By Margie Sugarman
Margie Sugarman is a leading board-certified psychotherapist and sports consultant based in New York. Margie’s desire is to enhance performance through the connection between the mind and body, and her current client list includes Olympic, professional and amateur athletes across the country. Her experience employing various therapeutic modalities has helped equestrians win classics, junior medals and grand prix. Do you have a question you want Margie to answer? Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
My son is 9 years old and a lot of his friends from school are starting to go away to sleepaway camp. From the conversations we’ve had about it, my husband and I think it would be a great idea. However, my son feels the need to stay back because of riding. My husband and I feel for two months it’s OK to be away from our horse! How can we convince our child that he’s allowed to take a break?
Parents want the best opportunities for their children. They want them to have whatever it takes to be happy and successful: good health, the ability to get along with others, to develop thinking and problem solving skills and a good self-concept. Children need resiliency skills: self-esteem, life skills, self-reliance and proper social behaviors. The camp experience offers a nurturing environment that supports the development of these building blocks of life and personality. Camp is one of the few institutions where young people can experience and satisfy their needs for physical activity, creative expression and true participation in a community environment.
There’s an illusion perpetuated by many people that in order to be really successful, the child athlete needs to specialize in one sport as early and consistently as possible. This school of thought holds the belief that the child who stays focused and involved will be a step above his competition while progressing faster and achieving more than a child who participates in multiple sports.
The problem with this approach of early specialization is simply the potential for burnout. Too much, too soon, too intensely, at too high a level of competitive pressure can throw a young athlete out of balance emotionally as well as physically. Making a sport so important when a child is young, to the point where there are no other fun sports, often stifles the joy and enthusiasm for that particular sport and in the end interferes with the child’s performance. The psychological component that accompanies this situation is loss of interest and culminates in dropping out of the sport altogether. However, supporting other endeavors, like going to camp and playing other sports can, and does, ultimately enhance performance.
Think of an ice cream analogy. Imagine asking a person if they like ice cream. They say, “Yes.” When you ask what flavor, the person says they’ve only tried chocolate and although they like it they’re a little tired of it. Well, give the person the opportunity to taste other flavors and you’ll see a whole new attitude about eating ice cream. The psyche is ignited with the thoughts of something new and different. The psyche appreciates chocolate more when it’s had the opportunity to try other flavors like vanilla, pistachio and raspberry. If chocolate ultimately becomes identified as the favorite, it’s probably more desirable because of the exposure to the other flavors. So it is with sports. The opportunity to partake in other athletic endeavors will build character, physical capabilities and ultimately a greater appreciation for the “favored” sport.
Your son needs to understand that all athletes have an off-season. This is the time they regroup, do other things and enjoy what they can’t during their “season.” This is an opportunity to try new things and share experiences with friends away from home and the family. This is a place where it’s all fun: swimming, campfires, boating, baseball, water skiing, late-night talks and jokes. Who wouldn’t want to go?
Presented the right way and reassuring your child you’re behind his desire to go to camp — it probably won’t take much arm bending! His horse will be waiting for carrots and a good ride upon his return.