There’s an old saying, “Don’t try to remove the obstacle from the path, the obstacle is the path”. In other words, focus on the journey, no matter the potholes or rerouting of the GPS. The lesson is in the struggle.
There is truth in this advice, however, the other day I got caught in what I call the parenting muck. This is when I mentally trudge through the tribulations of our kids’ experiences. This particular Thursday my youngest was at his second baseball game of the week and once again he leaned over the dugout wall…observing. Translated into over-parenting terms “observing” means “not playing”.
I knew he wasn’t playing because before I left work, I glanced at the Game Changer app on my phone – a magical tool that affords you the chance to watch your kid’s game from anywhere. Simply sign in and wait for your child’s last name to move around a field, court, or rink…or NOT. Think “Where’s Waldo” with a uniform. Since I didn’t see his name on the baseball diamond, I assumed he was the guy warming up the outfielders while humming the line “Put me in coach” from John Fogerty’s song, “Centerfield”.
According to the Game Changer website, their mission is to “Help families elevate the next generation through sports.” Although I love the app to keep track of scores and time remaining…I find as it “elevates the next generation…” it also elevates my blood pressure while I watch names blink on and off the screen, none of whom I carried for nine months, potty trained, or helped with homework last night.
Then I stopped myself. I slammed on my emotional brakes and redirected my focus. I thought about all the days our son comes home from practice raving about hitting the ball in the gap or bunting straight down the third-base line. Or the time the players helped their teammate reach his goal of a 7:30 mile by running alongside him, my son’s hand on his back, keeping his pace up, yelling, “You can do it!”. Those are the times that matter. Would I prefer to see him reap a little game time for his hard work? Of course. Is he still learning, growing, and becoming a better version of himself? Yes. I convinced myself.
My sideline hustle…
After years of watching my kids play various sports, I’ve learned to TRY not to complain or blame. To scoot away from the drama in the stands, leave the umpires alone, keep calm, and trust the coaches.
My “calm” sideline training began early on. I remember watching my son’s 8U soccer games (the age when kids only cared about the Oreos and Capri Sun at the end of the game). As he zigged and zagged on the field, I hollered his name followed with sage (ha) advice like, “Ruuun!” “Go!” or “Shoot!” much like all the other crazy parents.
Inevitably, a loud shushing would come from my daughter, then nine. She would glance up from her Babysitter’s Club book, glasses perched on her nose, and bellow, “Mama!! Remember the coach said not to yell from the sidelines!” So every game I practiced shushing my outside voice, failed frequently, and eventually mastered the calm.
However, as our kids grew up, sports became a more significant monetary and emotional investment…
When we traveled around the zillion counties in Georgia with the kids and their teams, I noticed when their playing time was lacking, and my Mama Bear instinct appeared as a little devil on my shoulder whispering in my ear, “Why is he not playing? I mean, seriously, how can anyone get better at anything without experience?”
From my spot on the bleachers, I see the same people jog onto the field each game. If they strike out – they get another chance. If they make an error – it’s only one – so they stay on the field. If someone is called out to the field after sitting in the dugout and given their shot to play, they have one chance. One ball to field or hit or throw. The error will look worse with the new player and the strikeout more prominent. There is no redemption because someone else is on the bench waiting for his chance. Experience begets success.
Nonetheless, my default is to keep quiet. Sure I text understanding moms and vent now and then, or mumble prayers, complaints, and a few regrets: if only he had played travel ball since age five, if only I was taller – he would grow faster, if only. He puts in hours of extra work outside of practice and always gives 100%, so he’s due. He’ll have his chance. Of course, my main concern is our son’s morale. Kids are resilient, I’ve heard. But that doesn’t make it any easier for them when they continue to lean over the dugout wall, “observing” and longing to play the sport they love.
What I’ve learned:
Sports are a microcosm of life. Even on the hardest days, we have to work hard to get a job, promotion, or starting position. None of us are guaranteed anything, certainly not “playing” time.
Success will eventually come and for the most part, effort, preparation, and resilience are rewarded. Right now our son is building up his buoyancy and optimism. He is navigating his path and embracing the obstacles…meanwhile, I’m keeping my mouth shut.
Wish me luck.
Thanks for joining me,