When my son was five he started playing baseball. He wasn’t particularly good at it, but he loved it.
As much as he struggled, and let me tell you it was a lot, he was determined to keep going. I was impressed by his tenacity, (still am).
At the time, I had just gone through a divorce and was looking for a way to spend more time with him, so I started coaching.
I wasn’t a great baseball player when I was a kid, I didn’t have any special insight into the game, or coaching, but I love my kid... so I jumped in.
That was the beginning.
The start of my amazing, confusing, fulfilling, frustrating and sometimes excruciating road of being the parent of a student athlete.
If you’re reading this, then you’re probably on one side or the other of this equation; the athlete or the parent. And you have participated in what I call, ‘Daddy Ball.’
It doesn’t matter if there was a ball, (hockey), or even if you were a dad, (mom), that period of life will always be ‘daddy ball’ to me.
Before the professional coaches and private trainers. Before the travel teams and megalomaniacal high school coaches. Before the showcases and D1 scholarships.
When it all felt innocent. But it wasn’t. Not really.
I use the term ‘Daddy Ball’ because the kids played in a world that was created, controlled and governed by the dads.
The dads that ran the league: the dads that picked and coached the teams. The dads that chose the all-stars, and the dads that had already decided who the best players were going to be. Ha.
All of that was a surprise to me, in spite of it being the ‘everyone plays and gets a trophy’ era, there was something that I was naïve to and not at all prepared for...
You’re probably nodding your head right about now, regardless of the level you (or your kid) is playing at, or played to and then stopped.
Politics for five year olds?
Yes, actually. It was an eye opening experience, but I accepted it and even learned how to play along. A little.
During that time I always believed that if my son stayed in sports long enough, the politics would dissipate until it disappeared completely.
Talk about naïve! You’re probably laughing right about now.
Well, my son is about to start his sophomore year in high school, playing baseball in a highly competitive program (seventy-five freshman tried out and twenty made the team).
I can honestly say that last year I witnessed more ‘politics’ went into who made the team and who played, then I had ever seen before.
The truth is, the better you get, the further you go as a student athlete, the more you have at stake, the more that politics are involved. It’s kind of depressing.
It’s the ugly reality some parents knew going in, and others, like me, have learned the hard way. And for us parents, there’s a hard lesson we have to teach our kids; that success in competitive sports is not necessarily a meritocracy. Just because you are better, doesn’t mean you will play or even succeed.
Now that I know that, I believe as parents we have no choice but to advocate for our kids, every chance we get.
It’s the reason why I am writing this blog, and creating a platform for others, both student athletes and parents, to contribute here as well.
So we can share stories and advice that help others learn from our experience, for athletes to feel supported and heard, in order to help navigate the minefield they find themselves in.
A safe place, so more kids can get something out of their experience as student athletes, not just the ones that get offered a D1 scholarship in eighth grade... although they are welcome here, too. We can all help each other.