situation with my oldest son. He’s seen me work very hard to improve my running times this year and we’ve been talking a lot about the importance of hard work for some something really important to you. Hoping it’s all sinking in for him…does parenting ever get easier?!? :)
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  15. says

    These are tough lessons. As a skating coach I see everyday who has the ‘natural gift’ and who has the ‘gift of work ethic’. It is a rare bird who has both. I am trying hard to my 11-year old this and also that comparison is the thief of joy. Great post!
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  16. says

    My son is also 11 now and he has the same challenges. He has to work extremely hard and then is still just average. He doesn’t show it but I can see it bothers him. He is always super excited if he gets in at anything. Even making the school choir puts him in heaven and I know it is because he battles to make the sports teams. I have to work very very hard myself to even run a 10km. My VO2 max is very low. Far below average so getting fit takes me for ever.
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  17. says

    Having passion can take you so much farther than talent alone. So often it seems people take their talent for granted. Hard work just feels so good in the end too. It’s such a hard one though. I was always just an average ballet dancer and had to work really hard, never getting the results I wanted. My mistake was that eventually I just gave up. I’ll always wonder what might have been had I just kept on working at it! Your son is very fortunate to have such a wonderful, supportive mama!!!
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  18. says

    Running is something I defnitely have to work at. It’s not the first thing that springs to mind when I think of fun. However, the rewards to reap from running are worth twice the effort I put into it. Your son is very lucky to have you as a fantastic supporter!
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  19. says

    I love this post! I have a ten year old son that also has to work hard at his sports. His best swimming buddy that always beats him is the son of an Olympian. How’s that for tough competition?!

    I am the farthest thing from either a natural or a gifted runner. But I have come to accept that and work as hard as I can to achieve my personal best (which is what some people achieve their first time out!). Oh well, we all face challenges in different areas of life.
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  20. says

    Running is hard work for me. Very hard.

    I feel bad for your son, I never did well at sports in school. Unless hulla hooping is a sport. My two oldest children are very talented musically. The type that get paid gigs, scholarships, etc. etc. For years people asked my son if he sang like his sister or played an instrument like his brother. They just assumed that he would be as gifted musically and people didn’t think of him as his own person. He was (and sometimes still is) so and sos brother. Now that he is 17 he is finally okay with saying that’s not what I do, after struggling to make music work, and telling people what he does do.

    Not exactly the same scenario but it evokes the same type of feelings. So hard to watch them try and deal with it and come into their own.
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  21. says

    This is such a great post Amanda and I totally get it. While my son is still pretty young, there are definitely athletic things that he’s good and that he’s not so great at and he totally knows. He’s a bit of a perfectionist (surprising given his mother) so he’s less willing to try things that he thinks he won’t be good at. Or, if he thinks that he’s can do something, he doesn’t think he needs to keep practicing and learning.

    Like you, we’ve been trying to emphasize hard work and practice. With swimming, I share with him things that I’m continuing to work on in my own practice even though I started swimming at the same age he did. That seems to resonate a bit. I love that you’re using your experience with running to empathize with the frustration and tough times.
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  22. says

    Awwww, I think all of us parents can relate to not enjoying seeing your child struggle with anything. I always think there is a “talent” for each of us and that it is just a matter of figuring out what it is. With my daughter, we are taking the approach of “trying everything” to sort of see what sticks and what doesn’t. I do think it is often harder on boys. Boys/men really sometimes have so much more “man pride” that goes along with sports. The main thing is that our kids all find a joy in a hobby or activity – and it doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it is where they find their niche :) Best lesson you told him, no matter what, it is always hard work that pays off!
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  23. says

    I don’t have kids, but running came naturally to me until my late teens when I stopped playing sports and stopped running altogether. Started running again last year and it doesn’t feel natural yet. Not sure if it ever will, but I keep doing it.

    I can’t speak to the parental pain you feel, but I know it’s difficult for you to watch his struggle. This is going to sound trite and simplistic, but his willingness to work hard and struggle will serve him in the real world. So, he’s actually learning an important skill and will be the better for it.
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  24. says

    That is a bummer about your son, though hopefully he doesn’t let it bother him that his friends are better than he is. Sometimes that is just the luck of the draw. Hopefully he just plays what sport he wants to play and doesn’t worry about how good he is compared to other kids.

    For me, I was pretty good at baseball growing up – though I stopped playing after little league at 12 and started doing track. I did 3 years of soccer, but again I wasn’t as good dribbling the ball, I was mainly only fast. I figured out I was way better at running than anything else – so I just did that. There was always someone faster than me, but it seems like growing up I was always the top 5 fastest in my class/grade or so during school. I do think I worked hard too, even though I did have some natural talent, but sometimes I wonder if I could have worked even harder at running in high school.
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  25. says

    I think most of kids go through that! I always had to work hard, and it’s frustrating when others are better while doing nothing for it. Somehow it feels like they don’t deserve it, but one will get over it. It’s important to look at oneself, and to not compare to others.
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  26. says

    Running is definitely something I had to work at as it didn’t come easy to me at all! Working at it made me appreciate how far I’ve come since I first started!

    Great lessons you are giving your son!

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  27. says

    A perfect post for me to read today! I also have a son in middle school and he definitely has to work hard in order to play sports with the other kids his age. Unfortunately for him, he inherited my genes and they seem to have dominated when it comes to his size. I was teeny, teeny, tiny as a child — so small that they did bone growth tests on me and determined I was 3 years smaller than other kids my age — and am still a rather small adult. He isn’t quite as little as I was but is always the smallest in his grade. I like to think, however, that he has the biggest heart. He ended up dropping some sports where size played a bigger role and found he really enjoys soccer, a sport where footwork skills can help make up for his small size.

