Everyday, parents choose teams they hope will give their kids the best experience. Before you choose yours – read this.
I vividly remember the day the uniform for your first team came in a plastic bag with your name written in red sharpie on the outside. You ran upstairs, making those sounds that only a young girl makes when something exciting has just happened. You came thumping back down the stairs with a beaming white, brand new jersey and a number you would wear for years to come proudly, with it’s fresh screen-printing on the front and back.
The shopping bag still sat by the door, the one with the brand new cleats that would give you your first blister on your heel. The one with the socks that would never stay up, the mouth guard that you would be soaking in hot water later only to lose it on the field at your first practice.
Your new water bottle sat ready to be filled by the sink. You filled it up 3 days early and showed your disappointment when you realized the ice had melted when practice day came around. I snapped a picture to capture the big toothy grin, the one that I keep framed on the fireplace mantle because it’s pure joy, the kind you feel when you only see the upside of the new experience headed your way. You saw nothing but fun, a game, your friends, something new to master, excitement.
“Mom! Look what I can do!” you would shout repeatedly over the course of your sports playing with each new skill and cool trick you acquired.
But you can’t see the tears that are ahead, because you don’t know about that part. You can’t see that coach that’s going to yell at you when you misunderstand the directions, sending you home frustrated and confused. The one that constantly compared you to the other players, that sat you on the bench but never explained why, even before you were tall enough for your feet to touch the ground. You can’t see laps you’ll run for dropping the ball, the days you hate practice becuase it’s not fun, the teammate cliques that will form, the pressure to perform, the talk about colleges, scouts, money, and closing windows. You can’t see those letters coming in to your teammates and friends that will keep you up wondering if you’re the only person not getting offers. The celebrations as your friends commit. The stress that takes over your life as you become obsessed with what college would possibly want you.
You can’t see the day that the bright white uniform you just bounded down the steps so proudly wearing, has been covered in the colors of sweat and grass, grown several sizes along with you, been a source of joy but a source of so much pressure, frustration and pain. You can’t see the day you take off that uniform and that number, for the last time and throw it in the back of your closet. The same uniform I find when you leave for college, still balled up, forgotten about. The same uniform that became your entire world, leaving you no time for much else.
You can’t see what’s coming, but the team you’re about to join, the one I picked out for you because it is one of the best, because it’s coaches and directors proudly boast a winning record, top college scout attention, and elite status so that you can have the best opportunities in life, is not interested in that big toothy grin that you wore when you started to play. They won’t remember your name when you’re gone, because they will have moved on to their next prospect, their next possible bragging right to promote themselves and their success. They aren’t worried about building your confidence, growing your ability to overcome conflict, protecting your tender heart or your vulnerable spirit. They aren’t interested in developing you to your potential because they don’t have time for that, when a business is being run. They want to seek out the best of the best, the natural ability that will get them the most attention and the highest level of respect to attract more players with the least amount of time and work. Your potential won’t be important, only what you deliver from your own drive and ability, and you’ll never learn how to do that, you’ll spend most of your time confused and frustrated. What you could have been, likely passed you by, written off by your evaluated ability before you even finished growing and figuring out how to coordinate your body. The memories you could have built that would fuel your love of competition instead of your disdain for it, never happened.
I signed you up for that local program originally, but I let the voices around me tell me that I was ruining your chances to have opportunities. That program was just for fun, those kids would never get “seen.” That you had to be on the best of the best or you’d be left behind. So we gave up our summers, our vacations and put all of our extra money into that team, because it was your best chance, or that’s what everyone was telling us. We drilled, practiced, threatened, over scheduled, hired trainers, committed to off season practices and leagues until it filled your calendar. The coaches never seemed satisfied, we were never doing enough. We saw that smile start to fade, that toothy smile that had been replaced with braces and then a teenage beauty who wasn’t smiling when she put on that uniform quite the same anymore. It would be worth it we told ourselves, it would pay off, it would open doors. You were learning the important life lessons that sports teach you, that’s what everyone says. I believed it, the struggle would make you tougher and that was good, right?
Dear daughter, I messed up. Sports don’t teach you life lessons. Good coaches do. Elite teams don’t open doors. Your drive to find the things you love and passionately pursue them does. Chasing one thing and specializing in it before you’ve explored doesn’t help you reach your potential. Being well rounded and trying many things to find your strengths does. Being cared for, developed, patiently taught, and feeling a part of something doesn’t make you weak, it makes you confident and protects your love of the game and your love for yourself.
Don’t search for the best, the most respected, the most famous or well known, the titles, the awards, the flashy attention getters. Instead, search for the fit that aligns with your heart, your values. A place where you are appreciated and valued for who you are and how you care for others, not for what you can bring to someone else’s ego. Find a place that makes you better, is invested in your success, celebrates with you, and pushes you respectfully to grow becuase they believe in YOU.
Dear Daughter, don’t ever keep up with the Jonses. The path to the Jonses is crowded and unhappy. Find your own path, keep up with your dreams, not the world’s expectations.
Note to readers: There are many choices out there. Some great teams and some not so great. Watch that team play, see the coach interact with their players, officials etc. Watch a practice. This person will be an inner voice your kid hears for years to come. Choose the best fit and don’t be sold by promises of opportunity or exposure. Choose an experience, not just a team. 🙂
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