Did you top off the tank?

Last weekend, it happened:  KD joined what I thought was another relatively “low-key” soccer league, which I thought would focus much more on having fun and skill development than on winning and losing.  Sure, the kids are learning, but the focus has broadened.  We spent the entire day at a “seeding tournament,” in which KD’s soccer team played four games against teams from other, more competitive leagues.  As much as I tried to keep things low-key, I felt myself getting pumped-up when they won two and tied two, without giving-up a goal.  As a reminder of how I’d like to encourage my son as an athlete, I’m sharing a blog I wrote about a year ago.

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After 26 years of teaching and counseling kids, I’ve worked with I’m not sure how many “elite” athletes. I’ve memorized their stories about travel teams, comp teams, select teams, rec teams, sports “academies”, school teams, trainers, coaches, dietitians, etc., etc., etc…Makes my head spin.

When KD was born, I was determined not to encourage this. Partly selfish, yes, but I didn’t want to spend my weekends driving a monster SUV up and down I-5, with things like “Go Assassins” and “Manteca or bust” written in puffy paint on the windows. (Nothing against Manteca; it could be any of thousand of cities that host weekend tournaments. Haven’t seen any “Carmel or bust” slogans. If I did, maybe my opinion might shift a little. But I digress…)

People often told me that these trips are good family bonding time. Sorry, but kids with ear buds in, focusing on whatever screen is in front of them, doesn’t qualify. Neither does shoveling in hard-boiled eggs, instant oatmeal and pastries in plastic wrap at the complimentary buffet, before heading off to six games in 100-degree weather.

Fast-forward a couple of years: I learned KD is crazy about sports. These days, the second he wakes up, he literally sprints to the front door, opens the paper, and throws all other sections aside, so he can study the sport’s page as if he’s studying for his MCAT’s. Granted, he doesn’t always know all of his kindergarten site words, but he can certainly read “North Dakota State” and “Southern Florida” and knows the names of their starting five.

This daily ritual isn’t the least bit surprising, as I was the same as a six-year-old. I, like KD, was an extremely early riser, except my ritual was to sprint to the kitchen, so I could watch Canadian Football replays on our 12-inch, black and white TV. I think I might have been responsible for the entire market share in the Los Angeles area…Needless to say, it isn’t worth trying to keep KD from following sports.

As expected, he also loves playing sports and wants to be in every league possible. I want to support him, because it brings him so much joy to play and have his parents there to watch. He’s also pretty coordinated and, according to others, “really thinks out there and sees the whole court,” whatever that means. I tell myself that kids’ self-esteem, in part, comes from developing a sense of competency, so I’m OK with him doing well.

I’m also trying not to focus on how well he does, as it’s supposedly not good for him to hear this from me. (I give my wife 100% credit for this, as she shared an article about how parents should talk to kids about their games. It’s a struggle, but it makes sense.) So I tell him things like how I love watching him have a good time and be a good teammate.

So where does this leave our family? I encourage KD to play as much as he and we can. (On top of this, we’re also encouraging other things: art, music, and creative, unstructured time.) He plays on some teams that are supposedly a little more competitive than others (but at this point seem pretty much the same.) He’s having fun and feels good about himself, so I don’t want to stifle it. I also have my alarm set for 615 tomorrow, as his game starts at 8 a.m. I’m picking up some instant oatmeal and packaged pastries on my way home, in preparation for the complimentary buffets to come. I’m also keeping my eyes on the prices of gas and used Chevy Yukon’s.

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