Home Field Advantage
I have watched with a great deal of curiosity as the latest group of high school area athletes contemplate their college futures. Most say the only thing they have decided on so far is that they are undecided.
Barely 16 months ago, my son was tossing his high school graduation cap high in the air while eagerly looking forward to fulfilling a life-long dream to become a Miami Hurricane. His recruiting trail was less than 15 miles and the Coral Gables campus was his only official visit. “Why would I go on any other visits?” he questioned, when out of state invitations were offered. “I’d just be wasting their time and mine.”
I understand that just because you grow up in a certain area doesn’t mean that the local college is the right fit. For some, going away for school is absolutely the best decision for a myriad of reasons. Academic standards, financial requirements, and other expectations are always factors affecting decisions. And of course, there are many who would love to play for their home team but for one reason or another, are simply not given the opportunity.
But now, with a full year of being a family with a student-athlete under our belts, I have discovered that it’s the “other things” that make playing at home so special.
When my son committed early to the University of Miami, I’m not sure who was more excited: my son, or me. Half my wardrobe has a “U” on it and the stickers on my truck would be difficult to remove. I am very comfortable flashing “the U” sign and my email salutation to friends who egregiously attended other universities often states, “It’s all about the U.” I’m even friends with a former Ibis.
But things, as we all know, rarely go exactly as planned. And so it was that before my son even stepped foot on the field his freshman year, he found himself as a medical redshirt recovering from an unexpected and certainly unplanned surgery. One of the “other things” quickly kicked in as a mother’s care and concern meant sleeping in the uncomfortable chair in the hospital room just to make sure her boy was okay.
The list of “other things” started adding up quickly, like the fun of meeting his new friends and having them over for dinner. “Other things” include catching a last minute movie knowing Dad will gladly pay–even for Milkduds, or periodically delivering a fresh batch of mom-made-cookies for the team to enjoy. “Other things” even included sneaking into a practice and hiding behind trash cans and bleachers so your son (or a coach) won’t see you but being very worried that a security guard will–and taser you from behind.
The “other things” are also late night talks to encourage and advise when things aren’t working out quite right or when the struggle is greater than expected. “Other things” is simply being there to comfort when he finds finds out he needs yet another surgery. Of course, “other things” is the absolute thrill of seeing your son on the field proudly wearing the uniform and living his dream.
While going away for college has its list of “other things,” too, there is a definite reason for the phrase, “home field advantage.” It’s more than being familiar and comfortable with your surroundings. It’s about an entire network of family and friends who support you, come to watch you play, and cheer you on in athletics as well as life. Home field advantage is all about the “other things” that mean so much, but can’t be found in brochures, locker rooms, or play-books.
So I wonder, as I listen to the banter from some of these local high school athletes, if they have taken the time to consider the “other things.” I suspect not. But as we have discovered, there is a powerful home field advantage. Sometimes, it’s even hiding behind a trash can.