Should I Crush My Children's Dreams (Even If They Have No Chance Of Being Realised)?

14/08/2014 16:59 | Updated 20 May 2015

Playing sport

Neither of my sons are particularly interested in sport. They enjoy a kick-around on the park every now and then, but nothing competitive.

The nine-year-old, especially, runs around like a newborn foal, never getting a kick of the ball, but he doesn't care: he just loves being with his mates.

And I'm pleased about that, especially because I could never compete with the 'football dads' who huddle around a touchline, like Emperor Penguins, on a freezing weekend morning, occasionally breaking away to scream: "Goooooo onnnnnnn, my son, geeev it to heeeem."

I'd rather be inside in the warm, watching Saturday Kitchen, and I think I've passed on that anti-sporty gene to my sons.

On one occasion, I asked my then eight-year-old if he wanted to play rugby every Saturday with his mates.

"What, have big lads hit me in the belly with their heads? No thanks," he replied. Which made perfect sense to me.

"How about Saturday morning football?" I asked.

"What, and have smaller boys run rings around me while you shout about how useless I am? No thanks."

I wouldn't of course, but I took his point.

All of this could lead you to believe that I agree with academic Ellis Cashmore.

He says parents should stop encouraging their children to become sporting heroes, because most children 'will never make it'.

The professor of culture, media and sport at Staffordshire University, said: "We shouldn't be trying to channel all of our energy into this pursuit of excellence in sports when very, very few children are going to succeed at any kind of level at all.

"My answer to parents who tell me their child might become a leading footballer or athlete is that they are putting them at risk of serious injury or closer to the world of performance-enhancing drugs."

And he also believes that kids who play too much sport become 'one-dimensional characters' because to be any good at sport you have to be 'a complete obsessive compulsive'.

Professor Cashmore, author of Making Sense of Sport, added: "Sport used to be marginal; now it's an integral part of mainstream culture, and we put too much value into it. It's not going to pull us out of the recession, give us peace on Earth or save the planet."


In effect, then, Professor Cashmore is telling our kids not to bother playing sport because only the amazingly gifted, compulsively disordered or performance enhanced have any chance of succeeding.


Well, on the one hand, this makes me feel quite good about not having sporty kids. There's no risk of them ever being crushed by sporting defeat or of having their dreams of scoring a goal in the FA Cup Final exploded when they can't even get a game with their local pub team.

But hang on a second: super-talent, obsessiveness and ultra-competitiveness (and even cheating) doesn't just apply to achieving excellence on sporting field.

Earlier this week, I let my nine-year-old son stay up way past his bedtime to watch Channel 4's 'Astronauts Living in Space' programme because Space is Year 4's project subject this term.

My lad sat transfixed as the astronauts in the International Space Station floated in Zero Gravity and then went on a nail-chewing space walk for 13 hours as the beautiful, beautiful Earth whizzed by them at the rate of one circumnavigation every 90 minutes.

"Whoaaaaaa, that is soooooo coooooool," said my son.

As I tucked him up in bed, his eyes were glistening like stars.

"Da-ad," he said. "I want to be an astronaut."

What was I supposed to say to that? "Forget it, son: it ain't gonna happen? For one thing, you get car sick, so Zero G isn't for you."

And should I then have added: "In fact, forget learning maths, or science, or English, or anything, really, because you're never going to be the BEST at anything?"

No, of course I shouldn't.

Do you think Neil Armstrong's dad told him not to bother? ("The Moon's made of cheese, son. Give it up.")

Or Bill Gates's? ("Computers? They'll never catch on.")

Or Heston Blumenthal's? ("As long as I've got a breath in my body, people will never eat a snail in porridge."

Or James Dyson's? ("People will never give up emptying vac bags: it's what makes housework fun.")

Or David Cameron's? ("Look, I know we've spent a lot of money sending you to Eton, but we think you'd be better as a binman."

No, of course not – because, applied to other aspects of professional life, Professor Cashmore's theory about sport is simply rubbish: someone gets the top job. Someone with The Right Stuff gets to fly to the Moon. Why not my son? Or yours? Or anybody's?

As long as the ambition is their own and not the pushy parent's, let them dream. And if they end up disappointed, so be it. That's just life.


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