There I am, spindly little legs sticking out of massively oversized shorts, foot perched precariously on a ball that seems to be about the same size as my torso.
It’s a picture of me in my soccer gear when I was eight years old, taken by my overenthusiastic father, hyper-proud of the fact that his son had taken up the sport that he’d enjoyed as a wee laddie growing up in a tiny mining village in England.
I remember well that at the time in the Toronto area, soccer programs for kids felt few and far between. Soccer teams were almost universally coached by men with accents straight from either Scotland or the extreme north of England. That same year, some guy from Brazil – Pelé, they called him – started playing for the New York Cosmos and helped make soccer kind of a big deal in North America.
At eight years old, like most Canadian boys my age, I had visions of one day playing on a line with Darryl Sittler and Lanny McDonald; soccer wasn’t even on my radar. Conversely, my Dad’s only knowledge of hockey came from Saturday night Leaf games on the CBC; and besides, the expense of hockey equipment made it a non-starter.
But my Dad was fascinated by soccer. I remember him filling out his weekly “pools”, a bracket of that week’s major soccer action from the UK, which he’d dutifully mail off to England with his bets once a week, waiting to see if his prognostications would one day lead to a big check showing up in the mail. It never did. But in the course of watching him fill out his brackets, the love of the game became contagious, and getting me interested became easy. When I turned out to be a pretty decent footballer, it made my Dad look like some kind of genius.
Fast forward to 2013, where now it’s easier to sign your kid up for soccer than it is for hockey. But what if you want your kid to pick up, say, cricket?
Some quick and easy tips for you if you want to follow in my Dad’s footsteps and get your kid excited about a sport they might never have heard of:
Recognize Why Some Kids Choose Sports
In school, I was a scrawny little guy, not terribly popular, and socially awkward. My dream of being on the same team as Mike Palmateer had less to do with my love of hockey than it did my belief that getting drafted by the Maple Leafs would make people like me. When I saw the way people loved Pelé, soccer suddenly became more palatable. I’m sure that until recently, David Beckham had similar influence over kids. So if you’re going to expose them to a less-mainstream sport, make sure they see the superstars in action.
Exposure. Exposure. Exposure.
In this space, I’ve talked before about my friend Bob Joyce, who does radio play-by-play for the University of Connecticut Huskies basketball team, and also does radio work for football, hockey and baseball games. In the course of having his son tag along when Dad went to work, it’s no surprise that Bob’s son would excel as a multi-sport athlete in school, simply by virtue of constant exposure to a variety of sports.
Google Is Your Friend
It may not seem like it, but somebody, somewhere in your neighborhood, is probably playing that obscure sport you wish your kid would get into. Maybe it’s a bit of a drive, or maybe it’s a place you can “accidentally” pass by when you take Rover out for a walk. If your local Parks & Recreation Department doesn’t have information on a program, the right search terms in Google and various community websites will help you find what you’re looking for.
If there’s absolutely no one in your area who’s already doing it, talk to those same Parks & Rec people about what it would take to start an organization for your sport in your area. If you’re passionate about the game, you’ve already got a good chunk of what it takes to be a coach. Maybe there are other parents, just like you, who think a polo team for 11 year-olds is a terrific idea. You might be surprised how quickly your kids pick up on your passions.