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On Parenting
Posted at 02:04 PM ET, 05/19/2011

“Sports gene” testing: Maybe parents shouldn’t care

My colleague Rob Stein’s examination today of “sports gene” genetic testing is an important story for parents to read, even those of us who would never consider buying one of these tests.
A boy walks to soccer practice in Bethesda. (Michael Williamson - The Washington Post)

Stein’s piece talks about the popularity of over-the-counter kits that claim to show a child’s genetically determined athletic prowess. One parent told Stein he tested his 10-year-old-daughter because he wanted sports to be more “fun” for her.

It’s an easy argument to make: If you had a chance to make life more fun for your child, wouldn’t you?

The problem is, there is little evidence that our meddling is making many kids happier. In some cases, it’s the opposite.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently found an alarming increase in overuse injuries in children. According to an analysis by Psychology Today writer Alan Fogel, the key point of the study had to do with the parents:

“… left on their own, most pre-adolescent children are closer to their body sense than adults. They are better able to be in the present moment with their feelings and emotions, more spontaneously jump and run and ride their bikes, and are more likely to stop, rest, or change activities in relation to signals from their own body.

A problem arises when adults push children into competitive sports where winning matters more than what may be good for the child’s body, mind, and health.”

Intense competition may be rare. Genetic tests may be extreme (The Journal of The American Medical Association recently published a commentary criticizing the practice.) It might be easy to damn the parents who engage in such ridiculousness than pat ourselves on the back for our more laid-back approach.

But are the rest of us so much more laid back?

As I write this, my preschooler and my toddler are both enrolled in a weekly soccer class. These sessions are, at this point, mostly hilarious photo-ops.

I admit, though, I’m hoping tot soccer will lead to more. I used to play soccer competitively and I want my girls to find the same kind of camaraderie, confidence and physical challenge that I found in the sport.

But will those expectations be translated into something fiercer by my girls’ little ears? Will my “support” be interpreted as pressure?

When I played sports, my parents took little notice beyond asking how the game went and saving me a dinner plate. I can count on my hand the number of times I saw either my mother or father on the sidelines. This was fine by me as soccer was my sport, not theirs.

Today, my parents’ behavior would be considered borderline neglectful. Part of being a good parent these days is making it home to see the game. It’s spending weekends driving to various fields and straining vocal chords with cheers. Good for us. We’re more engaged now, more balanced. But is it always good for the kids?

Is a fumble harder to endure if your parents witness it alongside your teammates and coach? Is a goal as triumphant if there is no one to recount it to later? Is there a benefit for kids to develop their own skills and talents without the personal cheering sections?

Mostly what I’m wondering is this: Would it be more fun for everybody if we let our kids have their games back?

By  |  02:04 PM ET, 05/19/2011

 
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