Why our Family left Competitive Sport…

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…at least for now.

I am a huge sports fan.  I am the fan that PVRs and watches every single Olympic event.  I have great respect for athletes and admire what they accomplish.

In our own family, we have 3 active sons.  They have tried out several sports (soccer, basketball, track, diving, and more) but all ended up in competitive swimming.  Partially because our oldest absolutely loved it and then I thought it would be easier if they all followed suite.  They all have the great skill of swimming now (a life-skill I might add) and have learned many valuable lessons from the sport and their coaches.

Benefits of sport that I have seen:

  • learning about leadership and teamwork
  • developing coping mechanisms for anxiety before/during competition
  • learning to deal with loss, disappointment and developing resilience
  • developing patience and perseverance
  • improving social skills and different friends
  • building self-esteem and confidence
  • discipline and respecting authority

So where did it go wrong? 

The demands of the sport as they grew older became larger and a much more demanding commitment time-wise and financially for our family.  Our oldest began practice before school, I had to leave work early to get them to the pool, dry land training began and meets spanned entire weekends.  Really between the 3 boys we only had Sundays off but not even if there was a swim meet.  We even carpooled but it didn’t really put a dent in all the driving.  There was really no time for other interests, school sports or socialization with their school friends.

The funny thing was as a mom I was still willing to continue…why?  This took we a while to figure out but I’ve realized several things:

  1. Fear was holding me back from doing the right thing for our family.  Fear of my sons not being heavily involved in an activity, leading to getting into trouble as teenagers: drugs, alcohol, poor friend choices, etc.  But what I was missing that if my kids are so heavily involved in sport, I won’t have time to connect, teach or build relationships with my children which in turn can lead to the above anyway.
  2. Being different. (If families are blessed with the income for their children to participate in sport,) I think as parents we can get so caught up in helping our children finding their sport or “thing” that once they find it we can go overboard in lessons, camps, coaching, etc. that help them excel but it doesn’t teach them good life balance.  It’s so easy to get sucked into the “more is better mentality” and unfortunately this doesn’t leave time for kids to just be kids.
  3. Change is difficult.  At least for me it is.  And I guess this leads me back to fear and fear of the unknown.  It’s easier to stay in the same routine and pattern that’s familiar even if it’s destructive or not fully in line with your values.

I cannot recommend or say what the right decision is for other families but I’d just encourage you to make sure what you and your children are involved in aligns with your core values as a family.  The demands of our sport started affecting my work, my son began being tired at school, I was getting sick more often, we were rarely able to do the family activities we loved (bike, hike, ski, etc.) and it was becoming quite the challenge to find a Sunday church time that would work.  But what was most destructive was that our family meals and time together were suffering.  Research has shown that family meals are so important for connection and the health of our children.  This fact I could not ignore.

Research has shown that simply sitting down at the kitchen table and sharing family meals has a positive impact on children and teenager’s development.  Children and teens that eat regular meals with their family have been shown to have improved food choices, better nutrient intakes, lower eating disorder risk, better social adjustment and improved school performance.

Also, I have witnessed and learned in my dietitian career to be cautious when the only identity your child has is their sport.  In working with young adults and teenagers suffering with eating disorders, I have seen many young elite athletes have one sport become the one and only thing they live for.  Their whole identity seems to be wrapped up in “I’m a hockey player” or “I’m a dancer”.  Great that they have found “their thing” but I see the destructive side when they suddenly cannot play their sport anymore (ie. because of injury, age, etc.).  I see a huge loss in identity and young people feeling lost because they have nothing else to turn to.  All their time and attention has been devoted to that one sport.  I just have to say to encourage your children to diversify and have several interests, hobbies and/or sports.

This leads me to the research that shows that children should diversify… The American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM) put together an “Early Sport Specialization Consensus Statement” in 2016 because of concerns of this growing trend in children’s sport.  (Single sport specialization is defined as 9 months or more of one sport to the exclusion of others.)

