Mia beats player 4

“Your children aren’t coloring books. You don’t get to fill them in with your favorite colors.” ~Dr. Wayne Dyer

Yes we are that family that loves sports, all sports. We love to watch and play sports, we even compete, sometimes too seriously, against each other in our own backyard. But one thing we never forget is to have fun. Some families like to read, play board games, make music or art together. Since we all lack talent pretty much in all those categories, we play. We have fun. So as many times as we’ve watched our kids’ teams win or lose, as frustrating as it may be we remind them that sports should be fun. And more importantly it should be THEIR fun, not OURS.

Years ago we were those sports parents who tried to talk to our kids after practice or a game. Whether the outcome was positive or negative, we felt the need to have a discussion. Looking back, I really think we thought we were being helpful by sharing our insight and talking things through. Turns out we weren’t. Several years back I remember my then 10 year-old glaring at us as we began to discuss a particularly bad game he had. He looked his dad straight in the eyes after he rambled for 10 minutes and said, “How long is this life lesson going to be? I just want to be prepared.” That was about the same time I went to my first youth sports seminar and listened to sports-life coach David Benzel talk about how to be an effective sports parent. I remember sitting there thinking to myself, “Wow, we’re doing everything wrong.”

Things changed in our house for awhile and we didn’t talk so much as submit little bits of wisdom on short car rides or walks with the dog. But we quickly realized the kids didn’t always want to discuss their sports life with us. And then an amazing thing happened. We shut up. And guess what? The kids started coming to us. They suddenly wanted to talk about a practice or game, a bad play they made, frustration over a new drill, confrontation with a teammate, or ideas on how to approach their coach. So we sat and we listened, and we listened. And we bit our tongues…A LOT!

Sadly, not all sports parents learn this lesson early enough, or at all. One night about a year ago I was jogging on the soccer field while our oldest daughter was practicing. I passed a dad yelling at his young son who was all of 8 years-old at the time. The boy had tears streaming down his face. It was dark and all the younger players were already home in bed. Not this little one, he was still there training one-on-one with his dad, getting reamed out in the process. On my 4th lap around the field he was still training and still crying. I smiled at him, but he looked down. My heart broke. He was not having “fun”.

Maybe this kid will be the next Messi or Ronaldo, or maybe he’ll get burned out at 12 and quit. But one important thing hit me that night. Even if that kid makes it big, what kind of relationship will he have with his father? Will they even be speaking when he’s 18? Will he thank his dad in a victory speech after a match? I don’t know.

What I do know is this. Creating a safe environment at home for our kids has been critical. They receive enough feedback, positive and negative from their coaches and peers. They don’t need it repeated from us. And although it’s very, very hard not to step in sometimes, I know their path must be theirs, not ours. So we keep our mouths shut and trust that this is all part of their life plan. And in those tough moments when they aren’t having fun, we know they are still drawing their own picture. So we sit and we cheer them on and try not to connect their dots, highlight what we think is the right choice and allow them to color outside their own lines. Even if the scribbling makes us crazy.

Happy coloring…Dana

Sacrificial Judgement ~ The Life of a Sports Parent

Maxim 37

Sports do not build character, they reveal it. – John Wooden

I think it’s safe to say that every parent at some point or another feels overwhelmed. Every parent questions their decisions, their insane schedule and their family’s sacrifices. All of these statements are especially true for sports parents. I haven’t met a youth sports mom or dad that hasn’t sat down at some point and said to themselves, “Is it really worth it? Why are we doing this?”

We have three children who all play travel soccer. They love the sport and have made wonderful friendships along the way. But as they get older I’d be remiss if I didn’t admit feeling guilty more times than not about the time our family commits to this sport. Particularly because of the judgment I feel from other parents or the kids’ peers along this journey. A month hasn’t gone by that at least one person doesn’t criticize us for spending almost every weekday driving the kids to practices and weekends at soccer games/tournaments, most out-of-town. We are often forced to divide and conquer and although we’ve met many families just like us over the years, we’ve come to realize this is not the norm. And it eats me up sometimes.

I have no idea if we’ll regret the choices we’ve made 10 years from now. But what I do know is our kids are happy and confident. Our kids are healthy. And they are genuinely good, respectful and well-mannered kids. Soccer has taken away most of their social lives with classmates or neighborhood friends, most who don’t include them at parties due to their schedules and some who even make fun of their sport or commitment to it. But they also have teammates/friends we’ve all grown to love and cherish, kids who are just like them, kids who share and support their schedules and who’ve been there for them through ups and downs.

Someone asked me recently if I missed having free weekends or wished I could just stay home and live like a “normal” family. Sure I feel like that sometimes. But for us, this insane schedule is our normal. And as much as I complain about driving all over, staying in two-star hotel chains, cheering from the sidelines in the rain, eating out of a crock pot, wiping tears after a bad game or holding a hand during the pain of an injury, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Part of me loves soccer because it keeps our kids busy and out of trouble, which is especially helpful with two teenagers in the house. Soccer has allowed our family to travel all over the country and even overseas. These trips together as a family have been unforgettable. We’ve met so many wonderful families along the way who I know will be our lifelong friends no matter where and when our roads divide. I love soccer because our kids have been forced to learn to communicate with adults and their peers without our guidance from a very young age. They have good time-management skills in order to get their schoolwork done because they know if their grades drop, so does soccer.

But I love soccer mostly because of what John Wooden said. “Sports do not build character, they reveal it”. It’s great to see one of our kids successful on the field, the moment he or she scores the winning goal, has the perfect assist or earns “MVP” of the match. But what’s more impressive is the character of the people they have become. They have learned to be humble when they win and gracious when they lose. They have learned that hard work eventually breeds success and a strong work ethic will get them far in life. They have learned to communicate with difficult teammates or coaches in tough situations. They have learned life isn’t always fair and not every coach or teammate will like them. Their attitudes on and off the field are a direct reflection of the lessons sports have taught them over the years. The good, the bad and the ugly.

I have no idea how long any of our kids will continue soccer. They could quit tomorrow. And that’s ok. But for today I couldn’t be more thankful for the opportunity each of them have to play this crazy game. So yes…the sacrifice is worth it.