Monthly Archives: June 2015

Things I Learned from a Lifetime of Sports, Part I

Have you seen this ad from Nike?

I LOVE this! And it got me thinking about some things I’ve learned from participating in a lot of different sports throughout my life. I think some of these are reflected in the video and some are just things that I have been able to use in other parts of my life. I have more, but I’ll save those for part II. (-:

So, what are some things I’ve learned from sports?

Talent is important, but without effort and heart, you will not succeed. I made more than one team in my life because I showed up every day, shut my mouth, and worked as hard as I could at whatever the coach demanded. Good coaches take note of who is working hard. So do good bosses. Just sayin’.

Winning really isn’t everything. It sounds trite but it is true. Losing sucks, don’t get me wrong, but you have to learn to deal with that suckage and figure out what to do to improve. More lessons are learned from losses than wins.

You don’t need a trophy. Really, can we just stop the whole trophy for showing up thing already? There is actually a lot of personal pride and internal motivation that comes from knowing you’ve worked your hardest and done your best. I won my first trophy playing volleyball when I was 14. Yes, it took me 14 years to get a trophy and I treasured it (and still have it somewhere around here). And, if a coach notices how well you are doing and says something to you about your play or your effort? That is so much better than any trophy that will collect dust on your shelf. Trust me.

There is no “I” in team. Another overused saying, but for a reason. Even in sports where you may compete individually (like track or swimming or gymnastics), you are still part of a team and your effort does matter. You need to know that you can rely on others and that they can count on you. Trust and accountability – two concepts that will get you far in life.

You are mentally tougher than you think. Working out hurts sometimes. Actually, it can hurt a lot of the time. But, if your heart is in it, you can push through and get to that finish line, whatever that might look like. And when you do push through, there is satisfaction and happiness (maybe from endorphins, but I’ll take it however it comes) waiting on the other side. Develop that mental toughness – another great tool to have in your life toolbox.

As I said, I have more that I’ll get to later. I would love to know some of the things you’ve learned – please share!

Stepping Off the Pitch

Spring, 1978

That spring I played my first soccer game. I was 8 and it was the first season for a girls’ soccer league in Bel Air, MD, where I lived at the time. I don’t recall much about it except that I scored once and played goalie a little bit, a position that I continued to play throughout my career. I do remember scoring the goal – I ran upfield and my eyes started watering and I couldn’t really see but I kicked the ball and it went in the net. Nothing spectacular, but, well, we were 8.

In the net my first season. I think I was praying that they wouldn't score!

In the net my first season. I think I was praying that they wouldn’t score!

Spring, 2015

Last night I played my last soccer game. 37 years and countless games later; I am hanging up my boots and retiring from the beautiful game. The reasons are three-fold, as I explained to my coach:

  • Less time available to play on weeknights, with teaching and my son’s later practice times;
  • Games taking a more physical toll on my admittedly aging body; and
  • Less enjoyment from playing. I am simply not having as much fun as I used to, likely due to #1 and 2 above.
Schooling my brother in the front yard.

Schooling my brother in the front yard

Shinguards not required.  And nice short shorts. Ah, the 80s...

    Shinguards not required. And nice short shorts. Ah, the 80s…











I started playing with our coach, Lou, when my son was 6 weeks old. He is now 13. He grew up on the sidelines, watching one or both of his parents run around like crazy people. He turned me into a true soccer mom – the mom who set her child up in his stroller to sleep while she played. The mom who passed her child off to his dad as they subbed on and off the field during a game. The mom who, as she ran down the field chasing the ball, yelled to the sidelines for her son to get off the top of the bleachers. Parenting from the field. Don’t think you’ll find a book on how to do that.

Our captain and I after my last game.

Our captain and I after my last game.

It’s funny – I used to define myself by the fact that I played soccer. It was something different than most other “adults” did (except, of course, all the other adults who also played soccer). It was my social life in my 20s when I played 4-5 times a week. Soccer kept me in shape. I traveled to play in tournaments to places like Vegas and… Johnstown, PA (ok, so Vegas was a bit more of a rush). I met so many cool and interesting people playing soccer. I met my husband playing soccer.

