They get one childhood

January 26, 2015 — 2 Comments
Little Heidi

Little Heidi

I remember playing kickball with my group of childhood friends on a small patch of land surrounded by busy streets. We referred to that special stomping ground as the island. We’d meet at the island on the weekends or after school and had specific rules about where we were allowed to kick the ball.

There were the siblings, Chad and his younger brother Jeff, from one house and another girl like me, Amy, from another house. I say Amy was a “girl like me” strictly from an anatomical standpoint. I don’t recall her wanting to play kickball, race (foot or bike), or get dirty half as much as I did. I imagine Amy hung out with us for lack of other options as none of us were as musically gifted as she was. Chad and I were only allowed to kick between the first base tree and second base tree towards the neighborhood gas station because any ball booted over shortstop or third base ran the risk of being run over by a car.

You NEVER wanted to be the one who ruined a perfectly good game of kickball because you kicked the ball into traffic. Talk about the ultimate grade school buzz kill.

Before I knew what it meant to play sports, I was using muscle groups that would help me later in life as a competitor. Climbing branches in tall trees, burrowing deep down into bushes to hide, scaling rooftops, and avoiding traffic…seriously I would never let my kids cross that same street that I maneuvered on a daily basis now that I think about it…these were all everyday activities that formed my childhood.

My kids have ample room to play in our neighborhood. The open space behind our house is quadruple the size of the island and is fortunately not barricaded by moving vehicles. Yet that open space remains empty most days outside of the occasional dog walkers or bicycle riders.

The majority of my kids’ activity schedules is comprised of organized practices and games. Yes, they have friends (some teammates and others not) who sleep over every now and then, and they know what it’s like to go on a scavenger hunt or a random hike just to soak in nature and all its glory, but I’m willing to bet that my kids’ lives aren’t too drastically different from other kids their age – at least those kids whose parents are like my husband and I and signed them up for sports from an early age.

I’ve been asked by many about what motivated me to launch GiveTheGameBack.com. What inspired me to share my own personal story about watching my children compete in sports while tuning out the sometimes negative feedback from adults on the sidelines? What was my turning point in recognizing I needed to tone down my own competitiveness and desire to win? What urged me to take a stand?

The answers to all of those questions was something on which I had to really reflect.

I was motivated to launch an information site (support group) for sports parents and promoters that includes custom apparel designed to give the game back to youth athletes, because I want to be a voice for the silent majority who are putting their kids in organized sports for the right reasons.

I was inspired to share my story because I am far from perfect. I don’t want to come off as a holier than thou mom who doesn’t have the foggiest idea about what it means to prepare athletes for the next level of competition. I may take a few bruises by sharing my belief system, but I am of the mindset that you’ve either got it or you don’t when it comes to playing sports at the collegiate level and beyond. To me, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to dump thousands of hours and tens of thousands of dollars into trying to transform your little kid into the next Babe Ruth, Michael Jordan, Pele, Jerry Rice, (insert idolized athlete name here). It makes better sense to place your child on a team where he continues to hone his or her personal athletic abilities, playing for a coach who believes that sports teach lessons that extend well beyond the playing field, and with respectful and respectable teammates.

My turning point was a few summers ago when I caught myself questioning my son’s future potential because he wasn’t mastering a skill at 9 years of age that took me well into my collegiate playing days to master myself: the art of hitting a moving ball with a moving bat consistently and effectively. I challenge parents (because I’ve lived it myself) to stop and think before you yell or express frustration with your budding athletes. Ask yourself: Was I perfect in every endeavor I set out to conquer this week? If you answer “no” (and, for the record, I don’t believe you if you answer “yes”), then how can you expect a child whose brain and motor skills aren’t fully developed to do any better?

Recollecting my own childhood of playing kickball on the island urged me to take a stand. I had a fantastic, memorable childhood that involved self-discovery, taking risks, and exploring boundaries. Then I had 20+ years of playing competitive sports, which meant more to me than I can describe here. I had parents who supported me through my triumphs and tribulations. I vow to do the same for my own kids.

They get one childhood. Always remember that.

Written by Heidi Woodard

A wise woman once told me, “No matter where a mother was raised, how old she is, or how much money she has in her pocket, in the vast majority of cases, she wants to give her child a better life than her own.”

