It is difficult to give parenting advice when you are in the thick of parenting. I fear the jinx, bad karma, or just looking really stupid when things blow up.
Boywonder, however, has reached that age where he is actually 18 and done with some things. In these cases, I feel marginally safer giving advice. I have the benefit of hindsight and knowing how it all turned out.
Pee-wee to senior
Boywonder started playing youth sports when he was 5 years old. He played consistently, through pee-wee, middle school, youth and high school.
One moment, I was grabbing a small boy by a chubby, sweaty hand. Tying his cleats. Pulling up socks. Handing out orange slices and juice boxes. The next, I am standing on the sidelines of a final high school game while a tall, handsome young man slings his bag over his shoulder one more time and walks, in stunned silence, toward the sidelines for the very last time.
He would walk first to his girl. It is time for even the most involved mama to know how to play her position. Tonight mine is backup. His adorable girlfriend, like family to all of us, hugs him tightly. She eventually leads him across the field to me. He will collapse onto my shoulder in a lengthy hug. His teammates and friends, also like family, are openly sobbing. It is emotional, intense, and it is over.
I have seen my son go from a brand new, never-even-played-the-game, pee-wee player to a competitive player, and tournament MVP. He has earned medals, honors and accolades galore. By the measure of any high school athlete, he is a success.
There is so much to feel, to say and to write about this milestone.
What I feel needs said today, from the perspective of a parent who has truly been through it all, is this: Relax.
To all you parents currently ferrying children to pick-up games, recreational league games, competitive and club teams like their future depends on it: Relax.
When you are sitting on the sidelines getting all worked up over bad calls, bad coaching and bad weather, let me assure you, it doesn’t matter. Not really. Nothing short of child safety really does.
Yes, all those things can lend themselves to child safety. Bad calls and bad coaching can put young athletes at risk, as can bad weather. In my experience, however, that is not why most parents are screaming.
When your child gets a bad call, they learn that sometimes life is hard, unfair, and that even adults and professionals make mistakes. They should learn that life goes on. Sometimes the calls are for you. Sometimes the calls are against you. That is life.
You don’t like the coach? Fine. You won’t always like your teachers, professors or employers either. Work with it. Finish the job. The responsibility. The season.
From even the worst, you can learn something — if only who you don’t want to be. If a person can’t be a good example, they can serve as a horrible warning.
When you are vying to get your child on the right team, with all the right players: Relax.
If you are smart and lucky, your child will play with players who are better than he or she, and who are weaker, too. Strength, weakness and knowing how to balance them is what makes a team.
When you worry that your special snowflake is not being given his or her due: Relax.
I hope for you that your child is not always the star. It is exhausting, stressful and leaves little room for improvement. Sometimes you need to be mentored in order to grow up to be the kind of player others hope to be mentored by.
Losing is OK
When you are stressing winning above all: Relax.
You should hope and pray your child experiences losing. Winning is ecstasy, but knowing what losing feels like is what builds better sportsmanship, good losers and gracious winners.
Life goes on
Finally, let me give you some advice from a mother who has been there, done that, and bought all the T-shirts: Relax.
There will be good days and bad days. Good games and bad. There will be life lessons and memories and at the end of the game, and the end of the season and someday, at the end of their entire youth sports career, there will be things far valuable than any scholarship. They will clean out the bag, the car and their lockers. They will, God willing, move on to bigger and better things called life.
So today: Relax.
Give more hugs than criticism and learn to say, “I love to watch you play.” after every game.
Do this for the next game and every other game until one day, sooner than you expect, it will be their last.
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