Among the different hats I wear, I’ve spent the last 12 years as a sports mom. Over the years, soccer, football, cross country, track, basketball, lacrosse, and one brief season of T-ball (which ended quickly when Mark couldn’t understand why everyone got to be at bat even after 3 outs) have been on our calendar. We’ve been involved in casual, recreational teams and ultra competitive, traveling teams.
So, as we come to our last 8 weeks as the parents of a student athlete, I offer 3 front line observations:
1. Every child is different.
Most parents are loyal to their “sports position,” dependent upon whether their child is involved in athletics or not. That makes sense. We all have to justify the decisions we’ve made in the realm of athletics… and every other parenting decision. To sit in judgment of another parent who may have a child wired very differently from yours is never a winning approach.
If you’ve ever read James Dobson’s early works on how school isn’t designed for boys, you might have some context as to why athletics becomes a positive outlet for some children. My son has always been big for his age… and talkative. That’s a challenging combination in a classroom. At the age of 6, Mark was interested in playing tackle football. Did he feel young for that? Yes, but we were grateful to have this positive experience to make up for the challenges of trying to sit still in a classroom.
Last night, as we watched Mark’s game, we were reflecting on the speed of one of the opposing players. Every child has a gift. For some, it’s to sing. For others, it’s to run. If you do “that thing,” there’s no sweeter place to be than living in your giftedness.
2. Your children will spend their time doing something.
In a day when we are all too hurried, we’d all be wise to help our children learn to pace themselves and learn what it means to rest. In the same breath, every child needs healthy outlets. Any extracurricular opportunity can be healthy or unhealthy. When I stopped playing soccer in the 9th grade, my interest shifted to television and running a high school theater box office. I was more out of balance than most athletes in that particular extracurricular activity.
Your child needs some outlet outside of school that will allow them to use their time in a healthy manner and guard them from the temptations that come with idle time… whether that’s a sport, an instrument, a language, or serving the community. The temptations of a cell phone alone should help us realize that too much unstructured time can be more detrimental than a busy sports schedule. In the same breath, I’d give caution to a young family getting too serious about the few sports that consistently disrupt a family’s participation in church.
3. A coach makes it or breaks it.
I’ve seen the coach who punches his own son in a huddle for missing a play and the coach who breathes confidence into a young player. It’s all out there. But there are few things sweeter than a coach who understands his or her role to raise boys or girls into men or women of character. They just happen to use a sport as a vehicle to this greater end. There’s no doubt Mark has learned how to persevere and lead, and how to deal with adversity, and with being the bench warmer, and the starter. And Annika’s last season of lacrosse was marked by the absolute intentionality of the coaches to build up and challenge each young woman to grow beyond her perceived limits.
If I had to do it all over again, I would. Are there some things I’d change? Yes, a few… but even in the tough things, we used the situations to teach our children. Cheer your babies on in whatever arena they have a passion… the days go fast!