It was an ordinary Tuesday evening at an elementary football game. Ordinary, for anyone but me. I looked up from helping my 4 year old with her Happy Meal, for just a minute, and there my son was, standing in center field for the coin toss and official introductions.
Then, a mere 6 minutes later, he made an incredible 28 yard catch, only to be pulled down just before the end-zone. At least, that is how it was described to me from the 2 ladies sitting behind me. You see, as soon as I realized he was out in center field running, and the ball was actually headed in his direction, AND he had his arms outstretched, I immediately hid my face in my hands and spoke to the higher powers. It wasn't until I heard the crowd roar and his name read from the press box that I lifted my head back up. "Pass completed to Reece Saliba for a gain of 28!" I couldn't control the tears. They were happy tears for being right there in that moment.
This kid had decided on the last day of sign-ups to play football. To play a game in 5th grade that he has never played before. A game he knew nothing about. On a team of boys that he had never really played other sports with, for the most part. He joined a team filled with boys that had been playing this sport for at least 4+ years. He decided to step out of his comfort zone of basketball courts and batting cages to try something new. And I'm more proud of him for that than anything else.
Honesty, I secretly gave him 3 days of 98 degree two-a-day practices and getting yelled at before he gave up. Yes, I am a doubter, but let's be nice and just call me a “Realist.”
Here's the thing. He had already accepted the fact that he wouldn't get much playing time. That he probably wouldn't get the ball thrown to him. Probably-NEVER. He was a "decoy," and he knew it. Still, he showed up. He listened and played hard. When other parents left the game with their son early because there are 4 minutes left and they haven't played yet, he cheered from the sideline and stayed positive. This guy is the guy that just caught a 28 yard pass. His first catch.
I tell you this story to let you in on something. Elementary sports, these days, is nuts. Kids are "over-sportz" and burnt out before the 5th or 6th grade. I know some kids that are playing or practicing 2-3 sports. All at the same time. At. The. Same. Time. They don't know how to even act in a regular social setting. They act like robots or worse, bullies. We've played teams in 1st and 2nd grade that, supposedly, have been playing together from the age of 3. The age of 3 people! Redshirting your child in kindergarten so that they can be an All-American high school athlete is a ridiculous notion.
As a mom of 2 boys that now play year round school sports, I have a few suggestions for coaches and parents to consider:
I get that most of you are parent volunteers. But I will bet a few of you have degrees in working with children. This is important so listen carefully. At the end of the day, these are young children and it’s a game. Again. It’s a game and these are kids. Please don’t make these children believe that winning is crucial and losing is a disaster. Your job is to TEACH them the game, encourage good sportsmanship, be an example of fairness, and use positive reinforcement. Play all the players on the bench. Everyone plays ball! There is no reason to have a starting lineup in 1st grade basketball. Play all the kids - in all the positions. Trust me on this one.
Rivalry and competitiveness are a natural state of athletics. Please don’t perpetuate the mentality that one team is “better” than another. All you are doing is telling a kid that it’s okay to look down on his peers. Let the record be the record. A humble, gracious athlete is more valuable than someone that runs their mouth off about how great they are. Those guys get traded. A lot.
Your turn. Before you sit down in your telescoping chair or bleacher seat, take a look down at your shirt. If it contains the word "Coach" or "Referee," then feel free to speak to the players. If not, then have a seat and just hush. Next, in your inside voice, say your kid's name. If he or she can hear you, you are too close to the bench. Now move back about 5 steps. This is recreational ball. Recreational team sports. It is intended to TEACH your child how to play a TEAM sport. It is not intended to get them a full ride to college. There are no scouts at the church playing fields on Saturday mornings. Let the coaches call the plays. Let the kids play the plays. Let the Refs determine who messed up the play. This is how the process should work.
As a parent, you are free to yell encouraging sporty things to your child. "Yay!" "Run!" "Ball!" "Clock!" Any of these are perfectly acceptable things to yell at the field or court. "Come on Ref!" Is not. "Are you kidding me?" Also not ok. If you have trouble keeping these things from coming out of your mouth, come see me. I'll have a bag of Lifesavers or DumDums to keep you busy and quiet. Thanks to Glennon Doyle - soccer mom 101 - for a few of the aforementioned suggestions.
As always, I like to throw in some real life facts. So here it goes: 6.1% of high school athletes go on to play at a collegiate level. 2% of those students get college athletic scholarships. The athletic “full ride” is a mystical unicorn. Only 6 NCAA sports even offer full ride scholarships at all. Not surprisingly, the odds from college sports to professional are even worst. Baseball has the best odds; 9.5% of NCAA players go pro. For football players, it's only 1.6%.