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The high school team I coach facilitates a free after school soccer club at the area elementary schools. Third, fourth, and fifth graders stay to play. There is nothing riding on these games, but emotional outbursts can still happen.

During yesterday’s games there was sadness, happiness, frustration, anger, embarrassment, anxiety and elation. The emotions arrived in tears, laughter, elbow-throwing, foot stomping, jovial chattering, nervousness and silent observation. It was an energized room, but the emotions didn’t come from who you might expect.

Probably five minutes into the first game, one of the girls hauled off and kicked a bullet of a ball right into the gut of a boy on the opposing team. He fielded the physical blow well, but when he saw her laughing, it became apparent he was not going to be able to field the emotional blow quite as well.

“That hurt,” he said, turning toward me holding his stomach while big, real tears rolled down his cheeks.

“Did it knock the wind out of you?” I asked.

“No,” he sniffled, “that was mean, she’s laughing at me.”

“Are you too hurt to play?” I asked.

The waterworks continued.

“Ok, why don’t you stay here and take a little breather until you feel ready to play again.” His body wasn’t hurt, but his feelings certainly were.

Ten and eleven-year-old boys are often more sensitive and emotional than girls the same age.

Things will change in a few years when hormones come on board, but I wanted to give him the space he needed to process.

As I finished the last part of my invitation to rest, one of the other boys in the game swung hard to kick a ball. He connected with part of it, but the bigger part of his energy went to sending his shoe flying. With just the right trajectory, the shoe slipped out of sight and into the gap between a mat and the wall.

“I lost my shoe!” the boy yelled. He looked over where I was consoling his friend and then he too began to cry.

“Well, I’m sure we can get it back. Here, come see if you can slide in behind the mat.” Both boys followed me on our new quest to retrieve the lost shoe. The crying stopped as the boys became consumed with problem-solving for shoe-retrieval. After the sadness faded, they played the rest of the day without incident.

Later in the session, the most aggressive player in the gym, a fifth grade girl, offended a boy she was challenging when she threw herself physically into a tackle. It was not a foul, but it was aggressive.

The two players looked at me to see if I was going to react and I said, “Wow, she’s playing tough.” They both turned back to the play with invigorated intensity.

I share these two examples because adults make mistakes too often when it comes to fielding the emotions of athletes, especially along gendered lines. In a single sentence I could have told the crying boys to toughen up and quit the crying or I could have told the aggressive girl to back off because she was too intense. It would have been the wrong response in both instances.

Adults need to pay attention to gendered responses to emotional athletes, and most especially boys. It is far less accepted, especially in the sporting arena, to allow emotional space for boys. I do believe emotional mastery is the most powerful tool kids can be given and they have to have room to practice.

In a 2014 article in Greater Good Magazine called Debunking Myths about Boys and Emotions  the author, Vicki Zakrzewski, argues that all kids have emotional capacity but boys are too often discouraged from those tendencies. Zakrzewski writes “Changing our society’s beliefs about boys’ social and emotional capacities won’t happen over night, but both educators and parents can do a lot to help them cultivate the capacities they already possess.”

Emotions exist in all athletes. Period.

Team Adult has a wonderful opportunity in and through sports to enter into a journey to guide kids toward the most appropriate responses to emotions that overwhelm them. We have to come to terms with the fact that the stereotypes most people believe about gender and emotion are wrong.

Regardless of gender, space and acknowledgment of emotions is the first step to helping kids achieve mastery over them. Gender expectations must be abandoned and emotional athletes must be coached well, one feeling at a time .

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2019                                     www.meaganfrank.com

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I am in an old body now. It has arrived in spite of my competitive and active spirit. Doesn’t the fact that I’m still pretty young count for something? I’m not even 45 yet! I can’t seem to will my joints to feel like they used to or my muscles to line up as they should. My body has seen too many combattive miles. Not just running, but running and colliding, running and cutting with aggression, and running and then falling or diving. Plus, I hurt myself…a lot.

I played hard. I ran, I hit, I jumped, I fell, I got back up and I did it again, and again, and again. I was a tenacious competitor. I battled until I broke…literally. My first big injury was when I was 16. Broken tibia and broken ulna. Yes, one bone in my leg, the other in my arm. Full leg cast, full arm cast. Same side of my body.

I should have stopped there. I should have let my body heal, and ease it back to gentle movements. But I simply could not stop the fight I had started. I felt like I needed to prove something. Ultimately, my body fought back.

I was getting good. I was nearing that athletic peak and why wouldn’t I ascend as high as I could because I still could? Even if it meant enduring other big injuries, tape cuts from wrapping before every practice and game, sitting in ice baths and waiting out the timer on the stim machine? So what if I needed a few surgeries, months of rehab, my own pair of crutches and a number of prescriptions for Vicodin?

