The Last Time
For the first time I recently experienced watching one of my kids play a sport they love for the last time. There have been other sports along the way that fell off due to attrition, but knowing a loss would end a journey that began in grade school comes with a punch to the gut and a flurry of emotions, the most prevalent being sadness, appreciation, and thankfulness.
Sadness. Father Time is undefeated and everyone’s playing careers come to an end at some point. Being sad that I’ll no longer be able to watch my child play a sport they love at a high level is comparable to completing a thousand-piece puzzle and inserting the final piece. There were parts that were easy, and parts that were difficult, but seeing the last ‘puzzle piece’ put in place is such a final act.
Appreciation. While watching what turned out to be the last game, I thought back to all the work put into becoming the competitor they are today. The countless hours of car and plane rides, lessons, practices, playing through pain, broken bones, the gratification of winning, and the agony of defeat. Our kids work so hard to do what they love and we need to step back more often and appreciate the fact that it isn’t easy and they need to be applauded for the sacrifices to their craft.
Thankfulness. Throughout a youth athlete’s playing career they meet numerous people. Some are coaches, others are parents and there are always teammates. I am thankful my child had the opportunity to be pushed to be her best self. Were there times when I disagreed with a coach and their decisions? Of course there were, but I do believe there is value in learning how to deal with adversity for both the player AND the parents. I am thankful coaches taught my daughter to ‘own’ her future by speaking up if she had a question versus having mom and dad fight his/her battles. Being able to have tough conversations and work towards understanding how to work through challenges may be the most valuable lesson my kids learned throughout their playing careers. Sometimes those challenges were playing time and sometimes it might have been how to be a good teammate when others may not have a similar mindset.
So many lessons are learned by both parents and players over the course of a playing career. The best you can hope for is to come out the other side with a foundation that will assist the entire family in the future and an ability to look back and embrace the roller coaster journey called youth sports.