by Chris Hartley, director of athletics
Early in the fall season – when there is tons of energy and hopes are high –I always find myself remembering my days as a student-athlete. Like our Lakeside student-athletes, I was excited to start a season. I was looking forward to competing hard and being with my friends. Watching Lakeside athletes in August reminds me why we want kids playing sports: to have fun, to compete, and to find joy in sport and in relationships with peers and coaches.
This summer, I read a great article from Larry Stone, a columnist for The Seattle Times. After his youngest child competed in his last baseball game, Stone's family was officially done with youth sports. So the columnist decided to share some wisdom from 27 years of watching his children compete in youth sports. I found his insights impactful. Some of the lessons he shared made me laugh, while others reminded me of conversations I have had with parents and guardians – some difficult, some in support of a student, some to help ease pain or disappointment.
I laughed when Stone wrote "The happiest day in a sports parent's life is when your child gets a driver's license and is able to drive to practice. It's all downhill from there. Freedom's just another word for no one left to haul."
Beyond the pieces of wisdom that made me chuckle, he shared some insights that are important for us all to remember.
Stone references club sports in many of his lessons. He mentions how willing parents and guardians are to pay large sums of money when the word "elite" or "premiere" is included. He writes that there needs to be more access for youth whose families do not have expendable income for participating in club sports. He warns that putting kids on club teams to ensure they get a D1 scholarship is a poor strategy; the statistics show that clearly doesn't work. And having kids play one sport year-round causes burnout, and burnout leads to kids quitting. Let kids play multiple sports.
On getting the newest, most advanced piece of equipment, he shared this: "If there is a choice between a $150 bat and a $300 bat, buy the $150 bat." I can't tell you how many times I begged my parents for the newest lacrosse stick or the "coolest" pair of cleats. But as I improved as a player, I realized that the most expensive thing isn't necessarily the best thing. I found the things that work best for me and stuck with them – our students will realize this too, as they mature. Keep this in mind when having conversations with them about equipment.
Stone shares his thoughts on what young people learn from watching how we – the adults – carry ourselves around their teams. Giving young athletes the tools to deal with tough coaches or disappointing decisions (not making varsity or an all-star team) is the best thing we can do rather than attempting to change an outcome. Showing sportsmanship (respect and compassion) for opponents and, most importantly, officials is essential to making sure the athletes have an incredible experience.
The article ends with this piece of advice that I will carry with me: "In the end, lo and behold, it's not really about sports at all. What matters most for youngsters is learning about themselves and learning how to get along. For the vast majority of kids, the games themselves will fade over the years. What will remain are the friendships and life lessons from the 21st-century village that sports can provide and that kids so desperately need outside of the structure of the classroom."
I wish all of you a great year. If you are the parent or guardian of a student-athlete, help them find the life lessons and the joy in this part of their life. Our goal as coaches who have the honor of working with your students is to teach them to be stronger, more agile, more resilient, and better prepared to solve problems in a team setting. And we want to do all of that in an environment that produces joy and builds relationships. We know that there will be some trying times and some disappointments but know that we take this responsibility seriously.
You can find Stone's column online. The title is "Lessons learned from 27 years of youth sports parenting."
Chris Hartley is Lakeside's director of athletics. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and 206-440-2754.