Ever since I became a dad, I've had a plan: I'm going to make my daughter into a world-class athlete. Ambitious? Sure. But did David Beckham get to be a world-famous soccer player without having a soccer ball lying around? Did Venus and Serena Williams become professional tennis players without their dad buying them rackets? And what about, you know, that one guy: well, take any other sports guy — they probably had sports gear lying around too.
Let me confess something: I'm not much of an athlete. I run, I bike and I've been known to press play on my DVD player to get in a light-weight upper body workout. I'm basically doing the minimum to make sure I don't turn into a 40-something pile of flab. And growing up, I wasn't much of a jock. But is biology destiny? I think not. One of your main jobs as a dad is to provide options. You put out a hockey stick or leave a golf club lying around and you hope for the best. Then when they start swinging the club, you hire a high-powered coach and immediately put them into training. Pretty soon, it's your kid up there on the dais, dedicating his award to "the best dad ever." Wow, I'm practically crying right now. It's all been so worth it.
At a minimum, we all know that sports are great for self-esteem and working with others. We signed my daughter up for soccer this year for exactly this reason. We wanted her to get some experience competing, working with a team and having to listen to a coach. She was just over the age cut-off for the under-eight league, landing her in the under-10 league with a seriously competent bunch of kids. These were not the beginners I expected. Passing, playing positions, these kids were on fire! One of them even explained off-sides rules to me. What a team! And my daughter? Well, everyone basically played around her for most of the games and she did get the wind knocked out of her once from a ball to the gut, but she had a weirdly good attitude about it and had fun. I counted it in the "win" column.
To be honest, it didn't go so well, so we're moving on from soccer for the time being, but her shin guards have found a place in her dress up box! They're "armor" now. I mean, that's the great thing about kids, right? They have such imaginations! She's even making use of the exercise equipment we already have around the house. My wife's yoga mat is beat up from being a magic carpet, my under-utilized hand weights are hidden in her room somewhere as part of her Littlest Pet Shop world.
I mean, you can't control what your kid will be into — you can buy your kid a baseball mitt, but it might end up being a wig in his comedy act. You can buy your kid a hockey helmet, but it might mostly transform her into a King Arthur. And that basketball hoop might end up as Superman's helmet (yes, I think Superman should wear a helmet).
Maybe that's even a better way to shop for sports equipment: buy a lacrosse stick because it'll make a great sword, buy a jump rope because your kid can tie up bad guys with it. And then later on you can point out: "Hey, did you know that sword can be used for lacrosse?"
That's what I've learned about buying sports gear: go ahead and plan for your kid's entry into the major leagues by buying stuff. If you have a sporty kid, great. But even if your kid is more of a "play with the box instead of the present" kind of kid, you never know when that knight's armor will become football pads. And when it does, you'll be ready.