I find it equally surprising and comforting that so many people took the time to comment on a post I wrote back in June 2012 titled “I’m leaving my job” because, at the time, I wrote it mainly to reassure myself I was making the right choice. I honestly didn’t expect feedback in response to what I wrote.

Since that initial post sparked a lot of well wishers to chime in and let me know I would be ok, I thought it would be fitting to follow-up three years later with an update. I AM better than ok.

You see, I left a corporation that had limitless time attached to it (no, that’s not entirely true, there is no place that is 100% safe). But I did say goodbye to a company with seemingly more security than I have now.

Back then I accepted a new role that is tied to a company that was awarded a defined-period-of-time contract to do business. I live with the knowledge that, as early as this time next year, I could be job hunting again if we aren’t re-awarded new business.

I like to talk the talk, but not necessarily walk the walk, when it comes to embracing change.

I know without a doubt that every leap I’ve made up to this point in my life has resulted in being better off than where I was before. Yet, it never gets un-scary to take that leap, does it?

There are likely more than a few of you on the fence right now struggling with an important life change. I’m here to tell you…it WILL be better than ok.

  • It will be better than ok so long as you’ve weighed your options (never underestimate a pros/cons list) and it feels like it’s a choice you can accept and embrace.
  • It will be better than ok if you can imagine the possibilities of pursuing something that calls to you without fear of the unknown blocking your perspective.
  • It will be better than ok if it makes it easier for you to explain to your children why you choose to go to work because, believe it or not, they are interested in knowing what it is that you do all day and why you do it.

If you are anything like me, you started working because you wanted to somehow make a difference along with a paycheck. You wanted to use your talents and work alongside compelling colleagues that brought out the best in you. You didn’t mind putting in extra hours when no one cared that you did because you thought your work would define your greatness.

Allow me to let you in on a little secret….

…. (come close and listen, this is good stuff)….

…. life happens when you least expect it.

It happened to me.

I graduated college, got married, landed a job, lived in a few apartments, played in slow pitch softball and volleyball leagues, bought a house, had three children, stopped playing all previously mentioned activities, leaned on and laughed with girlfriends, signed my kids up for too many activities, watched loved ones get sick, rejoiced when some got better, said goodbye to others forever, and started to listen more than I talked.

That last one continues to be a struggle.

This time in my life, this job, has given me opportunities that I won’t take for granted. This phase of my career has given me the chance to make an impression on my kids.

Lexington baby shower4

Helping a little guy with the ring toss game at a community event.

I have more life experience and, as a result, recognize how different people deemed “in charge” have either helped or hindered my progress over the years. Some were leaders who encouraged new ideas, other were followers who trickled down orders.

Because life happens, I now know how to take better care of the people who rely on me from day-to-day. I’m handling less projects and more people.

People are saying things like “Your communication was excellent,” and “I appreciate you more than you know.” Amazing the types of things you hear when you stop doing all of the talking!

Yet the future remains uncertain.

If it all comes to an end in a year’s time, I will never regret making that leap.

Because…I am better than ok. And you will be too.

Written by Heidi Woodard

Remember that piece of advice I wrote for you last year about how I remembered what it felt like to be a 12-year old girl in seventh grade whose primary goal was to snag the boy with Vanilla Ice hair? The one that I forced you to read on the way to football practice? About treating girls with respect while also not falling victim to their voodoo magic?

The one you took roughly 25 seconds to scan?

I could tell it sunk in deep. You thoroughly appreciated my insight.

As evidenced by your head nod, grunt, and total indifference.

Lucky for you, I REMEMBER EIGHTH GRADE TOO. I feel like I would be robbing you of a treasure chest full of mom knowledge if I didn’t impart my wisdom on you again this year.

So here goes…

Sports are your world right now. Look, I toooeeetally get it. It’s hard to beat that feeling of competing alongside and against your friends. It’s fun to be cheered for at pep rallies and to have your locker decorated on game day. Just remember to keep your eyes open to new areas of interest too. Don’t let your jock friends be your only friends.

Were you aware your mom was quite the singer back in the day? Wait, scratch that. Technically, if we’re being real, mom went to a small enough school to be deemed “not as tonally terrible” as the dozen or so other kids who tried out for musicals so she landed solos in a select few.

I was going to be nicer to my former cast members, but no one seemed to have kept a picture of me as Alice in Alice in Wonderland our eighth grade year (which, frankly, floored me) so I’m letting the claws and honesty come out.

I received a Tony nod back in 1989 with my vivid portrayal of Jack's mom - struggling to keep him off the beanstalk and in my arms.

