Given the athletic capabilities of my partner Charlie (an accomplished hockey player and runner) and my background in Physical Education teaching, our friends have often commented on the likelihood of our daughter growing up to be sporty.
In The Sporting Gene, David Epstein describes the role of nature and nurture in physical development with clarity and balance. He explains how, as athletes, we are essentially always distinguished by both our genes and our training. There is a good chance that our daughter will have fairly athletic genes. And I am certain that she will receive plenty of opportunities to play and to grow in a range of sports.
But there should be choice.
Andre Agassi is a brilliant example of a sportsperson who reached the top, without choosing. Much of the drive and decision for Agassi’s accomplishments were inspired by his father’s motivation. There is a fantastic sense of irony to the Agassi story. He hated tennis, but his successes in this game have enabled him to live an extraordinary life. Prior to the birth of our daughter, I framed a wonderfully informed quote from Agassi as a parent.
‘I didn’t define their ambitions for them. I tried to let them decide what they were passionate about. But once they decided, I held them to a standard of commitment.’
As a child, I was strongly encouraged to become a good cricketer, sometimes playing six or seven days a week. During my adult life, I have played a handful of cricket matches. I no longer take a great interest in this sport. My sister was a capable gymnast in her pre-teen years, but opted out of team sports. I have learned much from reflecting on my sister’s experiences as a teenager who did not share and fit the family mould.
I hope I am aware of the inherent importance of our daughter choosing her own pathways in life. Will I encourage her to be sporty? If she displays motivation towards sports, I will wholeheartedly support this (with an unconscious bias). But if she does not, I hope I will display the objectivity to empower her to choose what to become passionate about.