Life of an Athlete’s Parent
The late George Carlin had a wonderful routine about the differences between football and baseball. “The objectives of the two games are totally different,” he explained. “In football,” Carlin said in a tough military voice, “the object is for the quarterback, otherwise known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz even if he has to use the shotgun.” Carlin then switched to a much softer, kinder voice and said, “In baseball, the object is to go home and to be safe. I hope I’ll be safe at home.”
At a recent University of Miami game, I was talking to a few other parents of athletes about what it’s like to watch our kids perform “on the public collegiate stage.” We sit in the stands amongst emotional fans and can’t help but overhear both praise and disparagement spewing from strangers’ lips. At any particular moment, your child is either great or terrible. “There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground” was an agreed upon statement. Sometimes, we wish we could just grab up our kids and like Carlin said, “go home and be safe.”
Of course, our young athletes would have nothing to do with that. They are competitors and something deep inside them drives them. They are always their own biggest critic; demanding more of themselves than any unreasonable fan. No one is more disappointed with a poor performance than the competitor his or her self. And while we parents sometimes wish we could whisk our children home to safety, the truth is, we’ll stand in the fire with them. We fully understand that all too often, the only encouragement they hear, is from mom and dad.
As I watched the Olympics this year, I felt a new kinship with the parents of those amazing athletes. I could appreciate the tremendous sacrifice both in time and money that was invested to help their child get to this incredible pinnacle. I could better understand their sleepless nights as they worried, consoled, and encouraged. And when one of the olympians would falter after all those years of training and sacrifice and their dreams slipped away in an instant, I could imagine the tearful meeting with a mom and dad whose hearts were equally broken. I wondered how many said the same words I have repeated more than once knowing full well their answer, “You only have two choices: quit or persevere.”
The other side of that coin is equally emotional. I truly understand the expression of being so proud “your buttons might pop off.” Few things are more exhilarating or fill us with more pride than the achievements of our kids. In those moments we know it’s been worth every sacrifice and every struggle and we’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. Lou Holtz added some excellent insight when he said, “You’re never as good as everyone tells you when you win, and you’re never as bad as they say you are when you lose.”
So we parents sit in the stands running the gamut of emotions right along with our children. We disregard critics who callously offer opinions with little understanding of what is really taking place, how hard they are working, and how badly they want to succeed. Rather, we welcome the caring eyes and embraces from those who truly understand the struggle. We watch the body language of our kids, read their faces, and pray for wisdom as to how best to respond whether they succeed or fail. Then we pray some more.
It’s not easy being the parent of an athlete. But we wouldn’t trade it for the world.