    I don’t have natural running talent. But I do have the heart and desire to work very hard at running in order to become as good as I can be. And I love being a role model for him and my daughters that hard work really does pay off.
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  28. says

    I struggle with this a lot too. My son (also 11) isn’t particularly athletic. The disappointing part of that is that he is very large for his age (5’5″, 140 lbs) and has the body of a football player. Just not the athletic ability. His cousin is by far faster (though some is because he weighs just over half as much). I even talked to the dr about my son’s inability to run well and she pointed out that the poor kids grows before he ever gets used to how to move his body through space. It’s a miracle he doesn’t trip over his size 10.5 (mens) feet. That said, I’m not sure he can really “work hard” enough to overcome his awkward running style.

    But the other part is fitting in when he frankly isn’t really all that interested in sports either. He is all about hunting, camping, hiking, fishing, etc. So he connects some on that level, but he misses out on some things not being on the athletic teams. Thankfully, his school is starting an archery team and he is STOKED!
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  29. says

    When my eldest was just a little older than your son I found him crying on his bed for pretty much the same reason. The source of his envy was his younger brother who always seemed to be able to do things so much easier. Sam, the eldest, was a good athlete but not great and had to work hard just like your son. But having to do so carried him through with every aspect of his life. He’s now on his second degree and playing reserve grade soccer. He has an amazing work ethic and I’m so proud of him. Your son will achieve so much more by having to learn to work at the things he really wants and you said exactly the right thing. And yes, it’s damned tough being a parent.
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  30. says

    I played basketball in high school and did really well, practicing hard because I was competitive but not really working hard because it came easy to me. My team did well; we won two state championships. I got recruited to play college basketball, but I didn’t do well on the team because I didn’t understand what it meant to work hard. And that frustrated me for a very long time. Now that I’ve started running, I’m learning that if I want to achieve my goals, I need to bust my butt. Its a tough lesson to learn…even tougher to learn in your 30s.

    Good luck.
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  31. says

    As you know running does not come naturally to me; although if in honest with myself it’s not that unnatural either. Funny, I guess it just depends on the crowd one is in at the time as to how you view yourself. Before I never hung out with other runners now a good majority of my close girlfriends run and they are speedy! Personally I’d rather surround myself with people better than me in everything. Running, cooking, parenting, etc. helps me grow and mostly I’m to oblivious to be self conscience (at least I think).
    As for your little guy, what a champ! I bet he is still proud he can hang with those freakishly talented kids 😉 good job!
    Have you read Talent is Overrated?
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  32. says

    love this-and great teaching point. no kiddos-so i’ve never dealt with this. i have found myself often comparing myself to others (especially with blogging) and wishing for their talent and speed. I definitely have to work for it-i was never an athlete growing up and i’m very proud of what i’ve accomplished!
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  33. Rich says

    This is the story of me growing up. I never grew very tall for a man, I’m only 5’6″, and I developed later than all of my peers. As a result I was always the smallest kid in my class. The types of sports that kids play growing up, let’s call them ball sports, favor larger, stronger, taller kids. Being the last kid picked in gym class gets old pretty quickly and by the time I was in Jr. high school, I avoided sports.

    My high school was fortunate enough to have a fencing team and it attracted mostly non-traditional athletes. A few of my friends were going to try it my freshman year so I tagged along. I was terrible at first but it quickly grew into an addiction. I was recruited by colleges and then continued to compete in national tournaments for a few years after I graduated. Unfortunately, my work life balance didn’t allow me to prepare the way I needed to and I was unable to be satisfied with recreational tournaments. After 15 years of inactivity I discovered running and this has become my current addiction.

    The message for your son is that he may never be Michael Jordan but there are other sports or other activities that he can (and will) excel at. His age is very challenging because there is a huge desire to conform while competing with his peers but he needs to find his “sweet spot” and he’ll start kicking a#@.

  34. says

    I’ve always had to work for what I want. I think when you have to work at something you learn to be more appreciative about it and hold onto your accomplishments with pride.
    As for running, I’m no elite runner but I seem to fall within the upper 1/3 when I work at it so I’m competitive but not outstanding. I’m ok with that because I know I’m not putting it all out there. I guess I believe it comes easy to me, especially considering my age.
    We have to count our blessings for the talents we have that our friends don’t. Your son will find his calling and I bet it will be something his friends can’t come close to matching.
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  35. Kim says

    I love this post! I am not a natural runner, I’m not a fast runner, but I love to run. A couple years ago I ran my first half marathon. I didn’t really want to tell people I was training for the race or that I did the race after I was finished, but my husband was so proud he ran around telling everyone within ear shot. I have several “real runner” friends who were so excited to hear about my preparation and my race and, to my surprise, never even asked about how fast I run. Not one person asked how fast I ran the race. It took a while, but I finally realized that no one cares how fast I run. The satisfaction of a good race is all mine. I know that I pushed my self hard, I ran a smart race, I ran a strong race, and I achieved my goal. It’s too bad it took me until I was 40-something to realize that. No matter what the sport is, the satisfaction is in the effort and the outcome based on that effort. -It’s tough to really embrace that at any age, but if you do sports offer endless fabulous moments.