My oldest has asked to play football since he was very young. We were against tackle (due to brain injury concern, and the potential for him being exposed and potentially embracing toxic masculinity), but relented following our son being in flag football for many years, COVID isolating us all, and his need to see his dream through.
His first year, it was a shortened season—only four games, but they won most, and he had fun. The second year was a bit more eye-opening for him. He’d get overly anxious before each game — being unable to eat and/or keep anything down. He’d have no energy during the games (you don’t play optimally when you’re tired), and would be starving. All distractions. Workouts were more intense, but that didn’t bother him—he likes pushing himself to be fitter. His teammates were all over the place. Seniors making the season as if it were life and death, and his peers goofing off half the time. It’s left him questioning ‘do I really want to keep doing this?’
My oldest shared with his father he was considering walking away from the game. My husband was taken aback and needed a few minutes to let it sync in. My husband shared what he’d heard when I got home later that evening. “He said he has an important decision to make here in a few weeks about whether he’ll play football or not next year.” We we’re both caught by surprise. I wanted to talk to my son and see if I could understand more of what was driving this.
Thankfully he was willing to talk. I asked him why his was questioning playing with the team. He had clearly been putting some thought into it as he’d put a pros and cons list together mental which he recited. He shared that he loves the team and preparing for the game (though grueling). He hated how anxious he got, and it not allowing him to perform to his ability. He hated the range of attitudes by the players—overly serious (this is life and death), or immaturity, and some toxic masculinity (let’s hit something, pound chests, etc.). I could see how conflicted he was — loving the game, not loving all the comes with it. He was at a crossroads.
I started by telling him that playing, or not playing, was his decision but wanted to give him some things to consider before making the call. I started by talking about his teammates and the effect the pandemic had (which we all don’t fully understand yet) on younger people. “The seniors were overly serious because they got gypped out of two regular seasons due to the virus. They had a brief taste in the shortened season in the Spring of last year and wanted to see what they were capable of. Regarding your peers, studies have already shown maturity lacking in teen age groups due to the virus. Give tour peers through the summer and I’d guess they’ll act more age-appropriate.” I let that sink in for a minute then continued, “Regarding pre-game nerves. We can get you help with that through the doctor and bring in others like a sports psychologist to give you tools. The coach talked to you already about the leadership potential he sees in you, right?” My son nodded his head. “You have the opportunity to lean into being a leader. You followed last year because you thought that was your place, but you are growing and others see the potential in you. You have the opportunity to lead, people respect and listen to what you have to say.” This seemed to get him thinking based on his facial expression. “The last thing I’d like you to think about is not having regrets. You need to think through would you regret not playing sometime down the road, and if the answer is yes, than reconsider.” I shared a story with him about my own high school sports experience. I’d played on the golf team. The game was mentally taxing. I was good, but not great. I took it seriously, but not life or death. I recall questioning myself each year, but particularly before my senior year if I really wanted to subject myself to all the mental stress again. I ultimately decided I would regret it if I didn’t see it through, and I’m so glad I did. I have great memories, continued to improve my game, and got to be a mentor/roll model to the younger players. It was very satisfying.
My son is at a crossroads. My husband and I can only guide him at this point. I don’t want him making a decision he’ll wish he hadn’t later. As a parent, I feel the need to step back and let him make up his mind, and show that we trust him to make decisions that are right for him. He’s becoming an adult after all and needs to learn how to make ‘big’ decisions he can live with. It’s a bit unsettling as a parent to start letting go, but that’s the only way he’ll grow.
What crossroads has your child faced? How are you helping them make decisions for themselves that they feel good about?