I’m A Youth Sports Success Story And My Parents Didn’t Morph Into Aliens To Make Me One

I played all my games on Earth. Now when I venture into the realm of youth sports, it sometimes feels like I’ve wandered onto another planet.

My youth sports career…

No, let’s not call it a career. Sports are not a kid’s job, they’re a life experience.

My youth sports journey followed several distinct phases.

Phase 1: The That Doesn’t Count, I Called Time Out Phase
a.k.a. Neighborhood Ball

In my opinion, a bunch of kids running around the backyard with hand-me-down equipment, using trees and tossed-aside jackets as boundary markers, is the best foundation a young person can get. Experts call it “free play”. I call it being a kid. It saddens me that I don’t see much of this nowadays.

Neighborhood Ball

I was outside with the neighborhood kids each day after school playing every sport under the sun. We picked the teams, we laid out the fields, we kept score, we called our own plays, we debated the rules, and settled our own arguments. No adults swooping in to control things. We were in charge. We were learning how to function in society.

It was like Lord of The Flies, only we had to go home for dinner when our moms blinked the porch light.

Phase 2: The Herding Cats Phase
a.k.a. Organized Rec League

Kids who skip Phase 1 and go straight into Phase 2 at age five don’t have any advantage over those who start later. Well, maybe one. Their parents already know the correct dosage of over-the-counter medications they need to take to avoid an aneurysm while herding 20 kids wielding orange slices.

This is the first phase where adults are involved, and thus the first stage where potential for “well-intentioned over-involvement” looms.

I didn’t start organized sports until I was 11. My first team was drama-free. Sponsored by a local garbage company, whose name we proudly wore across our chests, our coach required us to chew gum to relax and have fun. My love of the left side of the infield started here simply because I was the only girl who could throw the ball all the way across the field.

Rec League

Skills Check: Rec League. Hitting stance isn’t too bad for a girl on her first organized team. My knees are locked, but thankfully nobody in the stands was shouting that at my 11-year-old brain.

 

Phase 3: The Let’s Devote Our Entire Lives To Sports Phase
a.k.a. Select Sports

Select sports is the phase where normal, mild-mannered adults can somehow morph into aliens from the planet Tooinvested. Locked in a three-way battle against their arch nemesis, The Officials, and the opposing team, the aliens are the linchpin in a game that will decide the fate of humanity. Or so they act. Unfortunately, if this alien takeover happens, the kids are often collateral damage.

Thankfully my parents remained supportive Earthlings on my journey.

I started select teams when I was 15. By this time I still loved the game, but the big draw for me was hanging out with my teammates. We were heading toward cars, independence, and strong friendships. This is the phase where I met Heidi. More on her later.

Select Sports Hitting

Skills Check: Select Ball. I can tell this is me at bat by how clearly I’m about to pop the ball up.

Select Sports Pop Up

Yep. That’s me alright. There goes another pop fly.

 

Phase 4: The Win Or Lose I’m Hanging Out With My Teammates Not My Parents After The Game Phase
a.k.a. High School Sports

You’re playing for school pride in High School and it’s a lot of fun. Plus, with the team and events run by the schools, not the parents, there are fewer alien invasions.

making a play as shortstop on my high school team

Skills Check: High School. I took pride in nothing getting past me at shortstop on defense, but much like Select Ball, my hitting was just okay.

Still, at the end of my senior year I got my name on a Hall of Fame plaque in the trophy case. It certainly wasn’t for my Batting Average. It was a leadership award that meant a lot to me because it was voted on by my teammates.

Phase 5: The I Am Learning The True Meaning Of Time Management As A Student-Athlete Phase
a.k.a. College Athletics

I was lucky enough to be a student-athlete in college. Between classes, games, practices, traveling, tests, and papers that are due, it’s a huge adjustment, but a great experience.

Speaking of huge adjustments, this is the phase where I went from being a big fish in a tiny pond, to being a tiny fish on a big ol’ pine bench. My team was good. We played for a National Championship. I had my moments on the field, but they were few and far between.

Skills Check: College. I have uncovered 20-year-old video tape evidence for your amusement. Coach still trying to correct my mechanics. Me still trying and failing and popping up and getting frustrated.

Parents, please use me as your case study. In nine years of playing organized ball, and umpteen people trying to correct my swing…

I. Never. Got. It.

Your kid is either going to get it or they won’t. No amount of your exasperation is going to finally make it click.

But no matter how many times I popped up in my youth sports journey, I’m still a success story.

In college I learned how to be a role player. I learned you don’t always get to be a starter but you’re still an important part of the team. I worked harder in practice on that team than I ever had in the past.

I still have a stack of index cards from a team-building exercise. We wrote three sentences for each teammate telling them what we admired, valued, and respected about them. The cards I received from my teammates said nothing about my batting average.

My teammates all told me virtually the same three things: That they admired how hard I worked. They valued what a good friend and teammate I was. And they respected my never-give-up, positive attitude.

That is what youth sports should be about. Turning young girls and boys into well-rounded adults who have an advantage in life, not because they can hit a ball or catch a pass or shoot a basket well, but because they have learned invaluable life skills from playing a game that they love.
Youth sports is also about building friendships. Some of which can last a lifetime.

Me and Heidi after one of our last road trips as teammates.
Me and Heidi after one of our last road trips as teammates.

Heidi and I met playing select level softball together. We clicked right away and are still great friends all these years later.