Of course this observation applies to dads too.

As a former athlete turned mom who is now raising my children and watching them compete in sports, I can easily draw a parallel between an everyday parent’s concern for their child’s general welfare and a zealous parent’s desire to see their offspring succeed in extracurricular activities. More often than not (especially in countries considered overly competitive like the United States), parents want to watch their kids achieve greater success than they ever personally experienced growing up.

I think this might be the biggest reason why we witness time and time again all across our great country and in our own communities, otherwise perfectly behaved adults lose their minds and their ability to act sensibly on the sidelines at youth sporting events (or spelling bees, or show choir performances, or dance recitals, or debate competitions, insert the activity of your choice here). Mom and dad simply want to see Little Johnny and Sweet Susie win because, one assumes, winning equals success.

And success leads to happiness. HEY REF! YOU SUCK! THAT DAMN KID TURNS THE BALL OVER EVERY TIME HE TOUCHES IT! I DON’T KNOW WHY ON GOD’S GREEN EARTH YOUR COACH CAN’T FIGURE IT OUT! BE MORE AGGRESSIVE! QUIT BEING SOFT! STOP YOUR CRYING! (just trying to make the kids “happy,” right?)

Many of you already know I launched a business last week. It’s a labor of love for me because I believe so strongly in the message I am both trying to spread and continue to practice.

IMG_0269

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.” – Mahatma Gandhi

I shared my moment on GiveTheGameBack.com. I would encourage anyone who’s struggling to keep perspective on how to support a child competing in sports to read about that moment. It basically involved someone giving me high praise about my son’s overall positive demeanor and attitude when I needed a gentle reminder that what he was doing and especially NOT doing on the ball field shouldn’t tarnish my pride for him.

A former collegiate teammate of mine read it and took the time to let me know it resonated with her:

“This is such an important conversation. Parents have lost their minds. Please know your words are inspiring for the other end of the spectrum – those of us who have great kids who love sports but just aren’t athletic. As former successful athletes, both my husband and I have struggled a bit to see our son on the sidelines or the C team. But he’s a great kid.”

Anyone who’s ever met me knows I am about as competitive as they come. Winning feels GREAT. Dominating an adversary in a sport for which you’ve both sacrificed years of blood, sweat, and tears is a life experience that is hard to match. There is a reason why my friends tease me about my inability to leave the glory days behind.

But I vow to give my kids the best life possible. It is their life to live after all. I’m guessing the best life possible for them won’t necessarily be measured in wins and losses. It will be measured in remarkable experiences lived, both on and off the court and field.

I challenge youth sports parents and promoters everywhere to join me in this movement.

Written by Heidi Woodard

Written by a mom to her children, and anyone else who feels like reading.

By now you’ve come to realize that there are good days and there are bad days.

With as hard as I try, it’s nearly impossible for me to remember what I considered to be bad days when I was your age. I imagine my worst days involved feeling rejected by someone I thought I wanted to like me, not achieving something that I worked really hard for, finishing in second place when I knew I could be first, seeing someone I cared about get hurt, trying to find my way in a sometimes chaotic world, losing control of my car on black ice, dissolving a long-lasting relationship, and saying goodbye to my childhood dog.

The bad days, even though small in number compared to the good, were still really hard to get through. I will try not to minimize your woes if you come to me for guidance.

You’re growing up with challenges I never personally faced. Although it is impossible for you to wrap your minds around this, I remember a time before computers, cell phones, and social media. I’m part of the last generation who knows what it was like to grow up offline.

While I won’t understand every obstacle you’ve faced or have yet to scale, I do know this: both the best of times and the worst of times are yet to come. I guarantee you that.

The only way for me to explain that bold statement is by recounting my own personal experiences.

At your age, I thought I knew what it was like to feel everything very deeply. With each passing year, however, I am exposed to more beauty and tragedy than I ever realized was possible.

Photo (29)

…on top of the world. Until I discovered how it feels to watch someone you love achieve their own success in life.

…extreme pride. Until I received a compliment about how you treat others when I am not watching.

…heartache. Until I read a story about a dad tossing his 5-year old daughter off a bridge for no apparent reason.

…trustworthy. Until I had to find a way to allow others to keep you safe when I couldn’t be there myself.

