I remember before my kids were born, someone told me having children was like living with your heart outside your body. But it’s much more than that. Having a child, means that the very wind beneath your wings, the breath from your lungs, the blood from your heart and soul – can at any moment be taken from you, when you feel your child’s pain or sorrow or heartbreak.
So it’s understandable why we are all crazy freak sport parents.
But what we sometimes do not see, is that even though our intentions are good and pure, that our intentions for our children are always to give them the best of everything, the best life, the best hope for the future – that it is often US that hurts our children.
Youth sports and families involved heavily in youth sports, get taken for a long ride that lasts the better part of childhood. And during this road, the adults can see clearly the road ahead, they know about the bends and curves of life, they see how important the future is, understand how to navigate, and know what missed chances and opportunities feel like.
This fuels us to drive our children – harder, faster, younger!
And our kids, wanting only to please us, and trusting us so completely hop in the back seat and come along happily for the ride.
What parents often fail to see is that the child at 13 is different from the child at 9. And that the child at 16 is even more different from the child at 13. And by 17, 18 or 19 – that child of ours may be unrecognizable to the child they were in the past.
And that just like going to church every Sunday, or meatless Friday night dinners, or spending the 4th of July at the lakehouse, or chopping down a Christmas tree every year at tree farm become part of the ‘family tradition’ – so does the involvement of the sports our children play.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Except for that at some point, the child is the one that has to make the decision.
We hear it all the time. My daughter loves to play, she loves ball so much she will never give it up, my daughter wants to play in college, my daughter is going D1, my daughter is going to this camp and that camp and this college and that college for a visit. All my daughter dreams about is playing softball, my daughter could never give this up, my daughter is on her way to a bright future.
But these are choices they made from the backseat of childhood, while we were driving the car.
They are choices they made because they follow the tradition of the family. And they are so often choices that they stick with, because they see how much time and money mom and dad have invested over the years, and how much mom and dad enjoy watching her play, and because they have been raised with all the talk and chatter about what lies around every curve that is ahead of them, and because they know how sad we would feel if they told us their heart wasn’t in it, or they wanted to take a break, or they just wanted to play on a team with their friends for a while.
And we also hear from YOUR kids on Instagram, Facebook and through messenger, and emails – asking us how they can tell their parents that they don’t want to play, or that they want mom and dad to back off, or that mom and dad are stealing the joy from the game for them or that they are afraid of disappointing their parents by being honest. We hear YOUR kids telling us that they feel bad about all the money spent on pitching lessons or hitting lessons.
Let’s be real. These are kids. They don’t know what they really want in life – how could they when they have experienced so little?
They do know what mom and dad want for them. They know what they are supposed to want. And they WANT most of all, to please their parents and make them proud. All these years they have been riding in the backseat listening to the plans and feeling excited about and for things in their future, that they really don’t even understand yet. But we tell them its the right thing to do. We tell them its the way to go. We show them how to get there. We tell them that we believe in them, and THEY TRUST US!
And since the last thing they want to do is disappoint their parents, or to let anyone down – they stay on the journey playing for everyone but themselves. They are along for the ride. They see how happy the scenery makes us, so they assume it should make them happy too.
Because the reality is, out of everything they have learned, that is the one thing that is often never taught. That they have to do, and it is okay to do, and we as parents are HAPPY for them to do what is right for them!
That the only one they have to impress on that field is themselves. That all those years of them riding in the backseat mean nothing to us if our daughter is not happy. That her unhappiness hurts us and makes us bleed and loose the air out of the same lungs we use to cheer her on. That she has a choice.
For so many of these girls, the game is really about having fun and enjoying themselves and their teammates. There comes a point when we have to let that little girl play for HERSELF, and not for the dreams and expectations and plans that WE have made along the way.
This time, this thing called childhood – is fleeting. And it belongs to HER, with our gentle guidance of course, teaching her and allowing her, and telling her that it is OKAY to at some point take the wheel.
Make sure she knows you are proud no matter what. Give her the power to make her own choices. Stop living your dreams through her. Stop worrying what others will think if she doesn’t make it to the big time. Quit making so many plans, and just enjoy the moments watching her play.
Make sure she knows that the real plan, what makes you the happiest, is seeing her happy – no matter how or where she gets that happiness from. And that all these years, what it has really been about is spending time together and LOVE.