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Let’s all gather round. I’m talking to you, parents of children who compete in sports.

I don’t know if it’s the same in your household, but my family is currently in a sweet spot known as the “off season,” when the only thing on our plates is weekly practice in preparation for summer baseball. My kids are actually adhering to a real bedtime routine. My husband and I have sat across from one another at our own dining room table and had a conversation while enjoying dinner together. I’ve both watched my DVR’d shows and napped unapologetically. It’s been surreal.

My shoulders are a little less tense. My speed is a bit slower. My breaths are much deeper.

Yet part of me misses the frenzy. The dirt and sunflower seeds are calling.

There’s a reason why the beginning of every sports season is exciting. Everyone starts with a 0-0 record and a pretty good attitude.

I’m here to tell you…the joy does not have to rise or fall in direct correlation with your kid’s success or lack there of. You can control your outlook in spite of external influences.

Perhaps you’ve heard about the study performed by Rob Miller and Bruce E. Brown, who run a coaching consultation business called Proactive Coaching LLC? For three decades, Miller and Brown asked college athletes about their parents’ behaviors; specifically, what their parents did right versus what their parents did wrong in an effort to support their budding stars?

The athletes overwhelmingly responded that the feedback that resonated the most positively with them consisted of six, simple, yet incredibly powerful words:

Top athletes reported that the most uplifting phrase they heard their parents tell them time and time again was ‘I love to watch you play.’

The worst thing that parents did, in the opinion of their kids, was critiquing or questioning them immediately following the game or competition.

So, to me, the easiest way to ensure I (and you) continue to feel positive as our budding athletes transition from the practice season to the actual season is by reminding them how much we love to watch them play. And that phrase should be the honest to goodness truth when it comes out of our mouths, regardless of the game outcome.

If we don’t mean it, then why invest the time, money, effort, and – most importantly – our children’s emotional well being by having them pursue sports?

I no longer routinely ask my kids if they had fun at the end of every game. Losing doesn’t feel fun. I don’t expect to see them muster up a smile after every final out.

But I also want them to know how to to recovery gracefully from setbacks, to not hang their heads, and to get back up when they’ve fallen.

As parents, we need to be able to hold ourselves to the same level of accountability.

Because, in the end, we must remember how much we not only love to watch them succeed, but how much we love to watch our children play. They need to be allowed to do the latter before they are ever capable of doing the former.

Written by Heidi Woodard

On a semi-steamy day back in July 1999, I said “I do” to not only my husband, Ryan, but also to a lifetime of basketball.

You see, for those who don’t know, my husband is the son of a legendary basketball coach in and around the Midwest, Doug Woodard. My father-in-law has coached for an eternity. I’m sure there’s an actual number of years I could plug in there, but the past 17 years have been at Bellevue West High School leading the defending Class A State Championship Thunderbirds team.

doug woodard

Doug Woodard and the Bellevue West Thunderbirds. Photo c/o Omaha World-Herald

Before Bellevue West, he dedicated his time and talent to Omaha Roncalli Catholic High School. It was at Roncalli where he coached both of his sons and where my husband and I met in one of those weird classrooms that brought together a perfection-seeking honor roll girl with a slightly cocky boy who rarely opened a book outside of the classroom. It was at that same high school where Ryan and I played our best years of basketball, not knowing back then that we’d one day have three kids of our own learning how to play a game they love.

Before Roncalli, Doug coached student athletes at Bellevue Christian High School. And he still hears from those same kids even now, over two decades later, which is equally amazing and inspiring to me.

And I’d imagine that, before Bellevue Christian, Doug was thinking of ways to transition from playing a sport at which he excelled to coaching his own kids and other people’s kids on the proper ways to pass, dribble, box out, rebound, and shoot (in my husband’s case, ESPECIALLY shoot).

My sister-in-laws both played summer basketball for their dad and then went on to compete at my collegiate alma mater, Creighton University. Considering they have basketball in their blood, I am still amazed that the Woodard clan accepted me – a collegiate softball player – into their hard court crew.

The Woodard cheering section at the 2014 Nebraska High School Boys State Basketball Tournament.

The Woodard cheering section at the 2014 Nebraska High School Boys State Basketball Tournament. What? Doesn’t everyone wear matching shirts in March?

Ryan has now coached our oldest son and his teammates, the Junior TBirds, for the past six years and will both mentor them and learn from them in their final season – as eighth graders – next year. I think I’ve had nearly all of those boys in my kitchen and driveway at some point. I’ve watched them transition from simply learning how to dribble the ball to orchestrating moves that I know I personally would not be able to defend.

Last night, Ryan sent out his end of season thank you email to all of the players’ parents. He told them he will be discussing their son’s player evaluations one-on-one with each boy this weekend. He will guide these young men on what he considers to be their strengths as well as areas they can improve upon over the summer.

These players have one more year to work on their game before moving on to high school, a leap that history has proven some boys will make and others may not. I want to cup each of their faces in my hands, look at them straight in their eyes, and say “Enjoy every moment because they are some of the most fun and fastest fleeting you will ever experience in your lives.”

Ryan doesn’t hear it nearly enough, but I feel really lucky to be married to him. When it comes to the influence that both he and his father have on young men’s lives both on and off the court, I feel like the apple does not fall too far from the tree. I can confidently say that I married into a good bushel.

One downside of having basketball in the blood? Our own children will never have perfect school attendance…at least not on those years when grandpa’s team makes it to the state tournament!

Here’s wishing all of the state qualifiers good luck this year down in Lincoln.