It was all worth it, right?

Part of my college tuition was paid for and I had the opportunity to play at the highest level at the time (except for the National team). When it comes down to it, I don’t regret I kept going, but not for the personal athletic peak I achieved. I’m glad I fought it out there because I met my husband, we had our children, and we made a life. So, for that opportunity I will be forever grateful, but I wonder, often, whether it was worth the price my body has paid.

I watch my peers post pictures of triathlons and marathons and endurance challenges. I know it’s not in me anymore. I put too many difficult miles on my body too soon.

I have found relief in daily walks, regular yoga, strength training, pool workouts and hiking. Those movements are great, but there is a part of me that longs for the other uses a body of my age should be able to do, if I hadn’t battled so hard (and lost so often) when I was younger.

I asked a question on Twitter over the weekend about whether we should focus our programming energy in youth sports toward helping athletes achieve their greatest potential or to develop people who enjoy being active for life. Choosing to get as good as possible is the harder road. The chase for the highest level has gotten more crowded and more competitive over the years, and I have a hard time encouraging our kids to engage there. Especially if it hurts them to try. It is my own unhealed voice, I know, but I want them to have a 45-year-old body in better shape than mine is. I hope they achieve the very best of who they can become, but if that is as an 80-year-old running marathons, surely it matters what they do now. I sincerely hope they feel well enough long enough to enjoy the full capacity of the gifts of their bodies. I spend a lot of time protecting them from their own battles, but maybe I shouldn’t.

What do you think? Did you play at a high level and find challenge in your aging body? Do you keep your kids moving without worrying about whether they are in the fight now but it may cause them issues later?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2018                                     www.meaganfrank.com

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why my husband quit coaching

Someone recently reminded me about this piece originally posted in 2016 on a site that has since been removed. I felt compelled to post it again because I want to enable coaches to seek and provide for one another the resources needed to keep good coaches in the game. It helps me to know that what I do as a high school coach is actually really hard. For any high school coach struggling with the challenges of coaching high school athletes and their families, I just want you to know you are not alone.

 Coaching high school teams is hard…possibly the hardest kind of coaching there is. I do believe it is possible to enjoy the journey, however, and I sincerely hope more and more high school coaches begin to believe that too.

Several years ago, my kids and I were saying our goodbyes to my husband in the parking lot of a youth hockey arena. My son, who was probably nine at the time, hugged his suit-and-tie-clad dad, patted him on the back and said, “Hey dad, say hi to your girlfriend for me!” My husband and I laughed as he then walked over to me for a goodbye hug and kiss.

More than anything, I wish I had had a camera to capture the dismayed look of the couple who had come out of their car right when we were saying our goodbyes. They looked so confused. They obviously didn’t know the truth of our situation and I wish I had been able to explain that it was a goodbye that made perfectly good sense to us.

My husband has had a mistress since well before I met him. Her name is HOCKEY. She is a seductress and apparently capable of lifelong relationship. Not having known her as a child, I have spent much of my adult life trying to understand her.

It didn’t take me long to figure out she’s quite a drama queen. She evokes such passion from the people who love her. I observed often how passionate my husband was about the sport that so fully defined who he is. I began to note the power she had over him when the only times during the winter months when he shaved, cut his hair, and got dressed up in a coat and tie were in direct correlation to the time he spent at the rink. It’s true she has made her way into our marriage bed too…on the heels of a tough loss or on especially emotional outings.

His love affair started when he was a young boy. She would entice him from a frosted window when the city water trucks would flood the neighborhood rink for their winter tryst. She made him feel so good about himself as he slid to an identity in and out of organized meetings. Passion grew with him and when he began to have a lot of success and recognition for his abilities as a teen and into early adulthood, her hook was set.

They did break up for a while- when the course of their relationship was tested with the arrival of injuries and a new coaching staff in college. For the first time in his life, he was told what sort of relationship he was going to have with hockey, and it was from the sideline. This experience was possibly one of the most painful of his life.

That was when he and I met.

You would think I had power enough to help him to forget his first love, and for a few years I managed to be enough. I could tell that he was like the circle in Shel Silverstein’s book The Missing Piece and he was rolling around the world looking for something to make him feel complete again.

I take blame for the rekindling of his relationship with hockey. I felt somewhat obligated to help him pursue love that had left a gaping hole in his life…it’s what spouses do, right? I honestly didn’t know what a decision like that was going to mean for my life. She has changed everything.

I became the great enabler. I packed boxes and moved small children several times, I single-mothered most Friday and Saturday nights or trekked the three kids out in the snow and ice to watch him pursue his passion. I then became the enabler for the kids too as they showed interest in getting to know her. They’ve been lured into her sticky web and they each navigate a path of childhood that includes relationship with her. I helped make that happen.

