I am preparing for Boywonder’s High School Graduation party.
By “preparing” I mean the party is tomorrow and I have nothing ready decor-wise beyond what the school sent home. Thank you, Athletic Boosters and Guidance Counselor, for the certificates, flag and senior banner. You basically just decorated for his party. Bless you.
As I pore over the scrapbooks of years past, a bright-eyed, sometimes gap-toothed, boy smiles back at me. In photos, he grows from a shaggy-haired brown eyed cherub to a tall, brown eyed handsome young man. He excelled in many things, if I do say so myself. Academic, athletics, Eagle Scout, hard worker and all-around good guy.
The memorabilia and moments will be hauled out and put on display. I’m proud of this boy. Among all of it, his chosen sport has been a constant since he was five years old. Jerseys in sizes from youth small to adult large are laid out. Tiny cleats once so small they fit neatly in my hand. Now size 11s that will trip me if left anywhere near the door.
My son went from an adorable pee wee player stumbling around the field to a four-year varsity letter winner, regional award recipient, team captain who fielded offers to play in college.
With all his achievements I am rarely asked to advise on academics and scouting. A common question among friends parenting their own young athletes is “how did you create a strong athlete?”
My answer? I didn’t.
I played sideline, lawn chair and paparazzi for 15 years. My job was to get his physical. Get him to practice, teach him to respect the coach, to dust himself off and get back in the game and to treat opponents and teammates with respect.
Most importantly, the core of my position and my place on the “team” was, win or lose, to say “I love to watch you play” after each and every game.
Our son, on the other hand, earned his position. He worked hard. Worked out. He became a leader. He had an amazing, some would say glorious, time being a student athlete. Some of his best memories were undoubtedly made on the field. He went to district awards.
Colleges came sniffing around. By all accounts even without “mommy goggles,” our son is a student athlete who “made it.”
As a result, I’m going to share what I think needs to be said to those parents coming up in the ranks behind me. I know what it is to want a child who excelled at sports. It’s normal to want awards, credit, kudos and a varsity letter.
My number one piece of parenting advice: be quiet and let them lose. Let them lose their need to put their comfort first.
Sometimes he didn’t feel like going to practice. It was cold, hot, or wet, he went anyway.
You don’t catch a cold from being cold and you won’t melt if you get wet.
Let them lose the “winning is everything” and “second place is the first loser” mentality.
Sometimes he didn’t feel like going to games — even tournaments. We drove hours and booked hotel rooms to play games for “experience.”
We knew going in that we were literally out of our league and likely to lose every game for two days straight. His team needed him. He went anyway.
Let them lose their gear and forget to wash their own uniform. Let them wear it dirty or scramble to borrow from a friend.
They’ll learn to be responsible and plan ahead. Let them lose their sense of entitlement.
I don’t care if you are the top scorer, MVP, athlete most likely to win it all, none of us are better than someone else.
Allowing any child to grow to adulthood thinking that prowess at sports makes them untouchable makes them uncoachable. It also, quite frankly, makes them dangerous. Let them lose their temper – for about five minutes.
My kids are allowed a few minutes to vent privately at home post game. They then have to focus on something positive.
Every game has something to teach us. If not, why play?
Struggling to come up with something positive, Boywonder once grudgingly admitted that he didn’t hate the other team’s colors.
It’s a start.
Finally, let them lose the fear of letting you down. Most young athletes if asked will say that they most want to impress their parents, then the coach, in that order.
I know the temptation well to shout, to scream, coax them loudly through every play. I’m sure I’ve succumbed to it from time to time. Yet somewhere in the yelling is the sound of young people who are supposed to be learning sportsmanship, teamwork and having fun.
Sometimes that’s hard to hear over all the yelling.
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