Back then there was plenty of this.

Heidi at the plate. Nice knee pads. #Legit
Heidi at the plate. Nice knee pads. #Legit

And this.

Those blurs are Heidi at shortstop and me at third. If memory serves, we called ourselves The Wall, because nothing got through our side of the infield.
Those blurs are Heidi at shortstop and me at third. If memory serves, we called ourselves The Wall, because nothing got through our side of the infield.

We did manage to make it to 18-U Nationals.

But there was a lot more of this.

Heidi kissing her tournament MVP trophy.
Heidi kissing her tournament MVP trophy.

And this.

Heidi singing on a road trip. #mumbleoke
Heidi singing on a road trip. #mumbleoke

Having fun goofing around and being teenagers.

These days when we hang out there’s a lot of us watching her kids play sports and wondering how the kids of today are going to look back on their journey. Today we hear horrible things yelled from the stands at umpires, coaches, and even at the young players on the field. We’ve heard kids berated by their parents on the walk to the car after a bad game. This isn’t every adult by any means, but the invasion from planet Tooinvested is becoming disturbing.

Heidi decided to do something about it. When she first told me her idea for Give The Game Back I could not have been more excited or more proud of her.

GiveTheGameBack.com is spreading a movement to remind adults to keep things in perspective and give the game back to the kids where it belongs.

She is compiling a resource to help you find great articles on what’s going right and what’s going wrong in youth sports culture.

She has t-shirts available to order for parents and promoters of the movement to wear at youth sports activities as a reminder to keep perspective and spread the word to others.

Heidi and her daughter in Give The Game Back t-shirts.
Heidi and her daughter in Give The Game Back t-shirts.

Heidi also does what she does best and writes about her own experiences with her husband raising their three young children in the world of youth sports today.

One of my favorite things she’s written recalls the moment she realized she needed to change. I think it’s a great reminder to all parents.

One last thing. Heidi didn’t ask me to write this. I wrote it because I believe in this movement and I believe in her. I believe she can make a difference. I believe we all can make a difference.

Youth sports can be a journey of great experiences, great lessons, great friends, and great fun. I hope Heidi’s kids look back on their sports journey with as much happiness as their mom and I look back on ours.

 

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10 thoughts on “I’m A Youth Sports Success Story And My Parents Didn’t Morph Into Aliens To Make Me One

  1. Now THIS was a fun trip down memory lane. There’s solid proof here that I’ve always tried to sneak a bunt down third base line AND have awful hair. 🙂 Thanks for all your support for GiveTheGameBack. I don’t recall that MVP trophy, but I do remember singing on road trips. #priorities

  2. Wonderful. I think what Heidi is doing is great. As a former strength & conditioning coach at the high school and junior college level, I have seen youth sports devolve through the years. More to the point youth stays the same. It’s parents, refs, and coaches who have become knuckle draggers.

    I’m not sure if Heidi ever read the book I suggested to her, The Games Do Count, but I’ll recommend it to you too. The closing chapter is by George Will. He talks about youth baseball in his era. There were no leagues. The kids themselves were the administration, the coaches, and the audience. Slowly, it’s gone downhill since.

    Though I have stepped away from S&C, I’m still in touch with former players, two of home play softball; one at Lee University, and the other at McNeese State. Both have confided in me that there is less pressure without mom and dad in the stands each week. Hmmmm…

    Anyway, sorry for another rant, but this topic is near and very dear to my heart.

    1. Oh I always enjoy a good Roy Rant. 😉 The sentence that stood out most to me is when you said, the youth have stayed the same, it’s the adults who have changed. You are quite right.

  3. This is great! I’m at the University of Florida. They’re building a legend in softball as you probably know. Greatest game I ever saw was one of their softball games that ended with a walk-off HR in the bottom of the 7th!

    I played shortstop in baseball. Originally we were just kids and no parents were around. Maybe I was lucky that my parents never came to any games except one, an all-star game where I struck our every time at bat!

    I have a neighbor whose dad played pro-ball in St Louis and my neighbor knew Stan Musial as a kid! Now he built a small baseball field in his very large yard. Occasionally, I go over and face his pro pitching machine and just hit baseballs for fun, watching them fly after that crack of the bat! Those moments make life good!

    1. Nothing more fun to watch than a walk-off homer! (Unless you’re on defense, I guess. Ha!) Hitting off your neighbor’s pitching machine sounds like a great way to unwind. Those moments do indeed make life good! Thanks so much for taking the time to comment!

  4. Oh, I read this a while back and meant to comment, but I think I was sick as a dog then. Anyway, just wanted you to know how much I enjoyed this. It has so bothered me, seeing how sports have changed. There’s no such thing as trying a sport for the first time in high school. My daughter loved soccer as a kid, but stopped playing at around 5th grade. (Because of adults.) She really wanted to play in high school, but knew that with all those years off, she wasn’t going to make the team. Made me mad/sad. I love all those pictures of you!

    1. Thanks, Rita! That is an excellent point that there is no such thing as trying a sport for the first time in high school anymore, and I agree that’s sad. It short-changes a lot of kids out of what could be a very good experience. I feel like kids should have the opportunity to try any activity they have an interest in, you never know what they might latch onto that leads to a life-long career interest or pastime for them. I happen to know your daughter found plenty of other activities to make you proud, but it’s too bad soccer couldn’t have been one of them. 🙂

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