Sideline Headaches

Photo by Sandro Schuh on Unsplash

When I finished the rough draft for this post, I went to look for other posts I’ve written on youth sports and realized I’ve already written three. Here, here, and here. I considered pivoting and writing about one of the many painful plot points in a writer’s journey, but decided I would feel better if I got this off my chest. So here’s the original rant for your reading pleasure. I’ll save the agony of writing for the next post.

Fall soccer season is almost over and I couldn’t be happier. I need a break. Not from the non-stop driving to practices, the lost uniforms, or the chronic misplacement of water bottles. Nope. What I need a break from is some of the “fans.” Some of the people who are hanging out on the sidelines with me – mostly parents and grandparents – from both teams. It’s their constant shouting at children from our camping chairs that has me wanting to bring a roll of duct tape to the games and use it with reckless abandon. Here are the two things I heard coming out of grown adults’ mouths most often this season:

  1. “That was your ball, Joe!”

This is usually yelled after some poor kid made a mistake or just got beat to the ball by an opponent. Um, Joe knows it was his ball. He’s quite aware that the other kid beat him to it or kicked it away from him…but I’m sure he’s sooooo happy to have his parent pointing it out to him in front of his teammates and the people/strangers on the sidelines. In the middle of the freaking game. Great thinking.

  • “You gotta get there faster, Tom!”

I love this one because it usually comes from a parent or grandparent who couldn’t run up and down the field one time without having a cardiac event. Tom’s well aware he got beat. Having an adult shout at him about it is definitely going to make him faster next time. (Insert eye roll.)

What are we thinking?! Do we think this sort of public correcting or chastising in the middle of a game is going to motivate our kid? It’s not! They aren’t going to want to play anymore if we suck the fun out of the game…because this is supposed to be fun, right?

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Your “Why” for Sports


Photo by Guillermo Diaz Mier y Terán on Unsplash

I was text-fishing for ideas for this week’s blog post, and one friend texted back: “the pressure some parents put on kids to overachieve at EVERYTHING”. I put that on the list of possible topics. Then, I had a parking lot experience with another mom I’d never met, which I have found, can be some of the most honest, desperate, thirty second conversations.

I was leaving swimming lessons with my youngest. He’s a little overconfident in the water and I thought the lessons may keep us from drowning this summer. Anyway, I’m about to get in my car, but there’s a mom with her car door open next to mine. She’s telling a little person, “Please stop throwing this.” She hands something back and shuts the door, noticing me.

“Sorry, we finished class half an hour ago and I’m just now getting into my car!” I can’t help but laugh. I say, “I’m laughing because I remember.”

From there, she starts to ask me questions about swim lessons. My son is going every day for one week. She laments that they only have once-a-week classes for her son. I ask, “How old is he?” as I finally peek into her car.

“He’s almost one.”

Okay, so then I understood why she was freaking out. He’s her first. She doesn’t want to screw up. She doesn’t want to miss out or have him miss out.

She went on to tell me that grandma was going to pay for extra lessons if she wanted them. At this point I really just wanted to drive this frantic woman home and bake her a giant batch of brownies. She was so stressed about swimming lessons. For her one-year-old. And I get it. I remember.

I say, “Does he like the water?”

“Yes.”

“Then you’re all set.”

 And she was so relieved.  

She seemed like a super-competent, smart lady, but she needed to hear from me, a perfect stranger who could be an ax murderer and the worst mom ever, that she wasn’t messing up. And who knows how long she was relieved. She might have gone right back to worrying as she drove away.

My mind kept coming back to her and my friend’s text. What is it that is driving so many parents to have this intense FOMU – Fear of Messing Up. I know parents of all generations had fears and desires for their children’s future, but I feel like it’s at a new level thanks to social media, stacks of parenting books (I have them all), and the myriad of athletic and academic opportunities our kids have.

I think the FOMU feeds the focus parents have on their kids achieving in everything. For example: 

If Joey don’t make this team, he won’t be on the right path to make the next level club team and he’ll miss out on skills, and he’ll never be able to make the high school team, so there’s no way he’ll ever get a scholarship, and…and…and…he has to make this team! We have to get Joey a few private lessons! We won’t be good parents if we don’t do this for him.