Recently, something quite drastic has happened to his love for this lifelong mistress. I don’t know if he has outgrown her or if he struggles with the way other people have tarnished her in his eyes, but the glow has nearly vanished.

He took a head high school coaching job three years ago, after spending the majority of his coaching career at the college level. Probably from day one at the high school level, his passion for the game has dwindled. I’ve worked hard to support him through some of the harder discoveries he has made over the last three years, because that’s what spouses do, right?  Here are some of the things I’ve observed:

  • Most high schoolers don’t yet have a full-fledged passion for hockey (or for anything really). They are growing into the passions they will follow and it takes patience to wait for those passions to emerge.
  • My husband’s college coach demeanor on the bench was quite often misinterpreted as indifference. What people didn’t realize is he has spent a lifetime learning to control his emotions and no one will ever really know how much he truly cares about the kids and the game.
  • It is heavy to carry the weight of responsibility for the parents of teenagers who have ideas about how passion should be taught and fostered. Each person requires something unique. My introverted husband is not equipped to navigate that minefield.
  • He hasn’t enjoyed the 30 varied opinions about who hockey is, how hockey should be loved, or whether hockey becomes a passion for the young men on his team.

I’ve thought a lot about why his passion tanked like it did and one thought I had is that, likely, as a college coach there was no need to navigate relationships like this, because college men who play hockey have firmly established that they are sincerely passionate about hockey. Those who make it to play in college have a passion and commitment that my husband recognizes, and when they gather in the locker room they can see in each other’s eyes a kindred spirit.

If it is time for my husband and hockey to have a final break up, I’m okay with that. She’s done her work to mold and shape a large portion of our family phase of life.  I can see in my husband he is ready to put his energy into other things, like the relationships with all the children in our home. He acknowledges what I do, that their time here is coming to a close, and I am so glad he doesn’t want to miss it. He is also expanding responsibilities for his job and he is at the point in his life where he has to choose how to best expend his energy.

Hockey has served him well. She’s served all of us well, and for one or more of my kids she may remain an important part of skating through life. She can be a fantastic vehicle of connection, and a catalyst to incredible personal growth. I don’t hold any grudges against her.

I know my husband had hoped he would have had a chance to take their relationship to even another level, but he is fully grateful for the gifts she has granted. She brought us together, she has been an integral member of our family, she has been the reason we’ve met so many wonderful people, and she is the reason we live in a place we love with a lifestyle we adore. That’s enough for him.

There will be people who don’t fully understand this good-bye, because they don’t know how much more there is to the story. Just know, it makes perfectly good sense to us.

For the record, my husband still coaches our daughter a couple times a week at the goalie practices for her high school team. 

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2018                                     www.meaganfrank.com

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We need to make a decision people. Yes, all of us grown-up-making-decisions-paying-registration-for-youth-sports people…we need to decide about something I believe may be the most critical decision for the future of youth sports.

What do we want for our investment?

Do we want youth sports to work as an engine for education or do we want our hard-earned dollars, volunteer hours and time commitment to result in a fun, entertaining experience for families and kids?

At the very least we have to decide what is more important.

Professional and college athletics are expected to provide high levels of entertainment in this country. Should youth sports provide the same?

It’s not that education can’t be fun and it’s not impossible for kids to learn something from an entertaining experience, but the lack of decision about what youth sports is supposed to accomplish is creating an environment that doesn’t effectively do either.

So here is a completely unscientific description of the differences between the educational and the entertainment model of youth sports.

In an educational model:

  • It is enough to notice small improvements.
  • There is a longterm goal in mind.
  • EVERY moment a child is involved with a youth sports experience, is a learning moment.
  • Wins are great, but learning is better.
  • The experience, improvement and education of EVERY child involved matters.
  • Attention is paid to the lessons being taught on and off the field/court/ice and the end goal is education of the entire child and not just the physical aspects of competition.
  • Parents and coaches parent and coach the children.

In the entertainment model:

  • Scoreboard, record and overall season achievements are how success is measured.
  • It is better to win NOW because there is no guarantee there will be a chance to play later.
  • Pre-game drinking and mid-tournament partying is all part of the entertaining sports experience, it is just how the family enjoys the season.
  • It is not worthwhile or fun unless the team wins and the athletes playing have great performances.
  • The best players should play because the best players improve the chances of winning.
  • The sport exists to produce the highest level of physical achievement possible.
  • People attending are fans and can behave as such (including the entertaining berating of refs)

So, where do you fall on the spectrum of Educational or Entertainment in youth sports? Should there be a difference between youth and college/pro? Should there be two sorts of youth sports programming to satisfy the desires of families: an educational league and an entertainment league? In which league would you sign your kid up to play?

I’m not sure we can have our cake and eat it too.

