I know you’ve been anxiously awaiting today to come, the first day of your season. I’ve watched your excitement build. I’ve driven you to practices, workouts, and countless stores for gear. I’ve nervously watched you drive off with your newly licensed friends to preseason events. I bought you team logo’d apparel that you proudly wear every chance you get. I wrote the checks for you to play. I’ve seen you work hard, I’ve seen you slack off because there were other things grabbing your attention. I’ve seen your strengths, I know where you struggle.
I see the anxiety of the day behind your eyes and your nervous smile. I know you’re worried about how you will perform, how the other players will like you, how your coach will like you. I know you’re worried if you’ll be in good enough shape to handle what’s expected. I know you’re worried about messing up in front of people, of making mistakes, of letting people down. I know that you love this game, that you play because it’s something you enjoy, the challenge, the team atmosphere, the friendships, the competition. I know that more than anything you want to feel like you have succeeded, that you can master new things, that you can make us proud.
Here’s what you need to know. I’m already proud of you. I already think you’re one of the best. There will be days that you feel like you did nothing right, and when you come home you will find someone who just loves to watch you do your thing, to watch you play. Your teammates and your coach may be hard on you, you may struggle, you may make the wrong choices sometimes, you may fall – repeatedly. You have my support, you have my unending desire to help you figure out how to navigate the sea of ups and downs that come with playing sports. You have my promise that I will listen, that I will love you through whatever comes, but that I won’t allow you to justify poor decisions with excuses or blame.
Your worth does not lie inside of what you do, how you perform, if you win, if you make a certain team, how much playing time you get, or what awards or stats come your way. Those things are for your own goals and ambitions, but are not what makes up a mother’s love. There is no failure on the field that can take that away.
I expect you to work hard, to respect your teammates, coaches, opponents, and officials. To stick up for the ones that cannot stick up for themselves, to help those who struggle and need help, and to hold true to your beliefs no matter what pressures come your way. My hope is that your value will come from living out who you are on the inside, and not from the opinions of your teammates or coaches. That your decisions will be based on character and values and not on emotions or outside influences, and I will be there to help you learn how to do that along the way. Your coaches, teammates, officials, opponents, teachers, classmates, will all have opinions about you. None of those opinions define you, none of those opinions should change who you are.
My hope for you is that at the end of your high school playing career, you’ve built memories, friendships, a love of competition, the tools to overcome and learn from mistakes and defeat, and the drive to reach for something that is outside of your comfort zone. I hope that you bring your incredible, unique personality into the team, to help build the foundation that great teams are made of, and that you never feel like you have to change who you are to make others happy. I hope that at the end of it all, you are glad you played, you remember the friendships and not the scores, and that you move on to the next chapter with anticipation, firm in your other interests, and just a touch of sadness at saying goodbye.
A letter to my former self as a new sports parent:
One day you’re going to get in the car with your kid’s water bottle that he left at home for the last time, that sour shoulder pads and cleat smell coming from the back seat, and the little chunks of dirt that have been knocked loose from muddy cleats all over the once new floor mats. You’re going to climb the stadium stairs one last time, listen to his name announced, watch him take the field and shoot a glance up your way and a little wave. You’re going to hear the last whistle, watch the last half time talk, the last hand shake, eat your last stadium hot dog, shade out that last bright sun beam blocking your view, and then you are going to get in the car and you won’t ever be back again.
Today may be the first time he sits in your lap as you lace up his cleats and then walks onto that field, and he may be terrible, he may be fantastic, he will likely have moments of both, but when it’s all over he’s still that piece of you that you love no matter what.
All I care about now at the end of this journey, is that he had fun, that he has memories that he cherishes rather than ones he hopes to forget. His playing time, lack of college offers that he never cared about or wanted anyway, coaches’ philosophies, club teams, stats – none of it mattered. Not one bit. Don’t waste time keeping up with the joneses of sports parents, just love every.single.second.
When he is small, sports will seem like such a milestone and you will be in a hurry to get him into as much as you can. If he shows promise you may start looking ahead, thinking you are depriving him if you don’t get him the training he deserves. Be ready, because the second it starts the comparison and expectations are instantly out of reach. Don’t miss the fun, don’t miss the laughs, don’t miss the chance to reassure when the tears come, hug him tight, hand him an ice pack when he gets hurt and then send him back out there. And when he wants a break, when he says he misses his friends, respect that request.
