[I wrote this post at the end of June, but I didn't get around to posting it at the time. I suppose it’s fortuitous because as the year starts and parents start looking for activities for their kids, I would like to think that this will resonate more right now.]
June 22, 2014: Last night I watched my 10-year-old daughter perform in her fifth annual dance recital and she was sensational, as were all the other dancers. Last week I watched my son playing in the championship game of his baseball league and he’s getting ready to travel to Italy to play on the Israel National baseball team.
As I sat last night and watched the girls from 12th grade bidding farewell to the dance studio where some of them had danced for 14 years, and had performed magnificently last night, one thing became clear to me: Kids must carefully choose an after-school activity when they are young and stick to it for as long as they can because it’s a precious gift that will shape and change their lives in a way that no school subject can.
As someone who is deeply involved in Israel baseball, and having been through many years of dance with my daughter, I have identified two types of participants: There are what I call the “testers”, kids who float from activity to activity each year, trying each one out like they are small dishes on a tasting menu in a restaurant. They never develop any real skill or ability. Instead of sticking with it, they give up and move onto the next activity without a thought. Sadly, often their parents encourage this flitting, and don’t see the disservice they are doing in not encouraging their children to keep going until they reach a level of expertise that the kids (and their parents) will be proud of.
Then there are the “perseverers”. These are the kids who find something they enjoy and instead of just getting a taste, they joyfully gorge themselves on the entire meal and are the more fulfilled for it. These kids are opening up new worlds for themselves. Whether it’s baseball or dancing or karate or chess, these kids learn so much and blossom into human beings who exist on a level above the mundane.
I see the dancers who, even at a young age, realize that the hours and hours of extra rehearsal pay off in professional-looking shows that wow audiences. When the older dancers help the younger girls with their make-up and costumes, even though they also have to make sure they are ready for their own dances, they understand the value of leadership and become role models for the young girls to look up to. And the younger girls in turn strive to become those older, more responsible dancers.
I watch the baseball players, who have committed themselves to what started as an after school activity, coming out virtually on a daily basis to practice, to hone their skills, to become better players and to help each other succeed. They’ve developed their own community of players who understand the value of hard work, discipline, and commitment. Their coaches develop not only their sports skills but also instil in them the values of team work, responsibility and sportsmanship. This dedication not only turns them into outstanding sports-people, but it sets them up for life as conscientious young people who understand the value of hard work, commitment and being a good person.
While after school activities (unfortunately) aren’t mandatory, I feel militant about the need for every child to make this commitment because I’ve seen from up close how much value this seemingly innocuous choice can have. So pick an activity, stick with it, be the best you can be. These will be some of the best days of your lives, these memories will last forever, and you will be a better person for it.