Meagan Frank is the author of the Choosing to Grow series, a national speaker, athlete, coach, and mother of three. A 1997 graduate of Colorado College, Meagan was a four-year starter and senior captain on the Division I women’s soccer team and lettered in Division III women’s basketball. She has coached recreational, high school, elite, and college-level teams for both boys and girls.

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Copyright 2015       Meagan Frank   Choosing to Grow         http://www.meaganfrank.com

Phew. My least favorite time of year is over.

The evaluations are done, the teams are named, and although it was not a painless process in our house this year, it was a time for significant growth for all of us.

Last week, as though perfectly timed with my personal journey, I attended a presentation by life coach Dr. Jean Davidson. She offered a number of intriguing nuggets of information, but one important idea she offered is the assertion that people in our western culture are reluctant to stay in emotion long enough to actually process through it.

It is an idea I have entertained before.  As I observe relatively normal people transform into crazy people on the sideline of youth sporting events, I often wonder what emotional baggage they might be trying to unpack.

It got me thinking about how evaluations, and the categorization of kids, plays a part in the craziness.

Our oldest got through his tryouts first, and while still reeling from the emotional fallout of the decisions that were made, our middle daughter started her run through the evaluation guantlet. I was pretty emotionally spent at that point, and had a rather strange perspective as I watched the girls and their parents tighten around anxiety with the tryouts. Girls had migraines, parents were visibly nervous, nausea ran rampant, and flushed faces of people I enjoy spoke frustrated lines about the performance of their 9 or 10-year-old daughters.

It is the way of youth sports. When labels are involved,  people become crazed.

It matters that you can say your kid is on an A team. Players identify themselves with the label they are given, and too often it becomes a stamp that ends a child’s willingness to pursue potential.

“Oh, he only made a C team,” I heard some of the 10-year-old girls giggle as they settled their own nerves about the impending A-team cut. Parental, peer, and personal pressures to make the right team often cloud patient perspective.

That’s what happened to me. I claim that I can look at most of this youth sports stuff with an objective lens, but if I am honestly pursuing a Choosing to Grow sort of mentality, I have to acknowledge the presence and power of emotions. Especially my own.

I am not proud that I got angry…I am not proud that I lashed out in a  post that made emotional assertions, but I won’t apologize for allowing myself to actually feel every bit of my life and the experiences I endure. By processing where I did…in an adult venue and never within earshot of my children…I was able to get through the tough stuff to better help them cope with their own emotions. Separating my emotions from theirs is imperative to both their growth and mine. However,  I can only effectively separate  when I give myself time to identify my own emotions and work through them.

I presented paranoia, anger, sadness, and I wrote it out in a public way because I honestly believe in providing a space for dialogue about what too few people are willing to address. People who responded positively to the post admitted “feeling” similar emotions. The dissenting opinion addressed logistics of evaluations and the business of categorizing children. Processing ugly emotions IS ugly, but like Dr. Davidson contends, absolutely necessary.

The denial of emotions does not make the feelings go away, it simply delays their arrival.

I think it’s fine that Minnesota Hockey sent this note of encouragement to parents who are battling with the results of tryouts. Tryouts: The Day After The advice is sound. What the message lacks is the validation that people are hurting.  What it is missing is instruction that people should give themselves whatever time they need to work through their feelings. I would never contend that this processing should take forever, but to simply tell people to move on, without any strategies for how, you end up with destructive back-room conversations, bitterness and sometimes a crazed parent who lashes out at an opponent or a ref. (obviously anger about tryouts is just one possible reason for pent-up emotion that explodes mid-season)

For all you parents who are standing in the dust of your post-evaluation emotions, I challenge you to not walk away too quickly. Whatever you might have felt…in the lead-up to the tryouts…throughout the tryouts…and now on the backside, take a few minutes to identify what those feelings were.  Write them down. Why did you feel that way? Write that out. Share what you wrote with a friend who has absolutely no connection to your sports world. Process with them. The validation you need is not that you are right about being slighted…the validation you need is that it is perfectly appropriate to feel the way you do.  Then leave it.  Burn it if that makes you feel better, but don’t hang on to the emotions.

Whatever ugly emotions you ignore, stuff, or move past too quickly will present themselves in some surprising way that may or may not be in a place you want it to happen.

Now that I have exhausted my efforts and I chose to grow through my own emotions about the world that emerged during this period of evaluation, I am ready to lift my face and see the path better. It is not to say that I won’t stop at any point in the future to process the places my feet get stuck. When I find myself stalled, I’ll stop and stay for a while.  I wouldn’t want to move on without letting myself feel the moment.

