After what seems like a lifetime (and for some kids it really is just about that), the final season of high school sports arrives full of memories just waiting to be made. In today’s “Just Do It” culture, high school sports is wrapped in drama. Full of all kinds of complicated, this crazy few months has more emotion and passion than any other I’ve walked through. If you are the Team Mom, its a countdown to saying goodbye to families and kids you’ve come to love. And for all Moms, its a tidal wave of “last time” moments that are there one minute and gone for good the next. It’s the only season in your child’s sports career that truly has a “I’m never watching her play again.” closing. Which means its a chapter in your life that is ending too.
The cast of characters for this drama are all over the map. You have kids looking to move onto college sports who may have scouts in the stands at every game, watching their every move. These kids have to quiet the future while they focus on the present knowing they are being evaluated and often having no idea what kind of choices they’ll truly have and knowing that if they get injured, it could all be gone in an instant.
Kids hanging up their cleats for good but working hard to get a final chance to do what they love. Full of talent and drive, they have new dreams waiting in the wings and they often have a great final season with the playing time they are offered because the pressure is off but the game is on.
Kids who rarely played for four years for any number of reasons but somehow managed to keep their spot. Often these kids may have found themselves at the short end of the political stick or ousted by underclassman who are better athletes so they are doing their best hold their heads high, knowing their dreams have passed before their very eyes.
Coaches who have impacted your child, and your family, for the last four years, good, bad, and otherwise. Coaches who can’t be talked to by anyone other than players because if you do, its a straight shot to the bench for your kid even though its not written anywhere. Coaches who even when the athlete musters the courage to talk to them, that too can find the athlete facing reduced playing time or benched. Coaches who promise seniority matters and opportunities will be earned but then change the formula and somehow opportunities slip by. Coaches who have favorites, often those kids who are college recruits because they bring visibility to the program.
And parents. God bless the parents for all their contained, and not so contained, “My kid deserves a shot!” Parents know this is the final season they get to spend in the stands or on the sidelines watching their child play the game they love. The final season to share with the other families they have come to know so well. Parents who arrive at the field full of hope that tonight their son or daughter starts, that they’ll play their heart out, play their way back into the line up after an injury that won’t disappear, or simply get a shot to claim their stake. Parents that are covered in cameras taking pictures and video whenever they can just like when those first steps and words were so precious. Parents that are (just like I was) in tears at some point through every single game.
But in the cruelest of twist of dramatic fate, the most conflicted character in the drama that is the final season of high school sports has to be the athlete who suffers their worst season ever.
Perhaps its just not loving the sport anymore. After years of travel sports to be good enough to make the high school team and knowing they aren’t playing in college, there are kids who have simply had enough and will tell you they hate their sport. Playing one final season is like pulling teeth and in fact they may have old teammates who decided to walk away and enjoy their senior year without the drama. Perhaps its an unexpected injury that suddenly jolts the athlete out of the lineup with a recovery period that makes it certain they can’t return before the season ends. Just like that, its done and it seems impossible to reconcile how unjust it all seems. And then there is the athlete who is simply out of synch. In and out of the lineup without prediction, wanting with all their heart to play their best yet for any number of reasons in the worst dry spell, hitting slump, shooting slip, failed pass, missed serve season of their lives.
Enter Mom. Your heart breaks for your child, knowing they want to do better, knowing how hard it is for them to fight their fears, tune out those “you aren’t good enough, maybe you never were” voices, and simply step into the game and do what they need to do, what they’ve done so effortlessly for so many seasons, and what they won’t get to do for many days more. And yet you can’t stop it. This season demands every ounce of character and faith you’ve ever had. And it demands you lay down your pride. You can’t fight this one off. You have to walk through the worst season of your athlete’s life leading by example.
So you hold your tongue, somedays better than others, not saying what you think about it all as it unfolds. In fact you say only the most positive faith filled things you can muster because you need to hear it as much as you want to model it. You reroute negative thoughts into to big picture life lessons, and you keep your jealousy, yes jealousy, in check. Sounds ugly but if you are truly honest with yourself, you’ll see the green eyed monster rear its ugly head.
Because there will be other other student athletes who are having the season of a lifetime. Every. Single. Game. They are untouchable every time they take the field because its all in synch. They are at ease, they are happy, they are having fun, and they are playing the season of their lives. And you know what? Those kids and their parents deserve every ounce of those dreams come true.
You see there is no room for “Why not my child? Why can’t I make them have a fairytale ending to their childhood?” Because you can’t, and honestly you never could. This is about truly believing that God’s plan works together for His good in His time. And sometimes His plans for our children are completely different than our own. Reread that.
Sometimes His plans for our children are completely different than our own.
We just never realized that all those years we were planning their days, planning their futures, planning their lives without any pain or challenge. And we may have never truly realized that His completely different plan would in fact be so much bigger, and better, than we could have ever even imagined. And that it also could involve such pain.
But here’s the thing. In an unexpected twist of fate, this worst season ever is a glimpse into the kind of young man or woman your child has become. And in the oddest sense, its the greatest gift a Mom can possibly be given. Because as they walk through this season of shattered dreams, perhaps your’s for them more than their own, facing the adversity of the familiar being withheld or out of reach, they are stronger than you ever imagined. Odds are, they are likely less upset about the unfairness of it all than you. That’s right. While it hurts and it’s not awesome, its high school. Its a chapter in their lives about to close. And they are likely more ready to close it for themselves than you are to let them go.
So lay down that “My son is a senior starter at the high school” pride Mom. Lay down that playbook for your athlete’s life that you’ve been writing all these years. And then hold your head high. Because when the final season of high school sports is the worst, your child has been chosen to see the blessing in disguise of the bigger picture for his or her life now, with you by their side. Hindsight will show you both all the reasons why if you just give it some time to work its unplanned magic. Hang in there and know that you are standing at the crossroads where its time to see your athlete as the young man or woman that they are, without a uniform and without a roster. Its time to see them for who they want to be and know that with your love and support, nothing can stop them.
Don’t be part of the drama Mom.
It’s time to “Just Do It.”