My Biggest Regret as the Parent of an Athlete

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.

Tavita after the biggest upset in college football history!

Tavita after the biggest upset in college football history!

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.

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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.

PWTG Episode 033: What to do if you want your children to be professional athletes!

PWTG Episode 034: How to Deal with Your Child’s Coach!

PWTG Episode 035: Athletics: How to be a Positive Influence

I would love to hear your feedback and any stories you can share from your family.

20 thoughts on “My Biggest Regret as the Parent of an Athlete

  1. The first thing I always said to my girls when they got out of the pool/off the stage/off the horse, etc. was, “Did you have fun?” And never said a thing after that. They talked, I listened. This was their gig, not mine. One time someone asked me if I was nervous over my daughter’s impending peformance at a Feis. I quickly answered no. Why would I be nervous? It was her performance. Even if she fell on her face, it was a part of life. No one cares when you are 30 if you were a star track player, or the first chair flute. So why do we make such a big deal about these things? Because they stroke the parents’ egos. Once we realize this, then we can put it all in perspective.

    • I wish I had learned that lesson a little earlier in my parenting. Thanks for sharing your perspective!!!

  2. The same concept applies to our non-athlete kids as well. I tell my son after a football game how much I love to watch him play. (Last year, as a 7th grader, he was on a team I wasn’t helping coach for the first time in five years…yes, I was the mom football coach.) I also tell him how much I loved watching him encourage his teammates as they came out of the game, or when he was the first one to congratulate a teammate on a great play. My daughter is not an athlete, but the same concept applies to her. When she steps off the stage, she doesn’t hear me mention the near-fall, or the missed cue…she just hears me tell her how much I love to watch her perform. That’s all she needs to hear…she’s enjoying doing what she loves, and I enjoy watching her do it…whether she’s a lead performer or an ensemble member.

  3. I helped coach or kept books for all of my two daughters’ teams for 16 years so that I couldn’t yell at anyone on the field or court. It served a dual purpose. I was fully engaged with their entire team, and I was an official who could get a technical for yelling.

  4. I think I’m lucky because my kids at least started out in sports that I knew next to nothing about, and so right away the delineation between their coaches and their parents was clear. I was NOT a coach. I actually intentionally threw a great deal of respect for knowledge of the sport onto my kids. I would ask them how it went: I know your team lost, but you looked like you played really well yourself to me? How did it feel to you? OR I would be completely honest, I have seen you play a lot better than that, I know it wasn’t your best day. What did your coach say? My role was clear, to stay in the parent role and to stay on their side and to give them as much respect and confidence as I could. Later, my youngest started competing in a sport that I know a LOT about. I continued to downplay that and not give her the benefit of my knowledge — which sounds really strange I know. I found her coaches I respected and gave only minimal advice when I could not help myself. I still asked her her opinion and as long as it was not a safety issue, I stood back and stayed in the parent role — supportive, never judgmental, part of her support staff only. I was particularly careful to parent THEM and not parent MYSELF when I was their age.

    Some people can pull off both roles, I decided it was easier to be 100% supportive parent and let someone else be the coach.

    My son is now paying his way through college and grad school on athletic scholarships. I remain support staff and cheerleader only.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience. It’s hard when we’re so emotionally attached to these kids to remember the main role we are called into. You’d be a great model for other parents.

  5. My oldest son played football and baseball for 10 years while in grade school, and then 6 years of semi-pro football before he passed away at 26 years old from bone cancer. He knew i didnt have a clue what was going on in the game; i simply loved watching him . Memories of cheering for him while he played the sports that he loved so much= priceless.

    • Kim, I’m so sorry for your loss, but I’m so glad you can have fond memories of your time cheering him on.

  6. Well said. I sometimes allowed myself to get frustrated while watching my kids play. Later on (like you) I emphasized the positive leadership and hard work ethic I saw in my kids. It was much more enjoyable to watch games when that was my focus. My last child is off to collage this fall and I’m not sure what I will do with all of the time I will have now that I’m not at their games.

    • It is such a short window of time which is why I hope parents can learn from my experience and not lose valuable years focusing on the wrong thing with their children that are athletes (or singers, or actors, or what have you).

  7. Well said amd thank you for this. My two oldest daughters are in 10th and 8th grade and have played competitive basketball since they were in 1st and 3rd. I’ve always told them that I loved watching them play because I wanted them to know that I enjoyed what they did in all aspects of their game: displaying leadership, playing with integrity and sportsmanship, and supporting their teammates while on the court and from the bench. On a side note, my son’s middle name is Tavita. 😊

  8. Great reminder! That was a excellent story. When my children started playing soccer I’m never forget the select coach telling us this will not give them a scholarship to college. Anyway as my children are in their Junior and Senior years of High School and play varsity girls soccer it reminds of the 10+ year journey and all I do now is smile. I will let them know I love to watch them play and I will always have those memories which are priceless.

    • Mareon, what a great perspective to have with your girls. The time goes by so quickly and then it’s gone. Enjoy every day of the journey. Blessings to you and thanks so much for visiting our site.

  9. David,
    Thank you for sharing this. I am experiencing this exact phase of life right now. I played soccer all year around through high school and into the Air Force. I am passionate about the game of soccer and now my kids play. I have coached my older daughter, now a senior, from the age of 5 to age 12. Now my son and younger daughter play as well. I have learned, the hard way, to stop “coaching” from the sideline when I should be enjoying watching them play. She is now on her last couple of games as a senior and I have just figured it out. It makes me sad but I have had most of this season to truly enjoy watching her play. And now I can move on and enjoy with my son and youngest daughter.
    Thank you again for sharing.

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