 

Copyright 2012                          Choosing to Grow                              meagan frank

 

                                                  

The Grief of Getting Cut

Posted: October 6, 2012 in Uncategorized

I wasn’t sure I wanted to share this piece, but the more I sit with it, the more I know it is a reflection of what so many people experience at the beginning of a sports season.

I wrote this Thursday morning:

It’s 3:53 am. I am wide awake after fitfully sleeping for only 3 ½ hours…and there is no possibility that I could go back to sleep.

This isn’t the way it should be.

I haven’t received any troubling health news, nor have we lost a dear friend or family member.  My kids and my husband are soundly sleeping upstairs, our dog is cuddled in the covers, and there is no truly acceptable reason to feel as full of grief as I do.  It is a loss though, I guess. A ridiculous-don’t-ask-me-because-it-sounds-so-stupid-when-I-say-it-outloud…grief.

Our son was cut from a hockey team last night. A team he could probably play for, but that my husband and I have secretly hoped for months he wouldn’t make.

So here we are. We got exactly what we wanted, but the way it has played out in real-time was not what I had expected.

What I hadn’t anticipated was the waiting. I hadn’t considered how it would feel waiting for our son to wake up to the news. What I hadn’t counted on was the misery knowing he will finally drag his exhausted, growing, 12-year-old body out of bed, after skating three hours last night, only to find out that there really are inexplicable inequities in the world.

He’s going to find out that he is one of 10 kids who will have skated 4 extra hours over the course of two days…doubling up with football…for nothing.

He made the first pool cut from 100 down to 30, and he wanted to make this next cut of 10 players…not so he could tell people that he “almost” made the A team…not because he really had this burning desire to play with some of these kids again this year.  He wanted to make the second cut, because that guaranteed him a spot on a B1 team, and he would not have to skate during his much-anticipated-first-dance of junior high.

Now he is where he started at the beginning of the week, before the marathon of football to hockey to eating to sleep.  According to the tryout gods, he is at the exact level of all the boys vying for spots on a B1 team, and he starts over, missing his dance… to tryout again.

He’s back to having nothing guaranteed, and he does not have a sure spot on a team at the B1 level: a level that he comfortably played on all year last year.

None of that matters now. And maybe it shouldn’t. Maybe he’s really not good enough this year.

I wish I could convince myself of that.

So without a clear understanding…without a concrete answer to give to him when he asks “why?” my head starts down the path that so many people go in this situation.

Fair or not…real or perceived…my thoughts swirl as I try to make sense of something that I don’t understand either.

I cannot help but to consider that we have the wrong last name. Maybe our name has increasingly become a thorn in the side of many people who have much more influence than we do.

Maybe we bucked the system too much last year, challenging the authority.  Maybe we chose the wrong off-season program…Maybe it’s because we chose to opt-out of the in-season program. I don’t know…and that’s the whole problem. For families who operate on a set of beliefs and then are thrown down an entirely new path, there is a real process of coming to terms so that they can operate under an entirely new reality.

What he’ll learn this morning is that there are inexplicable disappointments…

It’s entirely likely that he didn’t have a solid tryout, and there will need to be some ownership in that. What will be more difficult is knowing the depth and breadth of his contribution to all the teams he has played on so far, and when it came down to making decisions between him and a potentially equally matched player, he didn’t have what they were looking for.

So…I wait. I wait for him to get up. I wait for the inevitable tears.  I wait for disbelief, pain, and anger. I wait for the questioning and a search for explanation. And then I’ll wait for the eventual glint of acceptance and a fortified decision to move forward anyway. It will look like a movement through grief, and if I am grateful for anything, I’m grateful that I had time to do some of my own grieving first.

What I grieve, in all of this, is that I have officially lost whatever was left of the little boy who should never have had to experience something like this…the little boy I was supposed to protect.

Choosing to Grow  copyright 2012                                       Meagan Frank

www.meaganfrank.com                                                                                           

“I’m not going to football today…actually, I’m not going to football anymore. I quit!”

My husband and I sat stunned as we listened to our twelve-year-old rant, rave, and rebel against the instruction to get himself ready for practice.

It took us a few minutes to formulate the response we wanted. I’m sure as our brains were constructing something useful, we were concurrently saying things like, “You are going to practice,” and “do you really want to be seen as a quitter?”, and “You would give up? What kind of work ethic do you have?” and “of course you’re sore, your body is trying to use and make muscles it has never had before. The soreness will go away,” and we probably even said, “we paid for your non-refundable registration, and you are going to work that money off to pay us back, actually, no, you should just lose the privilege of your phone and ipod for the duration of the football season…they are privileges you know?”

This was a desperate situation. After flailing for the statement that would change his mind and send him quickly upstairs to gather his things, we pinned him into the kitchen. It took some fits and starts, but this is the essence of what my husband and I finally said to him:

“There are always consequences for decisions, and in this case, there will be consequences at home for quitting.”

