A Young Female Athlete’s Journey
My oldest daughter, who is the oldest of our six children, is extremely intelligent, she even started Kindergarten early, so now she is always one of the youngest in her classes and grade (which I sometimes regret but that’s another story for another day — read boys with mustaches standing next to my newly 13 year old high schooler). And although she’s always been extremely bright, she has never really been in to school. Don’t get me wrong, she makes good grades, she takes the advanced classes, and has even received some academic awards but it has just honestly never really been her jam. I saw in her early that her innate intelligence was not going be enough to keep her motivated in school. It just wasn’t. But although I was a young mother, and she was my oldest child with no precedent to follow, my intuition told me she would be just fine, she was just going to need an alley — oop.
Starting in first grade, she was always awarded and recognized for her performance in gym class. In first grade she was PE student of the year, which might be disregarded by some parents, but for me I was proud and excited because it literally made her light up like the sun. The trend continued through elementary, she always got the presidential fitness award (which I always, always wanted as a child and never got) and she was always one of the tallest girls in her class until middle school.
When she was small, and my knees were still good, I would go outside and run or jog a few miles most days and she would insist on getting out of the stroller and running along side me. I remember the first 5k I took her to, which was just a fun run, but I was absolutely amazed that she ran the whole time without stopping. She was always just athletic. She started playing soccer in kindergarten, and she also did ballet. She hated winter soccer because it was cold, and although every ballet teacher she had when she was young said that she had “natural” talent, she just never really connected with the art. So in the third grade, soccer season was coming and she expressed that she really did not want to play soccer anymore. I had a friend who was running a basketball camp and asked her to come and check out one of the sessions, she was tall and could run fast and he was sure he could teach her how to handle the ball.
She wasn’t good. She just wasn’t. She also loved buying new basketballs every time we went to the store, but every time I encouraged her to practice at home she was not interested.
I few months later we moved to another state and so she could no longer attend the basketball camp.
In our new neighborhood there was an adorable little boy down the street that she would go outside and play basketball with. I suspected that she still was not all that interested in playing basketball, but I’m sure the adorable little boy’s big grin and wild laugh helped a bit.
A few weeks after we moved in, it was time to register for soccer season. At that time she expressed that she definitely no longer wanted to play soccer. I sat her down and I told her that she did not have to play a soccer, but she had to choose something as an extra curricular activity. She sat for a while thinking, and then suggested basketball again. I could easily see she was not really motivated to play basketball. I could see even at that young age that there was no fire. I told her that we could keep trying basketball, but I suggested she think about another sport, try that, and if it did not pan out we would go back to basketball. So I ran down the list of things that she could try, I stopped at volleyball — I had never played but I remembered that all the tall athletic girls in my middle school played and liked it. I showed her a YouTube video of a game, and her eyes lit up.
“Mommy I think I’ll try that!” She exclaimed excitedly.
So I signed her up. She has been playing ever since.
I had completely forgotten about this conversation until the other day, a day or two after she returned from winning a national championship with her AAU volleyball team, I was standing in the kitchen and she came in and brought it up.
“Mommy, remember in third grade when I wanted to play basketball?” She asked quietly.
“I do” I responded, not sure where this revelation was going.
“I’m so glad I took a couple of months to try volleyball, because Mommy, I did not like basketball, I just liked _____________ (insert kid with big grin, and wild laugh).” She giggled.
“I suspected that was the case.” I replied, smiling.
“And now look at me Mommy, volleyball is one of the best parts of my life, and now I’m a National Champion!” [Insert weird Tik Tok dance here].
She hugged me tightly and disappeared back up to her room.
She did not say much, but in that moment she said a lot to the younger mother in me who was not sure at the time if she was doing the right thing, but followed her intuition nonetheless. I had no rulebook, and no guidebook, and no older child at the time to have experienced any of this with.
Here is the thing, although she was not into school, all three years of middle school and this last year of high school she had to do well in school to be eligible to play sports. She went to high school, and was younger than her peer group and a bit awkward, but was able to make fast friends because volleyball had started before the school year even started. She’s a curious child, with a lot of energy, but instead of using that energy idly, she has been able to burn it training and playing. She’s gotten to travel around the country, she’s got to see sights, and have food she hadn’t experienced before. She has learned to work along side with a diverse group of people. It has propelled her to be more and do more than she might have had the bandwidth for if she was not in love with this sport.
She’s learned about perseverance, about rejection (she did not make the team her first year of middle school), she learned about recovering from heart break, and fighting for what she wants. I’m so glad that she found one of her passions and has had so many wonderful life shaping experiences to fortify that decision.
I want to encourage all of us, because sometimes societal standards make us feel like our children aren’t good enough, or our parenting is a fail if we have children who are just not into academics. I am not suggesting we don’t push our children or help them to do the best that THEY can academically. What I am saying is know your child, accept who they are, and encourage their innate strengths. Because rather their power move is an ace or a slam dunk, it may just change their life.
Raquel Phillips is a writer, digital creator, CPT, certified group fitness instructor, and entrepreneur. She is a wife and mother of 6 amazing children. She resides in Virginia Beach, VA.
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