Why All the Sports? The Answer Surprised Even Me

2013 Seahawks

Life in our family of seven has been particularly hectic these days, and I have one good reason for it: youth sports.  We've been consumed with sports of late, with children playing on a junior baseball team, an older baseball team, and a tween softball team.  My husband coaches two of these teams, thus requiring much in the way of behind-the-scenes equipment juggling, scheduling shuffling, and pep talks.

That's six games per week for anyone who's counting, which comes to roundabout fifty games crammed into the nights and weekends of two already-busy school months, plus the bimonthly Sunday workouts of the triathlon team that the kids started in early April.

2014 Marlins

2011 Mets

2014 Rays

So why would we subject ourselves to this much in the way of sports?  This question was posed to me last month, and between repeated kamikaze Chick-fil-A drive throughs, mass purchases of Goldfish and Gatorade, and the hauling of pop-up chairs and snack bags back and forth across the red, ubiquitous sand, I've been mulling it over ever since.  In LBK (life before kids), I was a grant writer for the National Alliance for Youth Sports, so I guess you could say that I was a professional on reciting the laundry list of why youth sports are important for kids.  Lifelong lessons in team building, good sportsmanship, physical fitness, and camaraderie rank at the top of this list.

However, not one of those is my reason for the grueling sports schedule we have willingly brought upon ourselves. 

Why then, you ask?

2013 Area Tallahassee Aquatic Club (ATAC)

2029 MVP

2014 St. Mark's Duathlon

Here's the thing: I once assumed being a parent meant that I would have a front-row seat to watching my kids grow up.  I believed I would be there to see the small moments, the daily interactions, the tiny successes and challenges that build into my children and gradually make them into the responsible, mature adults I hope they will be.

I would be the primary witness.

Not necessarily so.

2013 cross country team

2013 Titans

2014 Youth Triathlon Series

Instead, the front row seat is given to others, and I mostly run logistics.  I drop them off at the schoolhouse and the classroom door clicks behind them.  I wonder about their interactions during the span of those seven hours away.  What conversations did they have?  What did they learn?  Did they mind their manners?  Were they frustrated about something?  Did they have an insightful answer or a weak reply or a helpful suggestion? I deposit my children at Sunday school and pick them up again, but do I get to overhear what insights they shared or what they learned while apart from me that hour?

I'll never know these daily details, and frankly the hours spent away from my sight are significant.  I cannot watch huge chunks of their lives firsthand; I only hear the instant replay on the car ride home. 

I am relegated to second, and sadly parts of their childhood are obscured, lived out just beyond the horizon of Mom.

 2012 ATAC

2013 Gulf Winds Summer Track Series

2012 Seahawks

2013 Titans

Ah, but in sports - in sports - that is no longer the case.  It is my moment.  I am not rushing around prepping dinner, folding laundry, giving baths, helping with homework, answering four questions at once, or separated from them by a classroom wall. 

I have the liberty to take my seat, pause for a spell, hold my gaze steady and simply watch. Watch how they support and encourage their friends with tenderness when they fumble the ball.  See how they summon their courage to stand before a huge crowd and dive off the swim blocks in a mad wet rush for first place.  Witness how they strike out miserably, and with dried tear stains streaking their face, gain renewed hope as they walk to the plate once more.  

All the drama and effort of my flesh and blood, my most treasured possessions - I take it all in and come back wanting more.  Hands down, the most delicious hours of my life are spent at the ball fields, tracks, pools, and race courses of this town. 

I measure my kids' growth not by days marked off the calendar or penciled notches on the door, but by the increasing arc of their fly ball from the plate, their ever-accelerating speed on the track, the seconds off the stopwatch in the 100m free, the gradual arm strength to throw the touchdown farther and farther and farther down the field with each passing year.

I sit back comfortably in my portable chair - the yellow birthday present with the pop-up umbrella bought lovingly with kiddie tooth fairy money - then I fold my arms and give myself a squeeze and feel thankful for every glorious moment.

2009 Youth Triathlon Series

2012 ATAC anchor IM relay

2030 UF recruit

And oh the drama of it all.  It's spellbinding to me. 

My son stands quietly in the dugout, pensive and pinched, and I wonder from the bleacher zone what he is thinking. I see how he bows his sweat-stained brow and pauses. He puts his hand to the fence, looks out over the field. I lean in a little.  

Then my heart lifts as a familiar look of total focus crosses his face and determination glints in his eyes. Sure enough, in the next moment, he turns on his heel, confidently picks up his favorite bat, strides past dozens of spectators and hammers a smashing bullet to bring the runners home. 

I take in every minute detail, both subtle and obvious, and shake my head in wonder and appreciation. There is no place I'd rather be.

2014 Yankees

My daughter is only six and has a stitch in her side so badly she can hardly walk as she finishes up the run of her first-ever triathlon.  I helplessly look on, fighting all instincts to run to her, and wonder if she will quit. Somehow she swallows the pain between gulps of air and fast-flowing tears and finds the mental courage to finish strong. She leaps in her daddy's arms at the finish with the jubilation only a conquered challenge can bring.

2006 Red Hills Kids Triathlon

And before I know it, that same fair-haired six year old is an elegant young lady, happily sprinting to the finish without hesitation in the latest race, and suddenly in my heart I know that once I am gone, she will be okay.  In this race of life, she will dig deep and finish strong.  I know not because I was told but because I watched it with my own eyes.

A weight is lifted.

2013 Gladiator Challenge

2006 Red Hills Kids Triathlon

2007 Red Hills Kids Triathlon

2008 Red Hills Kids Triathlon

2012 Freedom Springs Triathlon

2013 ATAC Swim Invitational

Yes indeed, these splish splash, patter-pat, pop up, curve ball, touchdown moments are worth this mama seeking out and savoring. 

Even if the drive through dinner is not.

*A version of this post appeared on the National Alliance For Youth Sports website, seen here.

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