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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

They get one childhood

January 26, 2015
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