The overall results were: “there is no evidence that young children will benefit from early sport specialization in the majority of sports. They are subject to overuse injury and burnout from concentrated activity. Early multisport participation will not deter young athletes from long-term competitive athletic success.” (AOSSM, 2016)

From a public health perspective, why isn’t more being done?  According to the AOSSM early sports specialization has actually been identified as damaging for an athlete’s future physical and mental health.    From another excellent read “Fear, greed, broken dreams: How early sports specialization is eroding youth sports”  J.J. Adams says “These days, alas, the fun in youth sports is rapidly fading, the dreams of children replaced by the ambitions of adults.”(Adams, 2018)  I’m hopeful that children’s sport leagues, coaches and parents will all pay attention and learn from this valuable research and information to affect change for the future.  My personal hopes are that there will be more opportunities for children’s recreational sport and early sport specialization will become taboo.

So I’m not sure where the future will lead my sons but for now competitive sport is on hold and I’m really excited about all the new possibilities and opportunities for our family!

 

 

Are your meals a time of Connection or Dysfunction?

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Connection:

Food is much more than nourishment.  Sharing food is also about human connection. Some of my favourite memories are sharing meals with friends and family.

Like many families we have a very busy schedule with my husband’s irregular working hours and my boy’s swimming schedule so mealtimes are not always shared.  However, knowing the importance of family mealtime I take advantage of every opportunity we can to sit down and eat together.  While eating, I have my children’s attention and can ask them about their school day or activities.  Sometimes it’s a slow start but funny thing once one son starts sharing about their day, the other two typically want to share too. They often use the term “Breaking news” when they want to share something about their day as small as “what girl likes what boy” or “who got in trouble” (it’s never them – eyeroll).

Research has shown that simply sitting down at the kitchen table and sharing family meals has a positive impact on children and teenager’s development.  Children and teens that eat regular meals with their family have been shown to have improved food choices, better nutrient intakes, lower eating disorder risk, better social adjustment and improved school performance. Teens specifically involved in meal preparation have also been shown to have improved vegetable and fruit intake.

I believe that sharing meals for adults (with or without children) is equally important.  Personally I cherish the meals I get to share with my girlfriends, family friends, and coworkers.  It is a time to try new restaurants or experience new cuisine (that may be a bit too adventurous for my children).  More than that, it is a time to catch up, de-stress with laughter, get advice and possibly vent.  For many adults it provides a sense of belonging and community.  It allows us time to fulfill our desire to be heard, understood and affirmed in who we are.

Dysfunction:

The following are 3 mealtime struggles I commonly see in my practice:

1. Child Food Fights.

Mealtime should not be a regular battleground of tension, struggle and fighting.  Not uncommon to many families is the power struggle between parents and young children over food. Whether the concern is picky eating, eating too much/too little, etc.  If this is happening at your table, you may need to evaluate or seek guidance on changing your approach to childhood feeding.  Mealtime should be a calm and comfortable environment for children without pressure from grownups.  For example, meals should be a time where kids can feel free to try or not try new foods and finish or not finish everything on their plate.  “When the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers.” -Ellyn Satter (Childhood feeding expert, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Family Therapist)

2. Dieting Disruption.

When a parent(s) is dieting it disrupts the unity and enjoyment of sharing the meal.  I’m not talking simply cutting down portions but eating in a totally different way than the rest of the family or eating at a different time.   Others will have a list of “food rules” of what they can or cannot eat.  With chronic dieting “You have forgotten what you really like to eat and instead eat what you think you should eat.” -Evelyn Tribole (Intuitive Eating: A revolutionary program that works)  A dieting parent may never eat dessert or call themselves “bad” when they do.  Children have watchful eyes and ears that pick up on parental behaviours.  This can lead children to question their own food choices and whether “they need to lose weight or diet too”.  Just like in many other areas of life, children need their parents to be role models with eating.  Instead of dieting focus on healthy behaviours that can benefit the whole family.  For example, focus on balancing the family meal better by offering more vegetable options.

