This commentary is for every mom or dad who has ever personally lived through or contemplated helping their youth athlete transition into a new select sports “career path” from a former one. I chose those terms over “team” or “program” in jest, but let’s be honest, the youth athlete of today receives more pressure at a younger age to choose the right fit…and to choose it wisely…than in generations past.

This new reality mainly has to do with the fact that select teams are no longer what the designation implies. I firmly believe that anyone who is willing and able to write a check can find a team/program that claims to be select. Therefore, parents need to be more diligent and choosy when deciding what is the best choice based on their child’s ability and desire.

I don’t believe that all youth athletes (I’m referring to those in grade school) innately feel pressure to perform to a certain standard. I’d argue they just want to play the game and feel as if they contribute to something larger than themselves as well as perform well for their coaches. Oh, and crazy as this may sound, have FUN with their friends. But as I’ve personally witnessed – the reason I launched the GiveTheGameBack movement – adults tend to muddy the waters even with the best of intentions sometimes.

My husband and I have done extensive research in an effort to find a new fit for one of our boys who has played with the same program and general group of teammates for the past four years. We’ve asked him at the end of every season whether or not he’s enjoyed his experience and this year it was clear he paused a little too long before answering that question. And I couldn’t help but support his decision to look into new opportunities because I, too, felt it was time for something different.

I’ve been there as an adult and have felt the way that he feels at this point in his young life. Staying in a comfort zone is safe, but it’s not always productive, positive, or challenging.

baseball saying

I’ve heard other parents talk about the struggle of finding the right fit when it comes to youth sports programs. When you experience it, you instantly recognize it, similar to the way you feel about a chosen career path or personal cause.

For all the parents out there looking for advice on how to find the right fit for your budding athlete, I humbly offer these 10 tips:

10. Focus on your child. Ask pressing questions like, “Do you enjoy (insert applicable sport)?” If no, then don’t continue down a potentially destructive path. Just because you enjoy the game doesn’t automatically mean your kid has to. If yes, then ask the follow-up “What are your favorite and least favorite parts about playing on (insert applicable team)?” If the cons outweigh the pros, it is time to start looking for new opportunities to give your child the chance to continue to play the game they love.

9. Decide how much you’re willing to spend before weighing your options. If you take your child to multiple tryouts (I’d suggest limiting it to three or less) and subsequently receive offers from multiple programs, it’s easy to want to accept the “most impressive” offer in terms of prestige, travel tournaments, flashy uniforms, and coaching resumes. It’s a coach’s job to try and sell you on what they can provide to your child. Remember to focus on your child. Can you realistically picture them learning and thriving under one coach over another?

8. Take your entire family into consideration. Make sure you’ll still have time outside of select sports to focus on your spouse. If your child has siblings who are active too, make sure the teams you choose will mesh well together and that one won’t take away from the other. I’ve seen both ends of a disturbing spectrum: Parents who center their world around one child who has natural ability and allow their other children to stay in the shadows OR parents who stretch themselves too thin because they try to be everywhere at once and drive themselves nuts in the process.

7. Ask the coach what their philosophy is on multi-sport athletes. Many will claim they support having kids in multiple sports, but ask around to see if what they preach is actually what they practice. Both my husband and I are big believers of the benefits of playing different sports, but not everyone feels the same way. You don’t want to place your child behind the eightball before their season even starts. The majority of select sports programs has both “in-season” and “off-season” commitments. The latter should be optional as long as your child is competing in another “in-season” sport if your coach tells you they value kids who can play several sports.

6. We have three main expectations of our kids, that are each completely in their control: hustle, attitude, and focus. When they slip up on any of those, they know to expect consequences in return. Make sure your personal philosophy matches that of your coach. When negative behavior like throwing bats, talking back to coaches, and belittling teammates is allowed to occur, consider that a red flag. The sporting experience should be more than wins and losses. It should be a building block for developing young people both on and off the field.

5. Know what to expect in terms of scheduling. How many total games is the coach hoping to play? How many total tournaments? Of those tournaments, how many will be local versus out-of-town? How far in advance will you be provided with a practice schedule and will those practices happen on regular days or will they be scheduled unpredictably? Being on the same page when it comes to scheduling will save you stress especially when you have multiple kids with various activities.

