I remember the moment like it was yesterday. I pulled into Steilacoom park, with time to spare before my eight year old daughter’s soccer game started. I was alone because Kelli had traveled to Southern California to watch the game. What game, you ask? Well, it was Stanford versus USC, in a football game that pitted the #1 USC Trojans against the last place Stanford Cardinal. More importantly our son Tavita was starting his first college football game and everyone expected it to be a slaughter. I’ll save the story of the game for another day, but I stayed home because I was officiating at a good friend’s wedding. And that allowed me to attend Sina’s soccer game. Which led to the revelation that I’m sharing with you today.
I share this with you mostly so you can learn from me. First, a little background is in order. I (David) am the primary author of this blog post, although Kelli always heavily influences anything I write. I had the privilege of being a three sport athlete all through high school and then going on to play division one college football. While my success in college was varied and modest, it was still an amazing experience, which included participating in the Holiday Bowl my senior year. As a player I experienced the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. I spent time as a starter and I spent time riding the pine! I had seasons of being in the best shape of my life and I spent seasons of being injured and unable to do much at all physically.
After my playing days were done, I immediately began coaching high school athletes – first as a volunteer and then as an official member of several staffs. Ultimately, I coached for over 30 years, including many seasons coaching my own children. To say that athletics has been a big part of my life is an enormous understatement. I’ve watched hundreds and hundreds of baseball, soccer, fastpitch, basketball, and football games; more than you can shake a stick at. Hundreds of those games included my children as participants. Sadly, the clock is winding down and soon the era of watching my kids as athletes will be over. So I share these thoughts in hopes they inspire and encourage you.
My regrets aren’t dark and deep, at least in the area of athletics… but they are still regrets. Which brings me back to that morning and Sina’s (my eight year old) soccer game. Right before I got out of the car my son Tavita, called me on the phone. He was at the team hotel. They had just finished their team breakfast and he was heading to a position meeting (with the other quarterbacks) before boarding a bus for the game. I can still remember the conversation and how nervous I was for my son. It was a nationally televised game and Las Vegas had the Trojans favored to win by 41 1/2 points – which in Vegas terms meant an ice cube had a better chance in “you know where” than the Cardinal did at winning this game. Honestly, I was confident my son would perform admirably; I just didn’t think admirably was going to make much difference. In the end, Stanford pulled off the biggest upset in college football history, but again that’s a story for another blog post!
I prayed over the phone with my son and then I hung up. I said another prayer (I figured you can’t pray too much at a time like this!) and got out of the car to walk over to the soccer game. The honest truth is I can’t remember much about Sina’s game. And to be perfectly honest (and please don’t be offended) I’m not much of a soccer fan. But I can remember Sina running around out there with the other little girls and I was loving it. Until I started to hear the other parents screaming. They were screaming at their kids, at the refs, at each other… over a U8 soccer game! And it hit me; I’ve been doing the same thing much of my parenting life. Here my son was about to play in the colliseum (Tavita means David, so it was literally David being thrown into the colliseum) and these parents were losing it over a U8 soccer game. I vowed to never again do that… which I’ve failed at numerous times. I promised to enjoy watching my kids play and stop the madness of allowing the emotion of sports to overshadow the blessing of being involved.
But I’m often reminded of that day and the lesson. I’ve tried to remember a line I heard a few years ago and use it on my children as often as I can, “I love watching you play!” These years go by so quickly and we can squander them if we aren’t careful. I’m not suggesting we can’t raise our kids to be competitive; teaching our kids grit is one of the most important character qualities for success we can teach. What I am saying is, enjoy these years you have watching your kids and use athletics to shape and mold your child’s character – not to badger and beat up your child over performance and ability. Practice saying, “I love watching you play.” Cheer for your child and rather than praise success (which often times they have very little control over) encourage hard work and perseverance.
In other words, rather than saying, “Great game tonight! Wow! You scored 2 touchdowns and threw for 300 yards.” Try saying something more like, “Nice game. Wow! Your hard work this week sure paid off. And I loved watching the way you were a leader tonight with your team.” And of course, “I love watching you play!!!”
Sadly, Sina is getting ready to start her final season of high school sports. It’s hard to believe this time of our parenting life is nearing a close. Our youngest is going into eighth grade – a few more years to encourage and support. I’ve been blessed to experience all the ups and downs of athletics in my children’s lives. I don’t have many regrets, but this is one. I wish I could return to when all my kids were little and take back some of the harsh things I said and relive some of those moments differently. I would say to them often, “I love watching you play!”
Of course, God is so good. He’s given us a second chance with the grandkids… and opportunity to pass the lesson on to you. I hope it helps and I hope you enjoy it.
Also, if you haven’t already, check out our podcast series on athletics… Here are the links to those episodes.
I would love to hear your feedback and any stories you can share from your family.