…helpless. Until I watched your grandma, my mom, slowly suffer on the liver transplant list with a rare blood type that was hard to match.

…selfless. Until I learned about the young man who gave part of himself to give your grandma new life.

…cheated. Until I lost my grandma far too soon.

…loved. Until I sat with you in bed every night reflecting on how our days went and talking about the future.

…confused. Until I witnessed you playing Minecraft.

…spiritual. Until I eavesdropped on your prayers.

…embarrassed. Until I learned about you publicly relieving yourself at recess on school grounds.

…clueless. Until I watched you run football drills.

…pressure. Until I had to pay the bills.

…disgusted. Until I saw you lick the floor of Target.

I wish I could bubble wrap the absolute best parts of life and store them away for safekeeping. I also wish I could shield you from the tragedy and despair you’ll inevitably face. The best I can do is help prepare you for both.

I promise to always offer you my ears to listen, my shoulder to lean on, and my unsolicited advice. I imagine you’ll appreciate two out of the three of those.

Written by Heidi Woodard

I’m coming to you from a water park somewhere in the Midwest. It doesn’t matter exactly where because I imagine the same scene could unfold all across America.

I feel like I need to set the stage by announcing that I am by no means a germaphobe. In fact, I just returned a basket of french fries because I found a hair resting ever so gently on top of one. I had already eaten about a fourth of the basket by that point. Instead of complaining to the vendor about how disgusting and unsanitary it was, I just swapped it out for a new basket…no questions asked.

Yep, the writer behind Maternal Media is super gross. And she loves french fries. Preferably hairless ones.

Now that we’re all on the same page with how low my cleanliness standards are, picture this if you will: I am elbow-to-elbow with a boatload of other families in January in Nebraska doing what we do to entertain our kids. Our options are limited with wind chill temperatures averaging between negative 20-30 degrees below zero.

My son, along with a group of his friends, and his sister (whom he considers a friend about half the time) are splashing, sliding, and laughing. He’s celebrating turning another year older, but not necessarily wiser by what I just witnessed.

The group of hyped-up kids just ran up to me to announce they couldn’t go into the lazy river anymore because a kid threw up in it. I looked at the river and, sure enough, it was now empty with all entry points blocked off by caution cones.

Hhaaaaappyy Biirrrrthday ttoooo yyoooouu. BLUUGH!

It was all I could do to just lean back in my chair (strategically chosen in close proximity to the bar) and look up at the twinkling lights above me in order to regain control over my own stomach.

Calgon (and chlorine) take me away.

Calgon (and chlorine) take me away.

After they made the big announcement, the kids returned to the water wonderland (sans river) completely unscathed by the circumstances. I figured, as long as they were good, so was I.

No more than 20 minutes later, I looked up to see small patches of swimmers circling the river and, with each subsequent lap, the patches multiplied. I thought to myself, It must have been a rumor that they closed the lazy river because of kid puke. There was obviously some other issue that caused the temporary shut-down. Whew!

I decided to approach my good friend, the bartender, and tell him what my son had told me.

Our conversation went something like this:

Me (nervous laughter): I don’t need anything other than to ask you a question.

Him: Yeah, what’s that?

Me: My son and his friends told me they shut down the lazy river because a kid threw up in it.

Him: (Nothing in reply…just a blank stare.)

Me: But I see it’s now open again. They couldn’t re-open it if someone actually yacked in it, right?

Him: Yeeaaahh, I mean, they could. I mean, they aren’t going to shut it down permanently with all these people here if only a small part needed to be cleaned up.

Me: (Nothing in reply…just a blank stare.)

Him: I hadn’t personally heard that that happened…so I really don’t know what’s going on.

Me: Ok thanks.

I returned to my chair and reminded myself that chlorine was invented for a reason. No one else seemed to care that some child’s gastrointestinal juices were magically removed from the lazy, disturbingly hazy, river. I learned they have a protocol for taking care of situations like these. The more you know, right?

The party was deemed a success by both my son and his friends.

Yet I can’t let it entirely go without asking…has anyone who’s reading this post actually worked at a public pool or water park? Can chlorine solve all? Well, all but the imagery/queasiness I can’t seem to shake from my system?

Written by Heidi Woodard