4. Look for a leader who provides a personal approach. I know that’s easier said than done, but it’s no doubt one of the most important qualities for a coach to possess in my opinion. You know your kid better than anyone else. I’d venture to bet a lot of kids appreciate a coach who praises them for maximum effort and gets on them when they fall short on things they can control, giving them tangible feedback on how to improve. What you need to watch out for are situations when the players are so fearful about making mistakes that they don’t stretch their own potential. Excellent coaches value improved process over defined results.

3. When possible, try to ensure your child knows at least one other kid on their team. This predefined relationship helps the parents too. In the same manner job seekers try to find common connections with a new place of employment, it is best to know what you’re getting into by talking to someone who’s been there, done that. After all, you will be spending a lot of time with your child’s team and chemistry cannot be overstated.

2. Understand expectations and, once you accept them, give the coach you trust the room to do their job. If you didn’t sign up to invest the hours and serve as a coach, then your job is done once you hand over your child to the person in charge.

1. Listen, listen, and listen some more to your kid. Refer back to step #10.

Written by Heidi Woodard

cross_sunset1

I hope you have all heard the beautiful melody with even more lovely lyrics, “Leader of the Band” by Dan Fogelberg at some point in your lifetime.

Fogelberg penned the song for his own dad, Lawrence, who was a musician, educator, and band leader. In Dan’s words about his paternal inspiration, “I was so gratified that I was able to give him that song before he passed on. In his final years he was interviewed many times by the national press because of it. He went out in a blaze of glory, which meant a lot to me and my family.”

My husband’s grandfather passed away in the early morning hours this past Father’s Day.

I can’t help but think of William (Buck) Woodard, aka “Poppy,” a role model for all who knew and loved him, when listening to these lyrics.

“His gentle means of sculpting souls took me years to understand… My life has been a poor attempt to imitate the man. I’m just a living legacy to the Leader of the Band.

Isn’t that how life and death traditionally unfold? We rush through life, attempting to keep pace with everything and everyone buzzing around us?

And then a loved one passes and it is as if God gently places a hand upon our shoulder to slow us down, to pause and reflect on those we love and the life we live. It is during this time of reflection when we soak in the magnitude of the people who have helped shape our lives for the better.

I was able to tell Poppy goodbye and he gave me the same comforting smile and hug he always extended to family and friends.

He was, and will remain, the Leader of our Band.

In loving memory of Buck Woodard

Written by Heidi Woodard

Monday morning started off with me warning the kids that the time may have finally come for us to say goodbye to our longtime canine companion, Murphy the Pug. She’s 15 years old.

pug life

Pug life. Respect.

All three of them got to see me wipe away buckets of tears on the way to school. You see, my husband and I have had Murphy (he named HER after Dale Murphy despite the fact she’s a female) longer than we’ve been parents to our human children.

  
She had continued to eat like normal, but for roughly four straight days, her water bowl had remained untouched.

She was also acting a lot more lethargic and uninterested in her normal activities. She had gotten sick and had a few accidents (but, if I’m being honest, Murphy’s had random episodes of both over the past year because she’s an old lady who tends not to care what others think of her behavior).

Google “pug personality traits” if you think I’m being facetious.

Doesn't she look so sad? I took this picture to shove in my husband's face when he inevitably questions the vet bill.

Doesn’t she look so sad? I took this picture to shove in my husband’s face when he inevitably questions the vet bill.

After booking an appointment with our family vet and taking her for what I feared was our last slow walk together, I sat by her side on the couch and let her know it was ok for her to go if that’s what was meant to be.

I had to put her brother-from-another-mother down several years ago and I’ve never quite recovered from that experience. Murphy and I had come to an agreement, after we had to say goodbye to Eightball, that she was to pass away peacefully in her sleep when the time was right so I wouldn’t need to go through that heart-wrenching decision ever again.

Miraculously, at the vet’s office, her blood work showed no signs of impending doom. Her kidneys were not failing like I had feared. I learned by talking to the vet, in between sobs and sniffles, that he had to put his own dog down that very same day. Rarely have I felt more comforted and understood than I did by him in that moment.

Fast forward to today. Murphy is like a Timex watch – she takes a licking and keeps on ticking.

She’s not happy with me for making her leave the comfort of her Dora coach for follow-up care, and we continue to monitor her behavior, but for now…my heart remains whole.

Murphy in her favorite lounger.

Murphy in her favorite lounger.

Written by Heidi Woodard

Let me be the first to admit, I’ve learned to tame my competitive nature over the years and make the sporting experience more about my kids than myself. I like to say I’m a work in progress.

