How can I get my child to get involved in the game?
November 21, 2016 6:07 PM   Subscribe

Several years ago, my daughter decided she wanted to play hockey. She has been skating for several years and played in an all-girls club last season. This season, she has been playing in a coed league. She does great in practice, but when the time comes for her to participate in the game, she freezes up.

She is athletic and has the skill. She puts in great effort in practice and has been noticeably improving. She is competitive in many things, except when she gets out on the ice in a game situation.

When we ask her about what she thinks about during the game, she says 'nyan cat', a deflection. She loves playing and has adjusted to the rigorous practice schedule.

Sadly, the other parents are getting frustrated, as her play is definitely an outlier, and even though her overall skills have been improving, she still doesn't get involved during the game. We thought she would settle in after a few games, but two months later, we're still waiting. And it's affecting the team's results. The two games they won were games she could not make it.

Other pertinent issues: She's 11, an only child. She is smart and well-regarded by her peers, teachers, strangers who comment on how polite/smart/unique she is, etc. She has social anxiety to the point of paralysis. She still won't order her own food at a restaurant. She won't participate in class, either. She gets mostly '+' marks, except on classroom participation. She's a moderately skilled pianist, but won't perform, even for family, in private. She has a lot of friends and a wide array of interests and seems otherwise very well-adjusted.

She has been to counseling, with no real results. We regularly set up opportunities for her to practice her independence, but she always manages to skate around them.

Her folks have social anxieties, as well. Mama is very much the introvert. I'm an extrovert on the inside but largely an introvert on the outside. But at age 11, I'm trying my best to raise a well-balanced, strong, intelligent and supported kid. There is, however, this imbalance we're finding difficult to manage.

What should I do to help her find the gumption to assert herself? Is there a way to 'flip the switch'? When do I need to consider pulling her out of hockey to save her from difficulties with her peers?
posted by valentinepig to Human Relations (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Is this team or league more competitive than her previous team or league? That would bum me out, too, and all this pressure of the other parents and her performance affecting the team's results, which is actually meaningful to people, is really intense for a kid. Also, unless she's a hockey phenom and you guys are looking down the road at scholarships, the Olympics, etc. it ultimately doesn't matter. 99% of the time, sports are a fun hobby for kids. It doesn't actually matter who wins any of these games, or whether she scores any goals, or any of it.

I once had a coworker who coached his kids' sports team and was super involved with all the parental league drama. As a childless adult who isn't super into sports, it frankly sounded unbelievably stressful to me. I felt sad for his kids that their dad wouldn't just let them play a fun game for the enjoyment of it.

All the areas in which she exhibits social anxiety are connected by an emphasis on performance and there being stakes (messing up a piano piece, losing a game, sounding stupid to a waiter, making a fool of yourself in class). Does she feel the same way in low-stakes situations? is there a way to ease her into higher stakes performative things that choke her up?
posted by Sara C. at 6:19 PM on November 21, 2016 [14 favorites]

It sounds like you're not forcing her to play, but is she forcing herself to go to the games even though, for some reason, she's terrified? I used to do things like that. It ends up just reinforcing the fear and making it worse, even if she's the one deciding to proceed...

How does she do in practice game-type exercises?
posted by amtho at 6:28 PM on November 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

She has been skating for several years and played in an all-girls club last season. This season, she has been playing in a coed league.

Could it have something to do with the fact that she's now playing with boys?
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 6:52 PM on November 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

What sort of counseling have you tried? There are a pile of different treatment methods (CBT, DBT, medicines) to help deal with anxiety.

This previous thread gives several suggestions. The one I like best is to get a professional who focuses on anxiety specifically, one that your daughter is comfortable with.
posted by nat at 6:56 PM on November 21, 2016

My money is on there being one or more boy(s) whonare making competitive play in a female body less appealing.

Bring this to the coach. Maybe not as a question of 'which boy' but definitely as a question of how the team hamdles he research on gender dynamics in co-ed sports at this age level. Because you bet your ass there's research on this. And if the coaches won't or can't address this in a way that feels good for you and your daughter, find the team that will nurture this passion.

As things progress and her coaches aren't addressing the issue, she is being driven out of a sport and laying the groundwork for some associations with competition that will be hard to unravel as she gets older.
posted by bilabial at 7:47 PM on November 21, 2016 [6 favorites]

Thank you for the responses.

It seems there is no appreciable difference between high and low pressure situations, hence the refusal to order her own food. Even in a taco shop we've been eating at since she was a toddler.

The team has a significant number of girls. The coach has said that at times he's seen girls be a bit slow to initiate contact with the boys in a coed league. One of the coaches has a daughter on the team, who played with my kid in the girls' league last year. I don't suspect hazing or gender politics, much.

It's definitely her choice to be there. She is strong in practice. Her game behavior is not out of line with her behavior in other situations. She is interested in playing competitively at a higher level, but naturally, this behavior precludes any real competitive endeavors, if she can't work through it.

The counseling she's had is through the school. It was first a group session, but the group dissipated and the counselor continued to work with her, one on one. I'm not certain of the counselor's particular technique, beyond providing a safe place to discuss her issues. The counselo, when prompted, didn't find anything specific to escalate and didn't think she needed any treatment plan.

