“Is your son doing travel soccer, too?”

It was 2014. I was standing in a packed crowd of parents and caregivers in the lobby of my twins’ school, waiting for them to be dismissed. From first grade. 

“No, he isn’t, actually.”

“Is he on any travel teams? What sports does he play?”

Travel teams? Sports teams? I could barely get the kid to tie his shoes. My son was (and is) athletic. But he hadn’t shown an outsized interest in one particular sport. And I’d never been a fan of specialization at an early age.  I signed my son up for new things all the time just to give him exposure. By middle school, he had seemingly tried every sport under the sun: fencing, golf, hockey, baseball, flag football, lacrosse, swimming, tennis, rugby, basketball, soccer, more. He’d taken piano lessons, bass guitar, robotics. And yet, at that pick-up moment, all I felt was intensely ashamed. Maybe I’d missed the boat on travel soccer. Had I ruined my son’s life forever? At age seven?! Was this…. it?!

No. It wasn’t. I’ve realized now as a (weary) mother of four that you can’t be “behind” in a sport when you’re a child. If you miss the boat for one sport, hop on a different one. The ocean is big. 

My son is almost 15 years old now. He’s an athlete. He knows what sports he loves and chooses them himself. (Admittedly, I did pressure him to take tennis lessons for a while but those ended up leading me to my second husband, so I’m not that upset about it. Read more about that in my upcoming memoir, Bookends: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Literature.) My son continues to try new sports, though, not siloed into one area. 

He called home from boarding school last year and said, “I think I might try water polo.”

“Great! Go for it!”

He isn’t afraid to try new things, which is the best thing of all. Even though he only did water polo for one day.

Will he be an Olympic athlete? Never say never. But is he adept at many sports now that he has been exposed to them? Yes. 

Whether it’s sports or acting or dancing or singing, I don’t believe it’s ever too late.

In my new children’s book Princess Charming, which comes out April 19th, a girl struggles to find her thing. Hip-hop? Baking? Cartwheels? She’s not a natural. In the end she realizes that her “thing” is that she doesn’t give up. The book is my way of shouting from the rooftops: not everyone has a thing! And not everyone should.

I’m 45 years old and I only just found my “thing” in 2018 when I turned on a microphone and launched a podcast interviewing authors: Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books. Who knew I would be good at podcasting and go on to win many awards and be on the top charts for four years now!? I never would’ve discovered podcasting if I hadn’t experimented. If I’d given up early on. If I’d been too stuck in what I knew I was good at to try something different. Mind you, taking up podcasting is easier for a 45-year-old like me to excel in, say, figure skating. 

Kids should be allowed to experiment. To try and fail. They shouldn’t be expected to find their thing at a young age. If they do, good for them! Maybe they really will be an Olympic athlete. But that’s just not the norm. Genetics and talent play a huge role in that outcome. Less than 1% of the U.S. population goes on to play professional sports; only 1 in 250 college athletes will make the cut, according to the NCAA. But too much pressure early on will undoubtedly backfire. Perseverance and experimentation are much more translatable skills than a scissor kick. By the way, none of my son’s classmates who played travel soccer back in first grade are still playing soccer. Princess Charming doesn’t wear cleats. At least, not in this book.