He sat there with his leg in a brace, for the millionth time. I asked him what had happened and he said he didn’t know. He was running and started to turn and the next thing he knew his knee just blew up. He said he really couldn’t remember much after that because the pain was so intense.
Another football injury. He’s had several, almost too many to count. His knee, his shoulder, his arm and shoulder, his ankles and don’t forget to throw in a few concussions and that’s pretty close to his list of battle wounds. The really sad and/or upsetting part about this isn’t the fact that this athlete has these injuries.
Anyone who has played football for a number of years knows it comes with the territory, but this player is only 12 years old.
Add to that the fact that this isn’t the only sport he plays. And add to that the fact that it’s not the only sport he plays at the same time! He’s often playing two maybe three sports during the same season.
So for him his daily routine would be to wake up at 5:30 so he could do his homework for the day, eat breakfast and get ready for school. After school he would head to practice #1, then a quick bite to eat as he heads to practice #2. After both of those practices were over it was time to head home and hopefully get started on some homework during the ride. A quick shower, a jump into bed and the only downtime he had—sleep.
Day after day after day, this was his routine.
And at the age of 12, here he was bruised and bandaged. Here sat this young man wearing the scars of a seasoned NFL veteran, having nothing to show for all his efforts but the scars themselves.
A tragic outcome all too often played out in today’s hyper active culture. Maybe the hobby isn’t football but it could be any number of activities: baseball, softball, swimming, golf, music, choir, or even gaming.
In the pursuit of becoming the next big star, or achieving their potential, or becoming well rounded adults we are losing sight of what was once common place—childhood.
Do you remember waking up on a Saturday with the freedom to do just about anything you wanted? Running downstairs to eat breakfast and watch the cartoons, sprinting for your bike and meeting up with your friends only to return when your stomach growled signaling lunch, heading back out to play until the setting sun called out that the day’s festivities were over? That’s the childhood I had.
Now I had ball practice and games sprinkled in there but they were not my life. They didn’t take up all of my free time. I had plenty of time to be a kid. Even into high school I still had a life outside of whatever activity it was I chose.
I’ve seen teens and children have practices and games last until the wee hours of the night on a school night, AND some of these sports are for our school! Someone please explain to me how a game is more important than my child being able to pay attention in class the next day? I haven’t had a good explanation yet.
I’ve seen a teen get a job and then turn around and realize that all they do is work, wake up and go to school, come home to change and go to work, come home late and flop into bed…
Wash, rinse, repeat.
I’ve seen a coach who demands all of a child’s time and effort as if their particular sport is life and death, scheduling practices every single day of the week, holding “voluntary” open gyms, and then punishing or benching a player when he/she has something outside of said sport.
This is the world we live in now. This is what it means to be a teenager today. To have every minute of every day lined out in a schedule is how our children are growing up.
Well, I’m not dancing to their tune. My children will have the freedom to pick and choose what they will participate in within the boundaries that my wife and I have set.
And those boundaries are immovable.
Please allow me to give you some tips on how to handle this tide of hyper activity.
Be the Bad Guy
You must be the bad guy. Most likely your child doesn’t have the will to stand up to a coach or boss when they begin to cross a line. You have to be the one to set the parameters. You have to be the one to say “NO!” You have to be the bad guy.
You are the guardian of your child’s time. Only you have the power to tell them what to do. If you want your child to work 20 hours a week then that’s what will be done. If you feel that practicing every night of the week is too much then speak up!
We are talking about your child!
So put on the black hat and wear it with pride.
Set up the Boundaries
You are the gatekeeper of your family. You make the rules.
Too often I have seen parents buckle to an over demanding coach, boss, or instructor. If they become too much or too pushy then it’s time to push back!
We have a rule in our home that will be set in stone until after graduation: One activity per semester.
See how easy that was?
We set that rule in place years ago before the activities become too much. With our game plan in place we head off potential melt downs because the rule has always been there.
You may be thinking, “Now Joe…you just talked about this immovable rule and now you’re saying be flexible? What gives?”
Fair question. Allow me to retort.
A child’s life has all kinds of things going on (as you well know) and there will be times that some things might overlap. Say it’s the end of one season and another starts up at the same time. Now maybe the demands of those two sports would be overwhelming for an entire semester but not so for just a short time.
Don’t rule with an iron fist and don’t hover above your children to the point of smothering them or making all of their decisions. But do set the guidelines to safeguard your family’s time. Just be flexible in doing so.
Be ready to be the Bad Guy
Isn’t this the same as the first one?
It’s easy to play the bad guy when all you’re doing is laying down the law. It’s not so easy when you see that your decisions have cost your child a job or playing time.
Sometimes there are things more important than playing.
Let me tell you about John Mark. He was a teen I worked with for many years and he came from a family with two parents who weren’t afraid of being the bad guy.
Every summer a camp came up at the beginning of football conditioning. And every summer he would miss the first week of two-a-days. And every summer he would come back after the camp and have to run extra to make up for missing that first week. And every summer he would start the season on the second string but by the second game he would be back in his starting role.
Sometimes our children may have to learn that some things are more important than playing time. And sometimes they have to acquire that lesson while running around a football field.
Just be aware that wearing the black hat isn’t always fun or easy, it’s just necessary.
I may be oversimplifying the issue but I have seen entire marriages and families ripped apart because the parents couldn’t put their foot down when it came to activities. I’ve seen them spend so much time shuffling schedules and chauffeuring their kids to the next thing that they never spent any time together. I’ve witnessed the slow death of a once thriving family just so that little Johnny could play whatever.
I’m not saying don’t teach your kids dedication, I’m not saying don’t teach them sacrifice, what I am saying is don’t teach your kids those things at the expense of everything else. Your family is worth much more than that.