Last Saturday, my youngest son played in his last high school football game. The loss that ended his season also brought to completion an era in my life. My four boys have been involved in football for a total of 14 years. All of them played in youth leagues, Pop Warner, Jr. High, and High School. At one point, my wife and I were watching four games every week. She and I have spent an unbelievable amount of time in the stands and on the sidelines watching the boys play every position on the field. Our stories are many, and we have learned a couple of lessons along the way. Today I wanted to share the most significant thing we learned.
Youth sports should be FUN.
In the early days, I was an obsessed father. I pushed the boys to work hard, got angry at refs, and yelled at people, especially coaches. When others were not meeting my expectations, I stepped up as a coach. Then the game happened where I had a meltdown. I screamed and yelled and let out all my frustration. It embarrassed me, but it forced me to take a long look in the mirror. As their father, I had to admit I was one of the people who was killing the fun of sports. From that day on, I began to adjust my attitude and shut my mouth. If I were honest, it took a few more years before I was completely willing just to let sports be fun.
Don’t build your life or your child’s life around sports. If you do, it will set both of you up for heartache and disappointment. Scholarships are a mirage, and professional sports are for elite players. Overpriced colleges like to offer small scholarships to get your kids to come to play so that the college receives the large tuition. It is a business that thrives off the dreams of young athletes. You know by the time they are in high school if they are a one in a million elite kid. They win state championships for big schools or physical gifts that make them a freak of nature. Parents have to get their kids to understand the point of each sport is not some payout at the end but a journey of enjoyment with friends.
Since those early days and my attitude changed, my boys have been criticized for one thing. Usually, a coach tells me, “They don’t take it seriously enough.” Others have said, “They spend too much time having fun in practice.” Every time I hear something like that, I smile and laugh. I know what I want my boys to remember about these days of youth football. I want them to look back with joy at the good times they experienced, the friends they made, that one memorable play, and smile over all the fun it brought to them.
When my son walked off the field on Saturday, neither he nor I cried because it was not the end of a dream. Instead, he came over with a smile and hugged his mother and me. We told him we were proud of him, and we look forward to the next thing in his life. No regrets, only happiness.