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Calming Calendar Chaos

We’ve almost made it to October and in my little part of the Midwest we’ve actually had decent weather for sideline sitting so far. And we’ve been doing a lot of sideline sitting! I wrote about keeping perspective on your kiddos and sports here. Today I thought I’d write about how we determine priorities when we have schedule conflicts and how we try to maintain sanity with three boys who are all involved in sports year round.

Some days, the dropping off and picking up for practices can be a little hectic and I have to remind myself why do sports. (They love the activity, it teaches them teamwork and how to take direction from coaches, it helps them with time management, they build friendships, learn how to handle losses, etc.) I’m pretty sure sports could overrun our lives, though, if I didn’t set a few ground rules.

The first ground rule is to follow our family priority list. I read somewhere the importance of making a priority list for your family. (And honestly, I can’t remember where, but if you’ve heard this before, please let me know and I will give proper credit!) You don’t have to hang the list on the wall in some fancy Pinterest frame, but you do have to talk about it with your kids and explain your reasoning. And no, I didn’t get my kids’ input on it. We’re not a democracy. We’re a benevolent monarchy…So, our family’s list looks like this:

  1. God
  2. Family
  3. School
  4. Sports

When there’s a schedule conflict, we hold it up to this list. For example, for some reason, Sunday mornings are no longer off-limits for meets and practices. This annoys me. Anyway, if a Sunday meet or practice shows up on the calendar, we hold it up to the list. Is it higher in importance than their Sunday School class? Nope. So they don’t go to the meet or practice. Here’s how it’s helpful: we are being consistent with our priorities as a family. If I had to make a decision every time we had a schedule conflict, there would be so much whining, arguing, and inconsistency. When I use this list, I’m not making a decision. We are just observing where things fall on the priority list and proceeding accordingly. I don’t think I could handle having to make the call every time.

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I Love to Watch You Play

I have three busy boys who love sports. I spend an inordinate amount of time looking for uniforms, wrestling shin guards from the dog, driving to practices, and washing uniforms. My oldest is almost fourteen, and he started playing rec soccer when he was three – just the fun stuff where the kids all chase the ball up and down the field in a clump. So I have about ten years’ worth of observations on this crazed life we call organized sports. It doesn’t make me an expert, but it does give me some perspective. This post is for the mamas who are, or who will soon be, driving around minivans full of sports equipment and stinky kids.

I had more than one kindergarten mom come up to me this year and basically apologize for their kids’ lack of coordination and knowledge of the game. “I’m not sure this is going to be Evan’s thing.” “We’re going to help him practice at home.”  I was the coach’s wife (for basketball and soccer season), so I guess I’m the person who absolves all uncoordinated children and children who kick the ball into the other team’s net? The fact that a mom felt like she had to apologize for her precious little kiddo made me sad! It also made me remember what it was like with my oldest.

Wait.

Did I apologize for him?

I’m thinking I probably did. When it’s your first kid to venture into sports, you have no perspective. You don’t have the big picture yet. Kindergarten is the pinnacle of your parenting at that moment and you have no idea what lays ahead. You can’t. So, if your kid isn’t dribbling down the court and making every shot, does that mean she isn’t good at sports? Should you stop signing him up for teams? No, no, no!

The Big Picture

First, our children’s athletic accomplishments are not a reflection of their value as human beings. It’s crazy that I even have to say that, but this fact gets lost – fast – in the world of teams and games. In fact, the world is going to give them the opposite message: You win, you have more value. I think we have to be on guard against our kids internalizing this message, especially the little ones.

So, if you are sending your five-year-old out onto the field for the first time, remember:

  1. Your kid has been alive for less than 2,000 days. In that time, she has learned to walk, talk, and probably even read a little! And now, you are sending her out to learn new skills, in front of an audience. Be patient. Be supportive. She’s not going to master all the skills for this sport in one season. She may never master them! You’re there to have fun, right?
  2. There have been studies done asking collegiate athletes what helpful things their parents said to them after a game. One of the tops statements?

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