Q: My ninth-grade son has participated in recreational soccer for the past two years and really enjoyed it. In addition, he played soccer with friends during lunch on most days before the pandemic. The rec season has been canceled, but skill workouts are being offered. My son said he doesn't want to participate; no real reason was given. Without soccer, the only exercise he gets is walking our dog around the block a few times a week. Should we require that he sign up for something, or can this no longer be done with high-schoolers?

A: My child’s rec season was canceled, too. I feel your pain. But unlike your son, my child neither really enjoyed her soccer career nor played with her friends for fun. You may be wondering why, then, my child was playing soccer at all, but that is a column for another day. The reason I share this information with you is that the answer to having my child do skill workouts was obvious: It’s a big no.

I don’t see the same story with your child.

When I think of your son, I think of many of the kids today: They are stuck. It’s basic physics. An object in motion tends to stay in motion, and an object not in motion tends to, well, not rejoin soccer. That’s because everything has changed for your son (school, seeing friends, activities, you name it), and it takes a lot of emotional maturity and energy to stay positive and make changes. Therefore, it makes sense that your son has kind of “given up.” Nothing is going his way, and the workouts aren’t actual rec soccer, so why bother trying?

Can we blame him for giving up?

But for a ninth-grade boy accustomed to playing soccer, we want him to move his body whenever possible. When humans move, they produce serotonin (good for mental health) and endorphins (the happy chemicals). Exercise lowers cortisol (the stress hormone) and helps with sleep. And even though he won’t have the team element at the skill workouts, being with other teens and another adult (the coach) is a crucial part of his mental health.

Because of these compelling reasons, in this case, I’m not above a bribe. Call it a celebration or a reward, whatever, but just get him in the workouts. I would sit him down and say: “Listen, I know this soccer thing sucks, and I know it’s not the team you’re used to, but let’s try this. If it’s awful, you won’t need to do it again, but let’s grab (insert friend’s name here) and try it. I’ll take you for ice cream/to-go food after your drills.”

Really sweeten the pot, because these are not normal times. He isn’t moving his body at school (I’m guessing), and he isn’t seeing his buddies as much, so get to a place where he will try it.

If he refuses, you are going to need to decide how much you want to push. You don’t want to ruin your relationship over a skill workout, but you know the best route to take. Just continue to work with your son, be collaborative and stay open. If he refuses to budge, get creative with him about trying something new and moving his body another way (trail riding, skateboarding, horseback riding, Frisbee, etc.).

These are hard times, so throw out a bribe, offer to pick up anyone who wants to go with him (safely) and ask him to give it a shot. Teen boys and movement go hand in hand; give him the gentle push he needs. Good luck.

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