As youth sports have progressed to the specialized, advanced levels of today, I’m pretty sure parents’ hopes and expectations have ramped up right alongside them.
I’m the parent of an athlete and I’m guilty.
I can remember watching my son’s first attempts at baseball and also basketball. During those early years, other parents and I shared many laughs as we watched our kids attempt new skills — chock full of awkward moments, falls, fails and an abundance of cuteness. At that point, I doubt any of us thought much about their future in sports. It was about learning basics and fundamentals.
As they advanced through the ranks of midget leagues and little leagues, we bought whatever equipment they needed and made sure they got to practices and games. We photographed their achievements and beamed with pride as they made all-star teams and amassed trophies.
The competition increased as they aged, and we could see which kids had talent, who worked hard, and discern those with heart. In my case, I could see the belief in my son’s eyes when he uttered the words, “I want to play in the major leagues” and chose catcher because, it was “the fastest way to the bigs.”
As his experience grew as a baseball player, so did his ability. I loved watching him play as much as he loved the game. I logged many hours in cold, rain, wind and blistering sun. Being there showed my support, and the more I saw, the more I believed maybe he was big enough for that gargantuan dream after all. His dream became my dream.
There were heartbreaks along the way. Lots of them. There is crying in baseball, just as there is in all sports. Tears happen for the passionate and youth sports has it all: drama, sacrifice, elation, hardships, big plays, unfairness and lucky breaks.
There were also memories for the history books: big wins, grand slams, hard fought victories, good teams, and coaches who were perfect for that period in my kid’s life.
As my kid progressed, we searched for tools to help him advance: clinics, travel teams, special tournaments, better equipment, anything within reason. But in the year-round, specialized sports environment, it was a challenge. How far were we willing to travel? How much were we willing to spend? To what lengths were we willing to go to help him succeed?
Not to mention, was he still enjoying this? Did he want to spend his free time doing only this sport? Was this smart or crazy? If he makes the MLB, then smart. If he doesn’t, will he have any regrets?
Big dreams have a price, but they are exciting and compelling. My son is still in the fight for his dream, and how it ends up will be anyone’s guess.
Right now, I’m thinking about how I, like other parents, are feeling that excitement and stress over our kid’s athletic season. There is a hope that exists with each new season for athletes and parents. The athlete has done whatever work they can to prepare. They hope for the starting spot. They pray for greatness. They dream of being all they can be and making a solid contribution.
No kid wants to “ride the pine.” They all dream of being a starter. But as hard as it is for kids to accept when they don’t get those coveted spots, the parents also struggle to understand and comprehend those decisions. In our hearts, our kids are deserving. Anything else is an insult, a travesty, a heartbreak. I can fault no parent for thinking their kid is the best.
Sometimes our kids have a great season and others, they fall short. No one is perfect. As parents, we are there for it all. We hold our breath when it’s our kid’s turn to make a clutch play and we exhale when it goes well. We are there afterwards to give congratulatory or consolation hugs — and whatever appraisal we can to help them succeed. We are always in their corner and looking at the bigger picture.
Some kids quit sports or give up on their dream. Some continue to fight for it. Only a smattering will advance, the field getting narrower the older they get.
As parents, we have no way of knowing how a kid’s athletic efforts will end, just that for most, it will before their aspirations are fully realized. That heartbreak is a bit gut-wrenching but in the larger scheme, we know life is filled with many dreams — and theirs for the taking. So we may shed a few tears, but the final score is really about what kind of young men and women they’ve become. And if we’ve done our jobs, then we’ll be ready if the fat lady sings.
This column appeared in The Journal on Sunday, March 12, 2017.
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