Give It Your Best Shot

Photo by Michael Maggs, Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Michael Maggs, Wikimedia Commons

I had an interesting conversation with my son in the car yesterday (which is where we tend to have most of our more intriguing talks). We were coming home from a cello lesson and he was lamenting how difficult and boring the music is that he has to learn for an upcoming required audition. He wasn’t so much concerned about learning the music, however, as he was about the audition itself.

The issue? He doesn’t want to do well.

Ever since he started playing 3 years ago, he has enjoyed it and shown an aptitude for music. He learned to read music very quickly and started listening to songs he liked and figuring out the notes so he could learn to play the tune. He improved a lot during 6th grade and ended up making it into the advanced orchestra in middle school. While I think he was pleased to have been placed in the Sinfonietta, as they call it, he was also a bit dismayed. His concern all along has been that, while he likes to play the cello, he doesn’t want to “play cello like he plays hockey,” meaning he doesn’t want to invest as much time and energy and spend every day practicing for hours.

I get where he is coming from. While he has musical talent and might be able to be a fairly good cellist, he really plays because he likes it. He likes to figure out the music and learn how to hit the right notes and he gets pleasure from playing music that challenges him. He does not want his cello playing to be high pressure – I think that if it gets to be too intense, that is when he will give it up. We have tried to keep things low pressure over the past few years to keep him interested. He has to practice, but only for 20 minutes or so at a time. He has a private teacher, but she is a college student who is very helpful but isn’t requiring him to learn additional music above what he has for school and doesn’t keep track of practice time. He loves working with her and it has been a great fit. And, so far, he has stuck with it.

Now, however, he sees this audition as that high-pressure “stuff” he doesn’t want to do. And he’s trying to figure out how he can blow the audition so he won’t make it. This is what led to our discussion in the car about giving it your best, no matter what.

I told him about how my belief is that you should always try your hardest, even if you aren’t particularly motivated to be successful. Not doing so cheats you and, in this case, cheats his teacher, who has the belief that he is good enough to be in this advanced orchestra and has a chance, like everyone else in his class, to get a spot in the District Orchestra. We talked about hockey and how, even though he does well in goal and could rest on his laurels and remain a decent goalie at the house or lower travel level, he continues to keep working hard and trying to get better. He has some natural talent, but he doesn’t stop there and keeps working to improve. Playing the cello should be no different – he has some natural talent and, since he has committed to play in the orchestra at school, he owes it to himself and others to put the work in and give this audition, and every song he plays, his best. To do otherwise just lets him and others down.

I asked him how he’d feel if he didn’t practice the song and went into the audition and completely bombed. Being his stubborn 12-year-old self, he initially said that if it meant he didn’t have to be in the other orchestra, he’d be happy. However, after we discussed it some more, he admitted that he’d be a little embarrassed and probably not feel to good about himself. He also said that if his teacher saw that, she’d be upset that he didn’t try (as someone who gets a lot of my self-esteem from knowing that others are pleased with my effort, I understand how disappointing his teacher would bother him).

In the end, I am hopeful that he took some of our conversation to heart and will view rehearsing for the audition more positively. He still may not like the song, and he still will not want to make the orchestra, but he might just learn a lesson about how it feels to know you gave it your best shot and didn’t let yourself down by “phoning it in.”

Because a sign of a life well lived, in my opinion, is being able to reflect back and realize that you did your best with what you had, in the situations you faced, and can be proud of what you did and who you are. We can’t ask for much more out of ourselves and others than that.

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Go Old School – Write a Note

I came home today from work and found the following folded up on our kitchen counter with a “To: Mom” written on the outside:

revised letter copy

I have no idea why my son wrote this and he just said “I Dunno” when I asked him (after hugging him and trying not to cry a little, lest he get uncomfortable and never do something like this again). But it got me thinking about the power of a simple hand-written note.

Now, I know this doesn’t necessarily fit into the “theme” of this blog, but he did actually cite taking him to practice as one of the things he is thankful for, so I am going to go with it. Now that I think about it, he wrote about food and hockey – two things that he literally and figuratively cannot live without.

Growing up, my mother always made sure that my brothers and I wrote thank you notes for EVERYTHING. And we grumbled and groused, but we wrote them. And, after awhile, it sunk in for me that it truly is important to thank people for doing something nice. I recall getting a birthday card or something like that from my grandmother’s friend and she wrote in the note, “no need to send a thank you.” Of course, that only motivated me more to write a nice note of thanks because that is what you do when someone does something nice for you, regardless of whether they want the thanks or not.

