Sports are in my blood: I grew up playing sports. Every kind of sport popular in America: basketball, softball, swimming, volleyball, soccer. You name it, I played it, whether it was on my parents front lawn or the high school soccer field. I can count on one hand the number of my games my parents attended, and there wasn’t a single time my parents talked to one of my coaches, on or off the field, about their goals for my performance. I never knew whether or not I was getting adequate playing time, or whether or not my coaches were doing their job to my parents satisfaction, because the truth is: my parents didn’t care.
They loved me, but they weren’t invested in my athletic success.
It was a different era, 20+ years ago, but even in high school, there was seldom a parent on any of my sports teams who pulled a coach aside to talk about expectations. The ones who did were all crazy, and everyone rolled their eyes behind their backs.
Things are very different now. Professional level sports injuries are showing up in elementary school aged kids. Kids are dropping out of sports before they even turn 12 because it isn’t fun anymore, and all their free time is taken up in sports or sports related activities like physical therapy and cross training.
I have two competitive athlete children, so I speak from a place of understanding. My son swims between 10-12 hours a week, training with a very competitive club team we’ve been with for 4 years. My daughter swam on the same team for 2 years before she realized the long hours of training and competitiveness were driving her crazy. Now she swims for her high school team, which is fun and friends, and swimming for the love of swimming. My son is still very competitive on his club swim team; in fact, he’s consistently one of the fastest swimmers in the state for his age group, and it’s a constant, never-ending balance with him to make sure swimming stays about the sport itself and not just success.
Because here’s a truth I’ve come to know:
Your kid isn’t going to the Olympics.
Really. And neither is mine. And that’s totally okay. More than okay. Because really, going to the Olympics isn’t the point. The reason we spend so much time and effort and money on our club swim team isn’t to win, it’s to teach my son things only sports can teach:
- It’s okay to lose – figuring out how to lose graciously is the whole point of life
- Character matters
- Accomplishment takes really hard work – day in, and day out
- Showing up is 3/4 of the battle
- Being a good team player is a learned, hugely useful life skill
- Small victories are worth the hard work
- Being physically fit makes life easier in and out of the pool
So, for the love, please don’t be the parents I see every time we go to a swim meet. Don’t be the screaming, crying, fist-shaking, coach-harassing, aggressive, micromanaging, neurotic parents on sports fields everywhere. This isn’t about you. In fact, your kid’s success or failure at sports has almost nothing to do with you. Stand back and support, show up, feed, clothe, love your kid, and leave the rest to them.