The other day, I was passing through one of the city's parks when I saw a group of people who had set up a badminton net and were teaching their kids to play. Badminton, like all sports, takes practice, meaning a lot of near misses, and not so near misses, were going on. Right on cue came some passersby who made comments that the scene belonged on America's Funniest Home Videos, and they kept yelling "A swing...and a miss!" and other rude stuff. You can pretty much guess what happened next: The kids didn't want to play anymore.
My first thought about this scene - to be honest, it was my second thought, but my first printable one - was that we need to reinforce in kids the fact that it's okay to be a beginner. Fortunately, the adults there were on the same page, and they took control of the situation. They moved the would-be spectators along, and coaxed their kids back onto the court.
Kids idolize athletes, and they're used to seeing the finished product: The pro slam-dunking a ball, the figure skater landing a perfect jump on the ice, the baseball player making a shoestring catch. They don't always recognize that everyone starts out a novice.
A lot of us, me included, never get beyond the imperfect stage as athletes. And as we become adults, we learn that being strong and healthy can trump being an Olympian because we have talents elsewhere. But kids haven't learned that yet. They're perfectly ready to write themselves off as failures because they whiffed.
As we head into the summer rec season, we need to make sure kids understand that everyone was a beginner, and many still are, and that's OK. We can practice and improve, not sit around and refuse to play until we're better at it. Not being as self-conscious about our ability is the first step toward self-acceptance, and toward continued physical activity, at all levels.