Nowadays, I still send thank yous (I hope all the time but with my crazy schedule and my flighty mind, I fear that I miss some now and then) and I “force” my son to write them, too. He grumbles and grouses, although not too much, for which I am thankful. I do tend to give him tips on what to say and he prefers to write the bare minimum, but he does write them. And it is cute when he adds something on his own to the notes, like “thanks for the money. And the cake.” as he did in a recent note to his grandmother, who made him his favorite cake for 6th grade graduation.

What I try to avoid, whenever possible, is the email or text thank you. I may use that as a first stop – the day I get the flowers someone sent, for example, but I try to follow up with a hand-written note. I just think that the fact that you have to work a bit harder to send that note means something. Yes, it is easier and quicker and more reliable (that I’ll actually send it) to fire off a quick email, but there is something about getting something in the mail with your name on it with a brief note inside thanking you for what you did. It just means something.

Back to that nice note from my son. That was even more special because it wasn’t in response to any particular event or gift from me. It was completely spontaneous and, in light of his reluctance to do any writing above and beyond what is required by teachers, out of character for him. It was heartfelt and genuine and I love it.

So, even if he is most thankful for his basic needs – food and hockey – at least I know that he has some appreciation for what I do and realizes, at some level, that it takes work to keep things going day-to-day. And I love that he would take the minute or two that it took to put his feelings into writing.

No matter how bad your handwriting is, give it a try. Write a note and make someone feel special. It is worth the time.


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Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Break ups are never easy. There are hurt feelings, regrets, maybe even tears. And, of course, the “reasons.”

It’s not you, it’s me.

We just broke up with our first hockey club. And I do mean we – being involved in travel hockey (or any travel sport, I imagine) is a family affair with serious commitments from everyone involved, not just the player.

We hadn’t really seen the break up coming at the end of this past season. It was not a great season, for many reasons, but our plans were to tryout again with the club this spring for next season. Then my son started playing spring hockey at another club and made a spring tournament team at that same rink. He immediately felt at home there – he liked the other kids and enjoyed the positive feedback that he received from players and coaches. When it came to sign up for tryouts there, he wanted to give it a try, so we signed him up. In an effort at transparency, we were forthright with the club that he was also trying out at his regular club and we went from there. Long story short, he tried out, he made the team, and he decided that he wanted to stay there and not go through tryouts at his regular club.

We’ve just grown apart.

Driving back and forth to the rink for all the tryout sessions gave my son and I a lot of time to talk. It was interesting to find out what his decision points were for changing clubs and to give thought to my own. What I discovered was that his decision was based upon two major things:

  1. He liked the kids and felt closer to some of them in a few short weeks than he had with his previous team during the entire season last year. For a 12 year-old, when friends are everything, you can never underestimate the power of bonding with teammates.
  2. He relished the attention he got. That may sound shallow but who doesn’t like to have his or her ego stroked now and again? The kids liked how he played and the coaches said the right things and the parents noticed him. He felt a bit like Superman. And he liked it.

I had my own decision points, which were somewhat different than his. What I sought was:

  1. A club where he would be happy, make friends, and have a chance to develop into a stronger player. He expressed to me that the new club satisfied the first two for him. And conversations with parents and the coach made me feel that the last criteria could also be met.
  2. An organization that seemed to have a plan. Not just a year-to-year plan, but one that looked forward and considered what the kids might need to reach their potential down the road. Again, conversations with the coach gave me insight into his plans and what the club would support.
  3. Some practical things, like cost, travel, practices, etc. Now, we already have jerseys and other gear from the old club so moving would require replacing all of that. And, at first, the cost of playing at the old club was considerably less. However, the new club decided to cut the cost for goalies, making the two clubs essentially equal. Finally, there was the lure of going to one rink at regularly scheduled days and times, something that we could not achieve with the old club where there were 3 rinks and practice days and times varied week by week.

We can still be friends.

So, in the end, we decided to accept the new club’s offer and drop out of tryouts for the old club. I finally realized that most of the loose ends and baggage that I felt we needed to work through to decide between clubs were really my issues, not my son’s. I had friends there that I enjoyed running into at the rink and, after managing the team last year, I had invested a lot of blood, sweat, and tears of my own throughout the season. However, I can remain friends with my fellow hockey parents. And I am sure I will find a way to focus my energies into the new club (but I won’t be asked to manage a team right away, which I see as yet another plus).