“But I don’t like football,” he argued, “I am sore, it is hard, and…I just don’t like it.”

“How do you even know?” we asked, “you’ve never played football before this year, and you’ve been to three practices! So, you’re telling us that if you go to your first few days at a new job, and you aren’t sure you like it, that you are going to walk away without consequence? Employers don’t like to see on your resume that you are only willing to work a few days at a time? The real world doesn’t work that way. Sometimes you have to push through with a little elbow grease, and in this case, you asked to sign up, and we expect that you will follow through with your commitment.”

He stormed out…he went upstairs. I thought he was up there sulking, but my husband knew better. He was upstairs getting his brand new cleats on to head to practice.

That was two weeks ago…

Last night, as he worked to stay up a little later to watch the opening game of the NFL season, we saw a new version of the brand new junior-high-kid who occupies his room.

“So today, when I was playing center…” he paused.

I looked up from what I was doing, “Center? What in the world were you doing playing center?”

He smiled back at me, “I know, right? No one else wanted to do it, so I told coach I’d do it.”

I could hardly picture my 85-pound twig lining up against boys who outweigh him by 40, 60, and in one case over 100 pounds.

He went on to show me his center stance, to explain to me the position he’ll likely play as he pointed out the guys on the Cowboys. (for the record, he’ll likely be a wide receiver)

I asked him, “So, is this your only year of football?”

“Nah, probably not,” he replied, “It’s making me stronger.”

I can’t tell you how awesome it was to hear him say that.

What if we had let him quit? What if we hadn’t pushed him to go to practice that day?

A few things would be different. He wouldn’t be coming home from school excited about eating lunch with his “football buddies.” He wouldn’t be noticing the start of muscle bulge in places he didn’t even know he had muscles. He wouldn’t be talking about the things he’s learning about football…about himself.

That’s honestly all we wanted. We never even suggested that he play football, in fact, I did what I could to discourage him before he signed himself up. It’s possible he will spend more time on the sideline cheering on his more well-versed football teammates than running patterns, but I don’t regret for one second pushing him into this football experience.

It was never about making him a football player. It was about making him accountable. It was about helping him to see that work is sometimes just that…work.

Now, if he came to us tomorrow and said, “I don’t want to play hockey this year,” I can guarantee our response would be different.  He has been playing since he was four, and he would know full well what it was he was quitting. As long as it is before his commitment to a team, we’ll never force him to play something he has given a full effort to try.

However, if a similar conversation comes up again about any sport pre-registration, I will say, “If you’re not going to play that sport, then what sport are you going to play?” Inactivity is not an option, choosing which sport gets them moving…that’s up to them.

We have all learned something over the last few weeks. One thing I hope all my kids now know… if there has been a decision to commit to a certain sport for a season…the expectation is that mom and dad will do anything they need to do to push those legs into motion.

To learn more about Meagan’s book project, Choosing to Grow: For the Sport of It, visit her website www.meaganfrank.com.

                                   

 

Copyright 2012               Meagan Frank                                Choosing to Grow

Spring soccer started a couple weeks ago.

In our house it looks like chaos…pretty much from start to finish. Both the girls are playing and, in what seems like a purposeful punishment for our family, their practices are scheduled on the same days…at the same time…and of course at two different places.

I’ve made it work (even without my second driver). I get our oldest son set up with carpools for wherever he needs to go, and then the girls and I start running.

I drop off Middle Sprout and peel out of the parking lot as soon as I see her coach step out of his car.  Little Sprout and I arrive late to her practice (doing what we can not to disrupt things) and then I assist with the drills before we leave a few minutes early to go back and pick up her big sister. (who is usually waiting for me to arrive… with her coach)

I think after the craze of yesterday, Little Sprout finally understands why I was not able to take on the responsibility of head coach for her team this year. Six-year-olds need a coach who is there before they are and who can stay after they’ve gone.

The thing is, it took a while for another parent to step up and take on the role of coach for this little U-6 team. I felt badly that I couldn’t volunteer…but it’s clear why.

The man who eventually volunteered did so reluctantly. He admits he doesn’t know much about soccer and that he has not worked much with kids this age.  The thing is…he’s perfect for them without trying. He is kind, patient…and learning.

The girls LOVE him…and they are starting to love “soccer”!

I put parentheses around “soccer” because what is happening for this young developing team of athletes is not soccer the way that I know it…and it shouldn’t be.

It’s good that their coach doesn’t see what I see when I watch the girls try to kick… or dribble… or shoot. I see areas that I would love to correct and it takes every bone in my body not to point out when they do it “wrong”. He is working to learn names, understand the drill description in the association practice plan, and then it looks like herding cats to run them through the important games of tag, or red light/ green light. He lets them choose games and in doing so…they are a part of the process.

