by Lara Krupicka
“To set the cause above renown,
To love the game above the prize.”
~ Sir Henry John Newbolt
It’s halftime at my daughter’s soccer game. Her head coach comes around to the spectator side of the field and asks to speak with my husband and me. I glance over at my daughter who is laughing with teammates on the sidelines. What could he want?
Speaking in low tones, the coach points to a man with a clipboard standing at one end of the field.
“That man coaches a club soccer team. He asked if he could speak with ‘the parents of that fast girl on the team,'” my daughter’s coach says. “I told him I’d ask you. What do you think?”
I look behind me. Several other parents are turned our way, questioning looks on their faces. They must be wondering what’s up. Then I look at my husband. He shrugs.
“Sure,” he answers. “What can it hurt to talk to him?”
When we take our seats, I realize I’m trembling. My child has been “scouted” by a coach. I’m not sure what to do with this – after all, she’s only eight years old.
The club coach is apparently very interested in having our daughter play for him. He talks about the performance of his teams and the skills his players develop. Then he lists off the number of practices he holds each week for the kids. And he hires European trainers to work with them, he says – with emphasis. I think I’m supposed to be impressed.
Instead I‘m overwhelmed. Three practices a week instead of one? Games in other towns and overnight tournament trips?
He can see the hesitation on my face, so he pulls out the big guns: “Your daughter has talent – and speed. But if she doesn’t get on a club team this year, all those kids who do join will get a jump on her skill-wise. She’ll never catch up. Which means she probably won’t make the high school team.”
His pronouncement has the opposite effect than he hopes for on my husband and I. Unless our daughter is thrilled by this team, we’re done with it.
At this point the biggest question in my mind is, why should we have to decide our daughter’s high school sports career in second grade?
That question will go through my mind for the next five years, even as I wonder about the truth behind the coach’s prediction. Will only the kids with “top” training be the ones to play on school teams? Are serious decisions for sports being made by parents, for kids, at younger and younger ages? And most importantly to me: did we make the right choice when we passed on signing our daughter up for a more competitive experience?
During those years our daughter tries soccer at different levels, some more competitive than others. And she also samples other sports in more casual settings. Swimming, volleyball, tennis, basketball. She finds that she likes many sports. But the question remains whether she’s good enough at any to play on a school team in the future.
Five years after our decision to skip the traveling soccer team I watch my daughter lope down a basketball court, deftly dribbling the ball while outpacing her opponents. She pauses to loft the ball toward the net. And in it goes! Her second score for the game.
When my now all-around athlete of a child tried out for her school’s seventh grade basketball team, she’d doubted she would make the cut. “Lots of those girls have already been playing on basketball teams for years,” she complained.
I flashed back to the club coach’s assertion. Could he be right? I hated to consider that my husband and I had made a mistake and shut our daughter out of competitive sports.
Instead I reassured her that the hours she’d spent on our driveway shooting baskets and facing off with her dad would make a difference. Still she‘d been shocked to hear her name on the recorded list of players when we phoned to find out the final team roster.
Now in her first game playing on the second string team, she is a standout. It turns out that speed matters on the basketball court as well as the soccer field.
The following week her coach moves her up to the first string team. This proves to be a challenge that makes her work hard to improve her skills. It’s just what she needs to stoke her enthusiasm without overwhelming her.
A few weeks into the basketball season, I truly relax about our daughter’s sports life for the first time since that interaction with the club soccer coach. Clearly we haven’t robbed her of an opportunity to develop her competence. In fact, she’s had time to mature into an authentically aggressive athlete, one who enjoys multiple sports. The decisions are now out of our hands. It’s up to our daughter to make what she will of her athletic “career.”
I don’t know what team she‘ll try for in high school. She may stick with basketball or go back to soccer. Or she may try something entirely different. In fact, I don’t know whether she’ll make any team at all. But what I do know is that her ability at any sport isn’t due entirely to the quality of trainers we provide for her. Nor does it rely on the decisions we make for her as parents. Her ability as an athlete in any sport is also due to her own devotion. While she may not have learned the more technical aspects of the game without a coach’s help, the hours spent in casual play gave her confidence in her skills. And they solidified her love for sports.
That’s something parents can’t always buy.
Lara Krupicka enjoys being mom to three girls with different levels of athletic abilities. And she’s proud to note that her sports-loving daughter went on to win her school’s highest athletic award as an eighth-grader.