3. Eating Disorder Destruction.

Nothing breaks my heart more than seeing eating disorders rip families apart.  A family member so ill with their eating disorder that mealtime becomes a battleground of control and frustration.  The individual may be so overwhelmed with anxiety and fear that they basically “shut down” at the table.  For some people struggling with an eating disorder, their fears of eating around others or eating food that they did not prepare becomes so terrifying that they socially isolate themselves from friends, colleagues and their own family.  They miss birthday parties, BBQ’s, holiday celebrations, school and/or work events.  For single people, they may avoid dating and meeting new people for fear that food may be involved.  Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses that destroy the natural human connection fostered at mealtime and instead create a disconnect and isolation from others.  If you suspect you or your loved one has an eating disorder – reach out for help right away.  The sooner a person receives support and treatment for an eating disorder, the better the recovery outcomes.

Links to useful resources:

Eating Disorders: http://www.nedic.ca

Freedom from Chronic Dieting: http://www.intuitiveeating.org

Childhood Feeding: http://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org

*Seek support if you or your family is experiencing struggles at mealtime.  Look for a Registered Dietitian and therapist that specializes in your area of concern.

Easter Blessings – Food for the Soul

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This Easter weekend I returned to my Ukrainian roots and took part in the Blessing of Easter baskets.  Easter and the Holy Week leading up to it, has always been a very special time of year for me.  Growing up in the Ukrainian Catholic faith, we had so many faith-filled traditions with deep-rooted meaning and many involving food.   I still have fond memories of all of our extended family celebrating at the table with the basket of blessed food.

As a dietitian, Easter is a good reminder to me that food is so much more than nourishment.  Sharing food is also about human connection.  It is a way that people connect on a social and cultural level.  Sharing meals establishes a sense of stability, security, togetherness and belonging that not only benefits children but adults as well.

The day before Easter on Holy Saturday, Ukrainians prepare a basket of food for their families and then have it blessed by the priest at their church. The Easter basket symbolizes the joy and gratitude marking the end of Lent.  After the Easter Sunday Divine Liturgy the food is eaten in celebration of the Resurrection of Christ.  Not a morsel of food is thrown away because everything is blessed.  (Even the egg shells are ground up and often put in the dirt outside with the plants.)  The basket contains specific foods and items that symbolize different aspects of our Christian faith:

Pascha: 

  • symbolizes Jesus Christ and the joy of the new life He has given to us
  • a sweet white bread rich in eggs decorated with braids, crosses, etc.

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Candle: 

  • symbolizes Christ as “the light of the world”
  • made of beeswax and lit during the blessing

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Eggs:

  • symbolizes Christ’s death and resurrection
  • Pysanky are intricately decorated eggs

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  • Krashanky are hard-boiled eggs often dyed and meant to be eaten

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Butter: 

  • symbolizes the goodness of Christ which we need to reflect to others

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Ham: 

  • symbolizes the great joy and abundance of Easter

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Kobasa:

  • symbolizes God’s favour and generousity

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Cottage Cheese:

  • the blandness symbolizes the moderation that we should cultivate in our daily lives

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Salt:

  • symbolizes that we are followers of Christ and the meaning of life is to live according to the Gospel
  • a reminder of Christ’s words: “You are the salt of the earth.”

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Horseradish:

  • symbolizes the passion and death of Christ and the bitterness of sin

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Embroidered Cloth Cover: 

  • symbolizes Christ’s shroud (white linen)
  • (this cloth is usually embroidered with an image of the risen Christ, a cross or other appropriate symbol or words)

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I feel blessed to have a heritage so rich in customs and traditions that has brought me so many fond childhood memories.  Whatever your culture or customs may be, I encourage you to keep them alive with your family and pass on these beautiful and meaningful traditions to your children!

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