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a blogpost about The Need for Creative Athletes. In the post, I challenged youth coaches to allow for creativity in their practice plans. My daughter’s coach may not be planning it…but it is great that it is naturally happening anyway.

I recently read an awesome article entitled, The Courage to be Patient. It is a directive to youth soccer coaches, and it highlights the discipline it takes to truly adopt the best way to develop young athletes.

I’ve decided: allowing creativity is harder… the more experienced you are.

A friend of mine, who is the head coach for her daughter’s soccer team sent me a message about what she did to create a space of expressive and creative freedom for her players. I take to heart this decision because I know my friend well.  She is arguably one of the most intense competitors I have ever been around.  She and I were college teammates, and I know firsthand her intelligence of the game, her competitive edge, and her impressive work ethic.  Here is what she did:

Each player received a name tag that said “Meagan’s choice” for the practice. I warmed them up for a couple of minutes (only because it was cold and I didn’t want them to get hurt). From that point, the girls had control of the practice. Each player could turn in their sticker and then choose whatever game they wanted to play. They could repeat a game if they wanted…so we played sharks and minnows a couple of times. Or they could choose a game. Obviously, they call choose to play “soccer” games such as Clean Up Your Own Backyard (which I call poop in the yard…they laugh), Number Soccer, etc.  

What I’ve started to learn about the developing athlete, is that my daughter’s reluctant coach is providing an environment that is perfect for the needs of the kids at this age. Young kids need space to run in chaos.  They learn about collisions…and how to avoid them next time. They learn the ways that make it easier for them to keep the ball on their feet…because they don’t want to lose the game. They learn that laughter is part of sport. My friend had to make a conscious decision to have some courageous patience…but the players on her team will be better off for it.

It is counter-intuitive to allow creative chaos. Every one of us would rather have control…the thing is, kids need a chance to have some control too…and that feels a bit chaotic for us adults.

To learn about Meagan’s current book project make sure to visit her website:  www.meaganfrank.com.

                               

Copyright 2012        Meagan Frank                                      Choosing to Grow

Except for what I’ve seen on the news, and read on his caring bridge site, I don’t know this smiling hockey player. I don’t know his parents or his younger brother. I don’t know the record of the team for which he plays, or how many goals he might have this season, but I do know that his story has become an important one worth sharing. What I know about him is that he became, in an instant, the face of fear for hundreds of hockey players and parents around the country. He is the reason for this concerned contemplation.

It took little time for two opposing players to skate toward him at an incredible rate of speed and then collide into him from behind. It took even less time for him to hit the boards and to go from motion to stillness.

I can only imagine the hush that followed. That deafening silence that envelopes a group of people who realize that the line that we so regularly approach in sport had been tragically crossed.

In the retelling of the story I feel for his mom, and I can’t help it. It is with her I most identify. She loves her kids, she loves and supports their passion for hockey, and she has a writing niche online that covers so many facets of what it is to be a hockey mom. I can hardly imagine the heartbreak and the change in identity for everyone who’s close to this.

Photo: Richard Sennott-Star Tribune

We don’t want this. No one wants this. No matter how much we adore speed, strength, and brute force, I have to believe we are still compassionate human beings who don’t want to see the most elite among us injured too badly to play the sports they love.

Yes, I know the statistics are pretty low for incidents of the most traumatic injuries, but it is hard to ignore how prevalent head, neck and back injuries have become for hockey players. According to Canadian journalist Dave Stubbs, 2011 was the year of the concussion for hockey. He names some of the biggest players who were sidelined for concussions in 2011 like Sidney Crosby and Chris Pronger.

Because of the rash of injuries, awareness is certainly heightened, and I really hope it will start to be enough.

Hockey has evolved at a speed that matches its pace on the ice. According to the statistics at USA Hockey, membership in youth hockey increased from 200,000 in 1990-91 to nearly 600,000 participants in the 2010-11 season.

Along with the increased interest in the sport, the speed and strength of the players playing has also increased.

If you watch hockey as much as we watch it in our house, you would agree that the NHL game seems to be getting faster every year. While watching the NHL highlights of the 90’s, our 11-year-old son said, “It looks so slow.” He’s probably right, but even more important is how young players are achieving faster and faster speeds too.

Technology of the equipment is better, and the ice skates are faster than they’ve ever been. Speed camps are teaching kids how to be faster, but maybe what we need to spend more time on is how to stop. I couldn’t find a single camp that helps to teach kids how to stop well, how to brace for a ride into the boards, how to deal with a hit that they don’t even see coming.

We’re giving them speed, but the brakes are malfunctioning…and sometimes non-existent. Sixteen and seventeen-year-old boys with the speed of grown men, have a responsibility to use that speed wisely. I’m not sure what the answer is, but I cannot help but to think we’re not there yet.