Thanks again. I will look through the prior answer shared.
posted by valentinepig at 8:29 PM on November 21, 2016

I will definitely look into CBT techniques.
posted by valentinepig at 8:43 PM on November 21, 2016

At age 11, ordering in a restaurant in the presence of one's parents and also a stranger (the person taking the orders) was MORTIFYING.

In fact, the way that everything social seems so unbelievably heightened around that age may be a factor here. Things you don't think are high stakes might seem that way to her, right now.

Has she always been this way, or is this a new thing this year? How is she doing socially, otherwise? Does she still have the same friends as in previous years? Does she seem otherwise comfortable and happy-go-lucky at school and socially, or is there a lot of talk about mean kids and social drama? Or worse, markedly less talk about school or friends at all?
posted by Sara C. at 10:00 PM on November 21, 2016

Having watched my daughter do the same kinds of things when she was 11 to 12 just says it's a way of looking at the world. Suggest she go back to girls only to start - she isn't capable of admitting the choice is in error at this stage. 13. No problem. Now big deal. In her world it's all about perception and has nothing to do with reality. Tempus fugit
posted by ptm at 10:30 PM on November 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

She sounds like she lacks confidence in these situations and I do not see how repeatedly putting her into situations where her confidence will be further battered (you can be completely sure the other team mates have loudly noted that she's a wallflower and how they win when she's not there, I have been an 11 year old girl, they are not nice) is going to help.

I feel bad for her, reading your question. She already has social anxiety and now all these adults analysing her behaviour and "feeling frustrated" by it. She's 11. The sporting performance of an 11yo should be miles beneath the "frustration" of any adult. And even if the adults think they're being subtle, I will guarantee that she is aware of the frustrations.

Is this a nurturing environment for her? Can you have an honest conversation with her about whether she actually wants to play? If not, can you make a decision on her behalf to change teams or sports? At that age I just wanted everyone off my back and repeatedly stated when asked that I wanted to play an instrument I HATED so I wouldn't have to have a difficult conversation with my mother, who thought playing an instrument was wonderful. I had enough sense to know the answer she wanted to hear rather than giving my actual answer. I played it for 6 years and achieved nothing. As ptm said, I couldn't find a way back myself. I didn't know how to extricate myself and failing at it for 6 years completely destroyed any residual confidence I had in my (modest but not completely absent) musical abilities.
posted by intergalacticvelvet at 3:32 AM on November 22, 2016 [6 favorites]

I had paralysing social anxiety as a child - couldn't answer the phone, order in restaurants, talk in school, etc. It was a source of incredible distress to me. My mom sort of tricked me out of it over several years. She convinced me that it was normal for some people to be very shy, but as you get older you naturally become more confident. She placed a lot of emphasis on how this transition really started taking place in adolescence. When I was in middle school and would get really sad about not being able to interact publicly, I would tell myself "it's ok, when I'm a teenager, this will be easier. I'll be able to do this one day." Then as I got older (13, 14) when I encountered scary situations, I'd think "I'm a teenager now, so I can order in restaurants." It was scary and hard still, but suddenly possible in a way it hadn't been before. Now I give technical talks in high pressure professional situations and make phone calls without thinking about it.
posted by congen at 6:32 AM on November 22, 2016 [14 favorites]

School counseling is generally short-term. Consider looking for a therapist who specializes in anxiety in children & adolescents.

There's a link on my profile page for the Psychology Today find-a-provider tool, which lets you sort by specialty and insurance and a whole bunch of things. Feel free to MeMail me if you have questions - I grew up in the city indicated in your profile, and I'm a licensed counselor.
posted by catlet at 12:28 PM on November 22, 2016

I just want to offer a small word of caution about congen's approach. My story was very similar, with my Mom saying how my shyness and anxiety would just naturally start to go away as I got older. But in my case that didn't happen, and it took until my late 20's for me to actually address my social anxiety with therapy and medication. Within a few months I was feeling much happier and healthier, and I now look back on what turned out to be years of struggling with anxiety and depression as largely wasted time waiting for things to get better.

So while it does seem to be very common for kids to grow out of social anxiety at that age, there certainly are cases where a more involved approach would be more beneficial. I don't think it would hurt to talk this over with a therapist who is in a better position to know what's best for your daughter.
posted by parallellines at 1:15 PM on November 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thanks again for all of the thoughtful responses. I've marked a best answer, but I've learned from everyone.

My parenting style is very much dependent upon my ability to understand where she's at. Your answers are very illuminating in that sense, esp. those of you who were like her. I was an adult before I worked through my own difficulties, and I am keen on helping her get there sooner.

Thanks again,
posted by valentinepig at 4:00 PM on November 22, 2016

For anyone reading this, here's an update: I read up on CBT techniques and worked some subtle situations into daily life that required her to take action. They were low risk, but not to her. She responded well and has been ramping up her 'risk-taking'. For instance, today she lit a fire in the fireplace for the first time. That's a yuuge step forward.

Additionally, I did some listening to her and realized that she was feeling very self-conscious about her helmet, which didn't match the team. 75 bucks and a few challenging situations later, her involvement on-ice and in life have been significant. She actually leveled two different boys on the ice in last week's game (it's no checking, full contact at their age).

The most rewarding part of my life at this point is watching my daughter find her strength and assert herself in the world.

Thanks again everyone. This was as helpful for me as it was for her. Two weeks and everything's changed!
posted by valentinepig at 11:20 AM on December 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

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