At one point in my life, not too terribly long ago, I fantasized about writing a book. And not just any old book, mind you. This book was going to chronicle my experiences as a parent of an athlete. This was going to be my opportunity to vent. I was going to address every transgression I ever had with any situation I deemed exasperating, unjust, or downright wrong.
I even had a title in mind: Letters I’ve Written in My Head
Thankfully, I didn’t. Write the book, that is. Because in my head is exactly where all those thoughts needed to be kept.
Because, you see, up until a month ago, I didn’t get it.
All those improprieties? They didn’t matter.
My journey as a parent of an athlete began way back in the spring of 1998:
(This little cutie pie, whose shorts meet her socks, is my oldest, Kristin.)
And this where it ended last month:
(The beautiful young woman fighting tears is my baby, Alli.)
And in between those two moments were years
and years of sports.
When our children were young, my husband and I introduced them to the activities we enjoyed.
(Logan’s first race. He finished a solid last.)
(Alli’s favorite hike in the Wind River Mountains was “Jack’s Ass Pass”…she thought it was hysterical. FYI…the actual name of the trail is Jackass Pass.)
(I still get hot and sweaty just thinking of the effort it took to get all three kids on a chair lift.)
But competitive team sports? Yeah. Not so much.
But in Neenah, the community in which we lived, soccer was a big deal. A very big deal. It was as much a parents’ social event as a kids’ sporting event. So, competitive sports for the Hovie family officially began in the spring of 1998 when Kristin, who was 5 at the time, began soccer. And each year thereafter, another Hovie was added to a Paper Valley Youth Soccer Club roster.
At this point, we had no clue what we were getting into.
Soccer soon overtook our lives, as all three began playing for traveling teams. There were weekends when each child was in a different state.
In the early years, Logan also played basketball. And football. And tennis. All three participated in track and field through our local Y.
The middle school years introduced us to school sports. The girls played volleyball, while Logan ran cross country and played basketball. All three participated in track and field.
By the time they were in high school, there were decisions to be made, as one sport’s season was another sport’s club season. And sometimes that created conflicts.
The girls’ passion was volleyball; Logan lived for basketball. All three went out for track and field. Logan also picked up volleyball his junior year.
If 20 years ago you would have told me all three of my kids would be student athletes at the collegiate level, I wouldn’t have believed you. The thought never crossed our minds, but it happened. Both girls played volleyball at Binghamton University in New York, while Logan high jumped at Macalester College in St. Paul.
Suffice it to say, I have experience…
and wisdom (wisdom may be too strong of a word, but you get the picture), which I am more than ready to impart with you.
First of all, sports can prepare your child for life; there are many lessons to be learned:
- Hard work and dedication pay off. But not always.
- Disappointment hurts. But it also motivates.
- Being an athlete provides opportunities. But also involves sacrifice.
- Venturing outside comfort zones is…well…uncomfortable. But can be rewarding.
- Being a leader is important. But so is being a follower.
- Winning graciously is every bit as important as losing graciously.
- Being an athlete can enhance life. But it shouldn’t define it.
And that’s all well and good, but what you may not have heard (or really heard), is that you need to let your child learn the lessons.
You can listen.
You can give a hug.
But you shouldn’t solve the problems.
This being said, the most important lesson I have learned, is that when it’s all said and done, the only thing that really matters is the relationships that have been created and nurtured.
That’s what I realized as I watched my youngest last month.
This past fall was her final season of volleyball. An injury during her junior year was heartbreaking, but served as motivation to make a comeback her senior year. But it just wasn’t meant to be. By the middle of September, as difficult as it what to accept, she was done.
Regardless, the whole family (my husband, my oldest daughter, my son, my mom, and Alli’s Godmother) traveled to New York for her final home game of the season (Senior Night).
We arrived at the gym early and found seats near the court. I noticed she was dressed in her uniform (sans knee pads), but I knew she was not cleared to play.
As the players took their places for the National Anthem, she lined up with the starters. At this point the tears (mine) began flowing. This was it.
When her name and hometown were announced, she smiled, tossed a miniature team signed volleyball into the crowd, and took her place on the court. Everyone behind us stood, clapping and cheering for her.
The other starters joined her on the court, engulfing her in big hugs. I could see her losing it, as she could no longer fight the tears.
And as she subbed out, she was embraced by her coaches.
By this time I was a hot mess, but out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that my husband, my daughter, and my son were all wiping tears from their eyes.
In that moment I truly understood. That’s what it was all about…relationships.