Playing in Vegas.

Playing in Vegas.

Today, I am starting to redefine myself without soccer. I am not sure yet what exactly will take its place, but I have some ideas. I certainly won’t sit still.

I am sure there will be times when I’ll miss playing. But I have so many great memories from my years on the pitch and I’ll always count myself lucky that I got to play the beautiful game for so many years.

And my enjoyment of the game won’t end, especially not this summer. Women’s World Cup, baby! Let’s go USA!!!!

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Specialization – An Evil Word?

I read a lot online about youth sports and all of the problems like helicopter parents (not just an issue in sports, by the way), irrational coaches, organizations with god complexes, and more. The one that keeps jumping at me, however, is the issue of young kids specializing too early in one sport.

The “complaint” is that kids are picking (or being pushed into, depending on what you read) one sport and then spending all year working at that sport, rather than playing other sports during the “off-season.” I use that term loosely because, in reality, there is no longer such a thing. Every sport is now offered year-round, with traditionally outdoor sports being conducted in indoor facilities during winter months and indoor sports just staying indoors. My son plays in ice rinks, which, in the dead of winter, can be miserable when the temperature is the same inside and out. However, in the summer, it is often a relief to head inside the cool facility to escape the blistering heat (the issue of clothing notwithstanding – I keep long pants, wool socks, and a jacket in my car all summer, but, then again, who doesn’t?).

If a player wants to, he or she can play the selected sport all year and never branch out or try other sports. As this trend has increased, so has the backlash against it. If you do a quick Internet search on “youth sports specialization” you will find a list of articles and blogs discussing the topic (see this MomsTeam article as an example, but there are many more).

I get it. I understand that different sports test different muscles, increase a child’s way of thinking about the game, and teach new skills. I have been a multi-sport athlete all of my life – soccer, basketball, some dabbling in softball, track, crew, soccer again – and I have learned a lot from participating in all of them. I also was never a top-level athlete, so I wasn’t really looking to “make it big” or spend all my time playing one sport.

Where I have my issue with this whole discussion is that it is most often addressed dogmatically (kids should not specialize and, if they do, it is the parents fault). I really dislike dogma, in any form, because I believe that there is almost always a gray area – two sides of an issue (or more), different ways to look at something. In this case, the other side of the issue of specialization is the child’s interests.

My son played soccer when he was 5 until about 8 years old. He wanted to play because my husband and I play and he wanted a uniform like we had (that was the initial reason he gave, at least). Around 8, he discovered ice-skating and fell in love with the idea of playing hockey. He was able to start playing at a roller hockey rink while taking ice lessons and he quickly gave up soccer and focused on hockey. He played hockey in the fall, winter, and spring at that point – he did not play any other sports again until he was 11, when he tried a season of lacrosse (while still playing spring hockey). That experiment was not a good one and he again focused solely on hockey (now adding summer ice time into the mix) for the next two years.

Look! It's not hockey.

Look! It’s not hockey.

He has now added lacrosse back into his spring season and is enjoying it this time, but he continues to play hockey year-round. Why? Because he LOVES it! He is happier on the ice than anywhere else and simply wants to be there. He plays on a spring hockey tournament team in addition to taking private lessons and he will have ice time again this summer. And that is where he wants to be. Is he specializing? I suppose so. But is it because of pressure to do so and a fear of falling behind and not making the top teams? Or because we (his parents) insist upon it for our own egos? No. And I don’t say that as a delusional parent – I would be happy to not spend the money on extra lessons and spring seasons.

It is because he wants to do it and goes into a form of “withdrawal” if he is away from the ice for too long. Seriously – we have small goals and hockey pads all over this house and if he is away from the rink for too long, he gets into those pads and starts playing around in the basement or his room.

So while I understand the arguments for multi-sports kids, I do chafe at the notion that every instance of specialization is fraught with negatives and obviously instigated by overzealous parents and/or coaches. Sometimes it is child-led and sometimes driven by a passion for the sport that can only be satisfied by playing that sport.

So play. For the love of the sport. The best reason ever.

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