Don’t worry about what the coaches are doing, how the team is playing, who should be playing, if they are learning as fast as other teams, if they are a super star, or if they are winning. Just look at them – are they happy? Are they growing and learning and reaching and stepping outside of their comfort zone? Because at the end of their sports experience that’s all that matters. You won’t care about anything else when it’s over.
There are so many things outside of sports that he loves to do, that he is so amazing at. There are so many opportunities that are going to get missed if he is training all the time. He doesn’t want to play in college, that was my destiny, not his. But the things he learned playing sports he will use every day when he leaves for college next year.
Don’t let him forget that he has other talents, to explore as much as possible, to focus on the things he loves but to also constantly try something different just for the experience. Don’t let his self worth become directly tied to his athletic abilities. Don’t let your relationship become coach and player instead of parent and child.
Soak in every moment of every game, absorb the cheers, the goof ups, the missteps, the sometimes less than perfect effort, the sometimes mind blowing plays, the team events, the mud, the smell, the tears, the joy, because one day its going to be over.
You’re going to miss the smell that you think you hate on that drive home from practice, you’re going to miss the constant shuttling to and from practice, volunteer responsibilities and team events, you’re going to miss all the time you spent worrying about team stuff instead of just relaxing and watching him love the game, you’re going to remember those band-aid moments, emergency room visits, got cut from the team and then, years later, the being made captain moments. Hold on tight, and remember why he is playing, never miss an opportunity to experience the complete and total joy you get from just getting to watch him play, because it doesn’t last, and it doesn’t come back.
Kate Leavell is a high school varsity and youth girls' lacrosse coach in Atlanta. A US Lacrosse Coaches Education Program trainer, she is the author of the Coaches Emergency Practice Guide. Read more of her thoughts at kateleavell.com
What is in the water in Baltimore? Lacrosse magic! People used to ask the same thing about fast growing Minnesota lacrosse in the hot bed of Eden Prairie before the surrounding areas caught up. Surely they have some secret the rest of us don't. Maybe if we just push the kids a little harder, start them a little earlier, maybe we can catch up....
Let's look a little deeper into the real reason these hot beds exist- some of them are not even places where the sport has been around all that long. There's more to it than location.
1. Volume. It's simple math- if you have 200 kids to choose from then you have a greater chance of finding natural born athletes.
2. Competition. This goes back to volume, supply and demand. More kids, more competition, more drive to get better and be in the top of a very large pile.
3. Fundamentals as priority focus above and beyond all else and through any means that get the kids excited to work on them. (There's no place like a hot bed to see the most amazing stick tricks!)
Wait a minute- how are they getting the volume when our town is struggling to field a team with kids remotely in the same age group? What's the secret?! Let's take a look at our marketing...
I remember moving to Minnesota and wondering- in a state just getting lacrosse started, how Eden Prairie was churning out division 1 athletes consistently. The answer was found in their youth program. The activities were fun, geared towards what little kids like to do, and filled with a great mix of enthusiastic coaches and young enthusiastic high school players and the little girls ate up every second. People would drive an hour to attend their camps and clinics. Lacrosse became the go to sport for little girls in their area and the volume built them a deep bench of talent.
Milton high school, another hot bed but this time in Atlanta, has made the same approach to building a feeder with easy to recognize success. They built a youth program that made lacrosse easily the most fun option for young girls and grew to outstanding numbers. Their program is filled with fun, learning, and captures exactly what girls are looking for in an athletic, social, and competitive setting. They focus on growing self esteem with tons of high fives and encouraging knowledgable staff.
Are we learning from these programs approach to growth? Are we looking to provide what kids are looking for in their athletic experience or are we forcing our own ideals of what it should look like at them and then shaking our head at the low numbers? Kids have a lot of choices these days in activities, how can we market our sport to offer what families want? For some reason we think more tournaments, more travel, more tough love, more playing up or more wins are the answer.
Take a look at the top reasons people sign up for sports to see if your program has set these as priorities or side notes..
2. Make friends
3. Self-esteem and confidence building
4. Physical /athletic development
5. Learning skills of sport
How does your program rank on the the marketability scale? If little kids walked by your practice and games - will they beg mom and dad to sign them up or wrinkle their nose and say no thanks. If your players had a bring a friend night at practice and you ran your regular plan, how many of them would return as players the next season? How visible is the fun your program provides, how committed is it to providing a good EXPERIENCE for kids and families before all else. Or as my kids would say- a good experience for all is bae...