Boys Class A State Tournament Bracket

state basketball class A

Boys All Classes Tournament Brackets

In terms of high school memories, I'd imagine it doesn't get much better than this. Photo c/o Lincoln Journal Star

In terms of high school memories, I’d imagine it doesn’t get much better than this. Just ask the 2014 State Champs Bellevue West Thunderbirds. Photo c/o Lincoln Journal Star

Written by Heidi Woodard

As I pulled out of my 9-to-5 parking lot in the dead of winter with a light yet blistery snowfall side swiping my mom van (boy is this turning into a depressing visual), I looked ahead toward the direction of my normal route home. The blue and red flashing lights of police cruisers combined with a long row of bumper-to-bumper traffic warned me to go a different direction if I wanted my trip home to be a little longer than normal, but not entirely unbearable.

Another crash on the side of the road.

Another person suffering inconvenience…hopefully in just their pride and pocketbook.

Another driver losing control on the icy roads and another getting struck without warning.

And, just like that, two (or more) lives were impacted for the worse.

I had begun my day by watching a video, produced and shared by The Players’ Tribune, about why Larry Sanders chose to leave the NBA.

Prior to watching that video, I didn’t know who Larry Sanders was. I mean, I recognized the name, but I wouldn’t have been able to pick him out in a room full of freakishly tall guys.

Now I find myself respecting this guy I do not know, not because of what he accomplished on the court in the past, but because of his present day perspective.

Sanders was chosen by the Milwaukee Bucks with the 15th overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft. In his most recent contract extension in 2013, he signed a four-year, $44 million deal with the Bucks. Let’s all pause and ponder what we would do with that kind of ridiculous money.

Then it appears he started to metaphorically lose control of his life path…or maybe he was never fully in control in the first place?

A couple of injuries, a couple of drug policy violations, a suspension, and a contract buyout.

A “crash” that no amount of ridiculous money could fix.

He understands that it was never his extreme athletic prowess or level of wealth that defined him. In his video message, he encourages everyone watching to “Don’t Forget The And…” meaning we are all more than just one thing, according to Sanders.

I am a mom AND a wife AND a writer AND a professional AND a kid-at-heart AND a dreamer AND a youngest child.

He talks about connecting to family, how he considers them his real riches, and why he walked away from such a lucrative career. He talks about how people like to use labels.

He stresses that 90 percent of the day is mental and how he turned to canibus to help him cope, and then went away to a hospital to help him with his anxiety and depression. He spoke of wanting to make a difference in this unseen world.

I needed to hear his message so I am passing it on in case any of you needed to hear it too.

If you didn’t exactly reach every success you set out to achieve this day, month, or year, I bet you met some. Luckily for all of us, life is not just a one-way trip.

We all steer off course.

We all crash and get crashed into.

We all regret and wish we could do over.

Just don’t remain on the side of the road. Get back behind the wheel and get back on course.

Written by Heidi Woodard

Do you remember a time growing up when you made a mistake from which you weren’t sure your pride would be able to fully recover? A mistake that not only embarrassed yourself, but those who counted you?

I remember one. It happened on the softball field when I was in college. In my adulthood looking back, I can appreciate how insignificant it was in the grand scheme of life. But it hurt nonetheless at the time.

I remember it was the final inning and third base was occupied by a player from our in-state rival. I remember a power hitter was up to bat with two outs. That same power hitter did something unexpected…she got under a pitch and popped it up to shallow right center.

I remember we were one out away from sealing a big victory. As I sprinted backwards from my position at second base looking up at the sky to track down the ball, I remember hearing my friend and teammate, the right-fielder, yell for the catch as she raced in towards the lip of the grass. At least I thought she called for the ball.

Although realizing I had just as good of a chance to snag that pop fly as she did, I immediately veered off course to avoid a collision. And that’s when it happened. The ball dropped between us.

Game over.

I saw the look of exasperation on her face. I saw the disappointment in my pitcher’s eyes. I saw the opposite team erupt in celebration.

And I was angry.

Angry at myself for not taking control as an upperclassman. Angry for not finishing a play that we had dedicated countless hours of practice to perfect. Angry that we did everything better than our opponents that game except for one stupid play.

I think back to that moment and often wonder how much worse I would have felt had that mistake been recorded and replayed over and over again for everyone to see. Luckily for me, I competed in a world that was far less technologically connected than the one my kids are expected to navigate.

Sports fans remember certain defining, cringe-worthy moments.

Bill Buckner 1986 World Series Game 6 “Between the Legs”

Chris Webber’s 1993 NCAA Championship “Infamous Timeout”

Fred Brown’s “Inexplicable Pass” to James Worthy in 1982 NCAA Championship

It is probable if you have kids who compete in sports that your son or daughter will be put in the position to single-handedly win or lose their games. And despite the fact that games are won or lost by a series of plays by both teams, fans seem to remember the final plays over everything else.

I challenge adults to think about times when they felt as if they were falling short in some aspect of their life: Struggling to keep their spouse happy; spearheading a work project that resulted in higher costs and fewer profits; failing to deliver upon a promise to their child; gaining too much weight; not taking enough time to rest; the list goes on and on.

It is true what they say: With age comes wisdom. We have the luxury of knowing that storm clouds will eventually pass. Many budding athletes aren’t old enough to have that same level of understanding. Children run the risk of only seeing darkness on auto loop. Errors are broadcast for all to see and mock.

Resist the temptation to only shower love on your child when they succeed and are being glorified.

Resist the temptation to stand across from their opposition in joyous celebration as young heads hang low.

Resist the temptation to immerse yourself too deeply into your child’s life, for it is theirs to live.

Resist the temptation to judge yourself or other parents based on the amount of trophies our kids accumulate.

I am 100% confident that my own children will learn a great deal from their setbacks as I have with mine. Memories will always trump medals in my opinion.

Don’t waste your breath (or dignity) screaming at anyone at your kid’s next competition. This is their book to write. Flip the pages and follow along. Enjoy the story.

Written by Heidi Woodard