This week is sandwiched by volleyball tournaments and track meets, so it had me thinking about what I’ve learned sitting on the sideline.
We have two kids. Between the two of them, we have tried a lot of sports. In the early years, we did this to keep them active and engaged with other kids. There are parents with different motivations, who see sports as the long term ticket to college or fame (and it can begin as early as three-year-old soccer), but that was never our intent. Along the way, Stephen fell away from sports and Lindsey fell in love with them. She played soccer, then volleyball and lacrosse. Recently, she has narrowed her passion down to volleyball, and Stephen has picked up the individual athletic pursuits of his choosing- sporting clays and track. So we find ourselves, many Saturdays and Sundays, on fields and courts around Georgia. I’ve learned many lessons (some the hard way) as the parent of an athlete, that have made sports-mom-ing a better experience for me and my kids. These may not be true for everyone, but they have proven vitally important in how we treat our kids as they compete in sports.
1. Watch my own child. Don’t be worried about other kids, other parents, referees, the scoreboard- none of that matters. This is one of the few moments in their life when I have no other demands but to cheer for them. My only responsibility is to watch them do a thing they have chosen and trained to do. I often joke that when I was thirteen, I didn’t care about anything as much as Lindsey cares about volleyball. She has given so much of her time to training so she can be valuable to her team. I watch her and I am amazed at her commitment to this sport. I am amazed by her.
Stephen told us when he started high school, he was going to run track in the spring. We were a little surprised because he seemed uninterested in sports when he was in middle school. We don’t know anything about Track & Field, so we put the responsibility of getting involved squarely on him, and he did it. He’s had two meets now, and watching him run might be the proudest I have ever been of him. My pride in him has nothing to do with his performance on the track. I’m proud because he chose this activity and he has followed through with it. He trains every day and has the funniest sense of humor about all of it. When I watch him run, more than any other time in his life thus far, I see the man he is becoming. If you see me in the stands at a meet, I will have the goofiest smile on my face the whole time, because that is my ornery toddler, my strong-willed kid, turning into a self-disciplined young man.
2. Recognize it’s a season. When I say that, I don’t just mean a spring or fall season, but a season of their life. This will end. One day they will walk away, and hopefully it’s with fond memories. I can help facilitate that by keeping it in its proper context. The sport does not define my child. Their success or position on a team will never be the deciding factor in a happy life. Not one person on their deathbed looks at their life with regret because they weren’t the starting first baseman on their high school baseball team.
It’s just a season. A few pages in the scrapbook of their life. Enjoy it and treasure it for what it is. One day I will miss all of this: watching them compete, the wins and losses, their growth mentally and physically at the sport, even the crazy schedule we keep- AM wave tournaments in a city 2 hours from home or splitting time at a track and a gym on Saturdays. I will miss the good, the bad, and the crazy, but there will be many other rewarding seasons in their lives. The best is still to come. Hold on loosely.
3. They will learn life lessons on the field or court. The learning won’t all be rules and strategy and situational play. Don’t get in the way of the life lessons. Don’t run interference for them. It’s hard to be a bystander when I see adversity or pain coming my child’s way, but sometimes the road they are called to in life will require wisdom gleaned from what they learned competing or in team dynamics. Those lessons don’t always congeal right away. Character building takes time and distance and that space is fertile ground for bitterness to grow. Don’t be bitter. Trust timing and perspective to bring wisdom and peace. No matter how long that takes, believe this experience will make them stronger.
4. Coach them how to manage their feelings and perceptions. What I know strategically about the game of volleyball or the conditioning needed to run 800 meters could be written on the head of a pin. I don’t coach my kids, because I have the dumbs when it comes to their sports. I also pay a billion dollars for them to play and so I assume their coaches are being compensated to do the heavy lifting. The pressure is off me to break down technique. What I can coach them on are their feelings about what happened. Their perspective at this age tends to be a bit inward focused, so having conversations where we can look at things from a different angle are so valuable. I’m not running any interference on the life lessons, I’m just helping them frame things in the proper context.
These are my Sports Mom lessons learned, so take that as you will. They may not be for everyone. I have seen plenty of parents coach their children from the sideline so maybe that yields the results they desire. It’s just not my business. These are the boundaries that work for us. This is the place where we can appreciate the value of sports in our kids’ lives and also enjoy the balance of family, school, rest, and play.
We’re playing by these rules. If we play this right, they succeed at life. That matters more than any game.