Before Dave turned 1 he was given a leather soccer ball, which he learnt to kick even before he started walking. By age 2 he was given the full Barça uniform and I took lots of photos of him kicking a ball. My parents and I joked, laughed and fantasised about Dave being an elite soccer player for the Football Club Barcelona. If he started young he would be a pro by the age of 18, like Leo Messi and Andrés Iniesta. When he was 3 and Alex was 1 we used to go to the Dunsborough Oval every Wednesday afternoon to watch the older kids train. Dave was so eager to play that one of the coaches said maybe an exception could be made with him and he could start playing soccer the following year, rather than waiting two more years. The following year we kept going to the training sessions, but by now Dave was showing less interest. Alex, aged 2, was the one running after all the balls. When Dave turned 5 I told him he could now be registered with the Football Federation Australia and start playing soccer!
He said he didn't want to.
I spent weeks trying to talk him into it. I reminded him that this is what he had wanted so bad. I promised that once he started he would love it because some of his friends were starting that year too. He said no to everything. He even said, 'How many times do I have to tell you? I don't want to play soccer!' I registered him anyway and asked him to go to the first session at least; if he didn't like it I wouldn't insist anymore.
We went to the first session. Some other kids who had been registered against their will were told by the coach that they were free to kick a ball and have fun, nothing else. Dave refused to do even that. I never insisted again. The coach was disappointed that I didn't push Dave more. He said Dave had to learn to be part of a team, that things were expected of him. I told him what I have told so many people so many times, 'Yes, but I can't force him. If he doesn't want to do it, he doesn't want to do it.' I had also asked him if he wanted to try and play tennis. He said no, he didn't want to be told to do anything; he just wanted free play.
This year I asked him once if he wanted to play soccer and again he said no, 'but maybe next year if Alex wants to play too.' At the start of the season we went to see the other kids train a few Wednesday afternoons. One day, as we were watching all those five and six-year-old boys and girls run, stop, jump and kick, following the coach's instructions, I said to Dave, 'Look at them all doing the same, obeying without question. How well trained they are! They're like sheep! I'm so glad you're not one of them. Thanks so much for resisting my urging you to get part of the herd, and sorry about that.'
Dave gave me a warm look, as if to say, 'Finally you understand,' and said, 'That's why I didn't want to do it. I don't want to do the same as everyone else.'
When I told the world that Dave and Alex would not go to school, everyone said I would have to enroll them in lots of extracurricular activities, like sports and music, mainly so that they would 'socialise' with other kids. Over the last three years I have suggested different things to them, but in the end they never want to do them because they all amount to following the dictates of another person, being pushed to do better and even to be the best. My kids are not interested in competing with other kids because they are not being brought up that way. In fact, they refuse to participate in competitive games organised by some parents at birthday parties.
All of Dave and Alex's friends go to school. Then at least two days a week they do swimming, soccer, Auskick or dancing. Most of them are quite happy doing all these things. They are so used to being told what to do that they don't question it: they're not two years old anymore, back when they were so assertive and really knew what they wanted. It doesn't occur to them that they could refuse to play sports or go to school. It always shocks me when other kids ask me whether Dave and Alex are allowed to do this or that. Of course they're allowed! They do as they please as long as they're not harming others or themselves.
All the best athletes in the world compete at the Olympics because their primary caregivers (usually their parents) forced them into sports at such a young age that they don't remember ever being able to do anything else. Someone I admire a lot has called this 'abuse' and I believe it is. Many sports people talk about this in their memoirs, when they retire; of how they were robbed of their childhood by being pushed to be the best. Winning and competing seemed to be the only thing that was important to their parents, and they grew up believing that was the only thing they could do to be accepted. Well, that's not going to happen to my kids. They will play whatever sports they want to play whenever they are ready, and not because they want to be the best but because they enjoy and want to get better at them without measuring themselves against others. And they won't be crying because they got a silver medal instead of a gold one.