We have a hectic sports schedule this year. Mondays and Wednesdays are practice days. Tuesdays and Thursdays are games. Then there are occasional weekend tournaments that are often out of town. Any parent involved in their kid’s sports activity has wondered why they commit to these schedules.
It is a bit much. When any kid is involved in an activity – whether it be gymnastics, theater, soccer, football, or marching band – this always means there is a parent who is behind the scenes doing all the scheduling, driving, paying fees, volunteering, coordinating, attending events, feeding hungry kids, and doing loads of endless laundry. If your kid is in any sports or extra-curricular activities, you are closely attached to the TeamSnap app and Google calendars. You are a parent who loves to organize carpools whenever possible to relieve just a bit of your stress.
You are a parent who has become an expert at giving pep talks after a season of losses, and a parent who teaches humility after a winning streak. You are a parent who constantly tries to support your kid in any way you can.
“Can I put shin guards in the dishwasher?” is part of your internet search history, along with “hotel door tournament posters.” You know that ice skates need sharpening, and there’s a particular way to do it. Your house often smells like a locker room, and your garage is full of random sports equipment.
So, yes, there is undoubtedly chaos to it all.
But there is also something else. And that something else is the unspoken lesson, the why-we-do-it of sports and activities, the incredible and inevitable character trait we hope our children gain from it all: grit.
What a perfect word for youth sports. As a youth sports parent, my life is filled with grit: the turf from the field is in my washing machine, the dirt on cleats covers my mudroom, and the ‘white’ uniform is – at best – a dingy light gray with grass stains. Grit is a daily reality.
But it’s the other meaning of the word, of course, that matters. Grit is the ability to roll up your sleeves, dig deep when things get hard, and show up when it would be easier not to. Grit is the ability to remain positive and confident when nothing comes together, and your socks are wet. This is what we want our kids to learn from these activities; this is the takeaway that resonates in every other area of life.
Grit is the initial digging in.
Life is about that initial dig. The initial dig prepares you for that first job interview. It shows you how to deal with a stressful first college exam. The initial dig helps you handle meeting your first love’s parents for the first time. It is about the discomfort of asking your boss for a paid leave, and the courage to show up at a work social event when you’d rather not.
Of course, the dig is deeper than all of that, too: It’s the ability to get up and go the following day when things have pulled you down. But it’s also about knowing when to stop digging too.
Of course, we’re not thinking about all this when we’re watching our daughter at her dance recital or sitting on the sidelines watching our son out on the field. We just want our kids to do their best. We’re hoping they leave the game feeling good about themselves. If that happens, it’s a nice, easy day in the life of youth sports.
When she falls, when he misses the goal – that’s the tough day. Those are the days when grit matters. Those are the days when it can feel like the preparation, the practice, and the digging in didn’t seem to matter.
But, of course, it did. Grit doesn’t guarantee a win. It guarantees something deeper.
So yes, our schedules seem hectic. We know it. But we also know that the level of involvement required is a lesson about commitment. And passion, drive, socialization, collaboration, discipline, determination, resilience, and yes – grit – are all part of that commitment. It’s playing a game in the rain, choosing an assist over a goal, and sweaty fist bumps, cheers, and smiles when it’s done.
And, for our kids and us parents- It’s fun. Really fun.