It does seem strange that we won’t be cheering on the same team again next season. And I am not sure what we’ll do with all the paraphernalia we have with the old logo on it. I suppose, just like during a break up, the details have to be sorted out and the dust needs to settle. But, just like break ups I’ve had in the past, I know we’ll get through it, move forward, and ultimately end up in a better place.

I think we are all looking forward to the next chapter. Onward!

Shopping Around?

It is tryout time again in these parts. It seems as if the season just ended and here we are, getting ready for next season. This year, as I add the dates to my calendar and look at how different organizations run tryouts, I keep wondering why there is an assumption that all of the power resides with the coaches and the organization running the tryouts? Don’t the kids have some say in where they play and who they play for, as well?

I am seeing a trend around here where the organization charges a tryout fee (that is fine) and then, at some point during tryouts, such as before the kids come back for the second day, they want a deposit of hundreds of dollars to be paid. The policy is then that if your child does not make the team, they rip up the check or refund you the money. If your child makes the team, they keep the money and apply it towards your registration fee. Sounds great, right?

There is a catch, however. If your child is offered a spot but chooses not to accept it, the organization keeps your money. These organizations claim that your child is taking a spot  from someone else and that is not fair, thus they want a commitment ahead of time.

I call BS on that one!!

First of all, there is such a thing as a waiting list. When you post tryout results, also post an alternate list. Then those kids will know that they are being considered and will hear from the coach if a spot comes available. I know that, for some, this is akin to being cut, and they may chose to move on and try to play elsewhere. That is perfectly fine – but it also gives some kids a heads up that they are still in the running and that may be what they need to know.

Secondly, when a player chooses to go elsewhere, the team will most likely fill that spot and the player will pay the fees. So the money is simply a punishment (or, perhaps, a form of blackmail?), not something that is needed for “lost revenue” if a kid doesn’t take the spot and leaves the team high and dry.

And lastly, this type of policy flies in the face of the idea that the player (and his or her family) also has a say in where he or she is going to play. Sure, there are players who are going to “shop around” for the best team, but there are also times when a player just wants to find out more about the organization and tryouts are a reasonable time to do so. Players  and families can get a feel for the rink, the coaches, the other parents, and the other kids during tryouts (especially since they now seem to take place over 3-4 days) , see if and how they might be a fit for the team, and then decide if THEY want to play there.

Radical idea, I know.

We live in a consumer-driven society. Like it or not, that is how it is. Players may be interested in a team and want to learn more. Perhaps they will end up playing there. Perhaps they will end up playing somewhere else. But isn’t it better to let them “try it out” ahead of time before investing a significant amount of money for what is a very long season? Shouldn’t youth sports teams be more interested in fostering a love of the game and exploration to help kids reach their full potential as players and as people than in forcing a commitment (from kids as young as 7 or 8) or driving them away from the game?

Until we do away with the scorn some hold for those families or players that they feel are just “shopping around” for a good team and those organizations that require monetary commitment before team selections are even made, we are doing more to harm youth sports than help.

I know that those in charge of tryouts will likely see this issue much differently and argue that the time and energy it takes to run tryouts and make decisions and the feelings of those who are cut and then approached to take a vacant spot need to be considered. I agree that tryouts are hard for everyone. And I agree that tryouts result in tough conversations, but that is part of the process. You can’t force loyalty – it has to come naturally, from good coaching, good relationships within the organization, good communication, and a well organized season.

Organizations should spend their time on those things and less on coming up with ways to maintain all the power in their relationships with players and families.

That’s my two cents…




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Boys Playing With Phones

Took the boys to practice tonight and my son’s teammate had a new phone. An iPhone, to be exact. With Siri.


Thus my need to unveil the top reasons a 12 year-old boy should NOT have a phone. With Siri.

1. 12 year-old boys do not completely comprehend that the voice they hear is not actually connected to a human being. Thus, asking questions like, “What is your favorite NHL team?” is not going to garner a reasonable answer. Siri doesn’t converse, no matter how much you coax it.

2. To a 12 year-old boy, it is loads of fun to verbally assault Siri with “you’re stupid” or “I hate you!” And they find it hysterical when Siri responds with “Now, now…” or “I’m sorry you feel that way.” Regardless, making fun of, and yelling at, Siri, passes the time quite well on the way to practice. For the boys, that is.

3. Unrelated to Siri, most 12 year-old boys don’t actually have anyone to call on said phone.

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