I’ve recounted My Moment on GiveTheGameBack. I remember that critical point in time when I realized I need to reevaluate why I was at the ball field supporting my child and have subsequently changed my mentality and approach to the GAME.

However, prior to that moment, there was an episode when I behaved less than ideally in front of my children. I think it’s important to explain (not justify) my past behavior to let you know that I, like everyone, learn from my mistakes. For those who refuse to admit ever crossing the line at a youth sporting competition in the name of your budding athlete, I counter with two thoughts: 1. I bow down to you and your self-control and 2. I don’t believe you. (not even for a second)

There we were, the Woodard family, back in fall ball several years ago: me, my husband, and our three children.

Allow me to set the stage. The “regular season” for baseball in the Midwest runs from late April to early July. Fall ball, in terms of scheduled games, lasts half the total duration but feels like an eternity to suffer through. The number of teams competing is less, the quality of competition isn’t always as great, and the double-headers that typically round off an otherwise restful weekend are grueling.

OK, I fully admit I am already making excuses, but bear with me.

My oldest was only 10 at the time. Ten-year-old boys can best be described as fourth grade, 4-ft somethings, with less than laser-like focus. While they all generally have an interest in winning, the majority of them compete in fall ball to hang out with their buddies. (Coaches will tell you it’s because the boys want to stay active and improve their game in the off season.)

My son’s team was down by at least a half dozen runs and, in 10-year old baseball…especially fall ball, that’s a deep valley out of which to climb. It was late in the game so they ran the risk of losing by the “mercy rule” (which they might as well rename the “parental sanity rule”). Definition of the “mercy rule”: Once a team is up by 8 runs after 5 complete innings over their competition, the game is automatically over.

My son’s teammate managed to make it to second base…probably on a wild pitch, or just a normal pitch since few 10-year old catchers are strong enough to throw out a runner stealing second base.

It was very late in the game and the chances of my kid’s team mounting a comeback were slimmer than Kim Kardashian going a full day without snapping a selfie. Not high. You get the picture.

Low and behold, I hear the opposing team’s coach yell out instructions and then see the pitcher throw to the short stop at second base in an attempted pickoff play. When the pickoff attempt didn’t work, instead of tossing the ball back to the pitcher, the short stop walks it to the mound.

I instantly knew what was happening. The ol’ hidden ball trick. I knew what was going down because I’ve pulled that same play in my college alumni game against the current players.

If you’ve never seen the hidden ball trick, watch the YouTube clip below.

My son’s teammate assumes the pitcher has the ball, takes his normal leadoff, and falls for the play (because he’s 10!) as the opposing team’s short stop tags him out, much to the amusement of their coach.

Here’s a confession: If I was that kid at shortstop (or anyone else on that opposing team), I would have thought that was the greatest trick play ever.

Because I was not that 10-year old shortstop and was instead the mom of one of the boys getting their butts kicked by a team coached by a dad who cared more about trick plays than teachable moments, I didn’t find it quite as amusing. And I let him know about it. I think my exact less-than-mature-and-not-very-thought-out words were something like this:

GOOD JOB, COACH! WAY TO PERFECT THE HIDDEN BALL TRICK! YOU MUST BE SO PROUD!

(Lame, I know. But I’ve never been the best at articulating anger.)

If your team is only winning by one or two runs and it’s the championship game, you could probably make me understand your rationale (even if I don’t agree with it). When you are about to run-rule another team, I don’t buy your excuse.

Not to be outdone by a loud-mouthed mom, the coach in turn had one of his players steal home in mid-pitch when they were up to bat next.

I just shook my head and thought to myself, “What a (insert male body part) move.”

But here’s the thing, I was no better than that coach that day. I ran my mouth from the stands and it didn’t make the situation any better. Luckily, my son never heard what I yelled, but that didn’t make me feel any less foolish in hindsight

Their team still lost. My son wouldn’t have cared that much about the game’s outcome because he’d already been competing in sports (even at the age of 10) for a few years and he learned that, in sports and life, you win some and you lose some.

If I ran into that same coach today, I would freely admit to being as crazy competitive as he is, and I would hope we would share a laugh together. I’d tell him that he should check out what I’m trying to do on GiveTheGameBack.

And when he’d be pulling up the website on his phone, I’d sucker punch him when he wasn’t looking and yell out TRICK PLAY! as he was attempting to regain his breath. Kidding…I would only contemplate doing that. I am working on thinking before I act these days.

Written by Heidi Woodard