I received a Tony nod as a 7th grader back in 1989 with my vivid portrayal of Jack’s mom – struggling to keep him off the Beanstalk and in my protective arms. #mothersinstinct

Whatever you do and no matter how old you might feel, remember that no one has your back like your mom does.

teen textYou can publicly ignore me around your friends and then come to me when you need my help. I get it. I used to do the same to my parents.

But my parents didn’t have social media to pay me back.

overconfident pitcher tweetYour dad had interests outside of sports in eighth grade too. I had the privilege of listening to him recite the entire soundtrack of Straight Outta Compton while sitting next to him last Friday night at the movies. Who knew he was a closet rapper back in the day? Obviously NOT your grandma or grandpa with those lyrics! He kept that talent well hidden from them.

You seemed to have grown about half a foot over the last year. This increase in height has made you jump to the conclusion that there should be a proportionate increase in your level of freedom and independence from your dad and me. We’re here to remind you on a daily basis that you are still 13.

I’ll try to continue to give you some slack as long as you don’t give me too much of an attitude. A little attitude is understandable. That’s how we define ourselves in this world after all…especially in eighth grade.

mom and Owen

I’m confident you will conquer this – your final year of junior high. I feel myself taking shallow breaths anytime I think about how few days remain between now and your freshman year of high school.

But don’t you fret. I’ll offer up some ninth grade wisdom soon enough.

Written by Heidi Woodard

Anyone who has followed my ramblings for any considerable amount of time has likely seen a dramatic shift from me telling “kids do the darndest things” stories to me being hyper-focused on youth sports and the role parents play in them. The reason for that is because my husband and I have three developing athletes in our household and I’ve racked up countless hours on the sidelines watching them learn how to play several sports.

I haven’t been the only one on the sidelines. Many of you have said you can relate to my observations, which proves my personal accounts reflect a much larger epidemic. Some of you have shared stories with me that I can’t believe are actually true due to the absurdity of them all.

What I’ve come to discover – the main reason I launched the GiveTheGameBack movement – is that we, as parents and promoters (I’d lump coaches and league administrators into this latter category), are all bound and determined to help position our kids on the best path for short- and long-term success.

We look for coaches we believe will teach our children how to play the game and enable them to maximize their potential. We hand over down payments to secure our “spot” on the team. We buy sports equipment and uniforms per league standards. We fundraise for tournaments and hotel costs. We shuttle them to practices and games all the while giving unsolicited advice on how to improve. We sit through pre-game warmups and day-long tournaments. We celebrate victories and agonize over defeats. We forfeit vacations for the greater good of the team. We live through our kids.

Re-reading what I just typed makes me understand why my friends who don’t have kids in organized sports think all of us who do should just make it official and form a community called Crazytown…population: too many.

I have learned first-hand over the last several years that adults tend to muddy up the youth sporting experience. Some parents fall into the “things we don’t know we don’t know” category when it comes to their involvement in their child’s athletic journey.

You don’t know you are making an ass out of yourself by yelling and foaming at the mouth like a ravenous dog (because you think it’s ok to argue a bad call with an official to prove a point).

You don’t know that your constant berating is not helping – but rather hurting – your kid and your kid’s teammates (because you think it’s a motivation tactic to get them to work harder and play better).

You don’t know that, by bad mouthing kids who are late bloomers and by excessively praising early developers, you are not helping either group in the long-run (because that’s the only way you can ensure a winning record year after year).

I had a customer recently contact me asking if he could purchase a GiveTheGameBack t-shirt for one of his acquaintances and have me mail it anonymously. I was more than happy to oblige.

After all, you don’t know what you don’t know and sometimes all it takes is for someone to give you the gift of perspective.

Order online for someone who needs a little perspective.

Order online at givethegameback.com for someone who needs a little perspective.

It's about time we started calling a spade a spade.

It’s about time we started calling a spade a spade, right?

Written by Heidi Woodard

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Extra commentary for those who like to read:

I was tempted to start things off with the old saying, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” This popular phrase might be a bit too ambiguous for some, since people tend to interpret it differently.

It could mean that we, as humans, have natural limitations in what we are able to mentally absorb: I don’t know how to speak Spanish because I haven’t taken classes since high school nor have I lived among people who speak the language fluently.

It could also mean there are gaps in our intellect that we aren’t even aware exist. At this point in my life, I am completely unaware of some of the knowledge that I am missing.

Let me further explain where I’m headed by offering up another saying – a quote that’s attributed to Donald Rumsfeld. The end of which observes that there are unknown unknowns in life, that is, those things we don’t know we don’t know.

unknown unknowns quote

I would imagine I share a goal with many of you: To reduce the amount of unknown unknowns in my life by expanding my mind and perspective, not only through study but also through personal experience.

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