The Toughest Job You’ll Ever Love

I am, of course, talking about parenting.

My oldest child is now ten (and a half!), and methinks that the real work is set to begin. We made it through tantrums (mostly), potty training, the first day of school, sharing (again, mostly), and all of those things that the younger kids do. Now it’s time for the nitty gritty. Now it’s time to make sure this child turns into the man I know he can be.

It’s been a rough couple of weeks here. All of the adults in his life have simultaneously agreed to consistently demand the highest quality of work he is capable of. No more coddling. And he is, understandably, quite taken aback by this. In school, I am starting to see more pride in his work, and I think that by the end of the year and going into fifth grade next year, we’ll have most of that ironed out.

The area that I think the first major struggle will occur will be over soccer.

My son has played soccer every season and gone to soccer camp every year since he was four years old. That’s a lot of Saturdays spent at the pitch. We never minded because he was not only one of the better players of his age group, but also so much fun to watch. He played with such intensity and passion that I really looked forward to the games.

Notice the use of the past tense.

For the past couple of seasons, he has been on a team that, frankly, was not a good fit for him. Even though he went to school with most of these kids, they weren’t friends and he was a bit of an outsider. Add to that the fact that he carried the team a lot by being an outstanding goalie, would it surprise you to learn that this season he burnt out? Which is ironic, because the rest of his team is finally playing up to their potential.

As the season has progressed, it’s been more and more difficult for him to get to practice and mentally show up for games. It all came to a head on Saturday when is performance was, frankly, embarrassing. The other parents have started asking me what is going on with him. That this wasn’t the same kid they’ve seen over the past three seasons. The one who would play hurt. The one who dove for every ball, no matter what. The one who played so hard that other teams had to foul him. That kid was gone.

We had a chat with him after that game and he finally admitted to the burn out. He told us he was under a lot of stress at school (he does have a major project due this week and is also stage manager of the school play in addition to the increased standards) and just wasn’t sure if he wanted to play soccer anymore. He’s missed a lot of social stuff this season because of soccer and he felt left out. Besides, he said, that’s all he’s ever played. Maybe he should try something else.

Wow. There’s a paradigm shift for ya.

A few things complicating this are one: there is still a reasonable amount of the season left, and two: select club try outs are in three weeks. At his age and skill level, taking some time off from soccer probably means taking a whole YEAR off of soccer, so these are waters we need to tread carefully. We told him that under no circumstances was he quitting the team. He would finish out the season, play his absolute best (albeit not in goal), and not disappoint his teammates or himself. But he would skip the select try outs this year and play another sport in the Fall, take his chances on a spot opening up in December, and if that didn’t work, trying out in 2009.

Guess what happened at Monday practice?

The kid was back. Everyone noticed. His teammates, the other parents, and especially the coaches. With the stress of the possible try out gone, he was playing like himself again. He even told me after practice that he wants to go out for select.

And now we get to what will be the first major struggle. I am inclined to stick to the original decision of not trying out. Why?

First of all, he’s right: he’s never played anything else before. He should try some other things. It will be good for him. And if he decides that he wants to return to soccer (which is highly likely), then he’ll return with renewed passion and a new perspective on things. Second, select soccer is a commitment, in many ways. It usually involves some travel. It involves a lot of practice time. It involves money. It can become all consuming. As long as my child is having fun and playing well, then it is all worth it. But with the attitude and stuff we’ve seen lately, I am not willing to do all of that. One practice does not a turnaround make. He’s going to have to work really hard to convince me that trying out is a good idea. I think that not allowing him to try out will be a wake up call to him that he needs to work harder and have a better attitude about things, and not just soccer. That if he wants to do the cool things in life, then he’s going to have to work for them.

I know that sports aren’t the end all and be all of the world, and if he decides not to play a sport after all then things will be okay. If he decides in this interim that he has a passion for robotics, I will be just as supportive of that as I was of the soccer, so long as he continues to give it his best efforts. My concern is the message I am sending here. The message I am trying to send is that if you do your best work always, the opportunities you have will be greater. I just hope that is the message he receives.


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