I hate that the Benilde-St. Margaret sophomore lies in a hospital bed…especially if the entire thing could have been avoided.

Maybe now is the time. Maybe Jabby’s injury can be a wake-up call to start making the necessary changes to make hockey safer for the players who grow to love it. It takes just an instant to break someone. It takes time to build speed, and an equal amount of time should be spent on the stopping.

To learn more about Meagan or her current book project, Choosing to Grow: For the Sport of It, visit her at www.meaganfrank.com.

I wish I weren’t reeling from a mid-season parent/coach meeting I attended last night… but I am. I wish I didn’t feel like I have a responsibility to write about it this morning… but I do.

I am Choosing to Grow: For the Sport of It, and I can only do that legitimately if I am willing to face… head on… the issues as they come. I look for lessons in everything. I work to see the teachable moment in all the things I do, and last night was no exception. I am on the front lines of the youth sports battlefield, and I figured out last night, I am not armed well enough.

The thing is, I’m not exactly sure whether I need more protective gear or a more high-tech weapon.

After the neary two-hour conversation, I feel like issues were addressed, communication lines were made more open, and opinions were generally expressed. Small steps in the right direction.

What I personally learned, however:  If it is a sports conversation, I barely have anything to offer…if the topic is about hockey, I can offer even less…and comments I make are only legitimized if my college-hockey-coaching husband stands up to defend my point.

It’s not fair to assume that every time I offer my opinion about sports I’ll feel as shunned as I did for most of last night. I approach every situation as an independent experience. I felt somewhat legitimized by the end of the meeting…but it didn’t start out that way.

I’m not surprised the coach came out swinging.  He didn’t know that my suggestion about a team meeting was so that the parents and coaches could be put on the same page. So that all of us could be going in the same direction and so the expectations and philosophies could be clearly explained. We hadn’t had a full parent-coach meeting yet, and too many assumptions, frustrations and miscommunications were building. I have acquired a number of coaching and communication tools over the years, and I was truly attempting to facilitate a platform for dialogue. I was thinking a meeting might help the coaches…so that the parents could help by aligning with them.

He assumed otherwise.

He told us he thought we had come with torches and pitchforks, and having witnessed, and experienced, such parent-directed meetings, I was not surprised he wanted to lay authoritative groundwork right away.  I respect that…I really do.

The thing is, I tried to waylay his concerns with an early comment about the intention of the meeting, and he sternly instructed me to follow his ground rules and let him run “his” meeting.

I spoke up, respectfully, a number of other times, but I was increasingly convinced that my opinion was of little consequence to him. He softened his posture, after my husband weighed in, and addressed our comments as a couple, but it really felt like I hadn’t mattered before that.

If I am going to describe how that feels…deflating.

This is not the way I have been trained in discourse. My husband and I went to Colorado College, where every class is a debate/discussion that includes respectful banter where all ideas were respected and contemplated. The professors are part of the conversation and simply encourage the direction. Through countless hours of discussion, I never felt as though my opinion didn’t count as much because I am a woman.

I felt a little bit like that last night.

It’s actually something that has been gnawing at me quite a bit lately. For more reasons than the recent conversation, I am noting a subtle, yet persistent, discrimination when it comes to women and sports.  As much as things have changed in the sporting world…there is quite a bit that is exactly the way it has always been.

Title IX is practically forty years old, and girls have more opportunity to play than ever before. The next phase in progress will be when women can have a voice, and take a confident stand, in that other male-dominated room…the coach’s. It is telling that in the last ten years there have been multi-million dollar sex-discrimination lawsuits by women in the college coaching ranks. Fresno State’s debacle is one of the most drastic examples. 

The male-dominated sports culture still exists, but I would like to take this opportunity to express that times are changing. The shift in the youth sports wind smells an awful lot like women’s perfume. There are more and more girls, who have benefitted from Title IX, who are the moms on the teams men coach, and more and more women are willing AND ABLE, to coach with and against them. Things will change… but change is never easy.

Besides my own sporting experience, I have been working really hard on this project, researching the smartest sports psychologists, interviewing and meeting with some of the best minds in the business of youth sports, and I know I am gaining knowledge and insight about communication, team building, teaching and coaching. What I learned last night:

My sports opinion doesn’t really matter… yet.

Right now, my expected role is similar to what these women do (or don’t do) in the Responsible Sports example of how to run a hockey parent meeting. I won’t apologize that I am uncomfortable sitting quietly, and I am open to be influenced by what happened yesterday… but not deterred.

So, my skin is a little thicker and I am eyeing those protective shields. At the same time, I am manufacturing a different weapon. My weapon is one of strategy, negotiation and cooperation.  I am fighting for my kids and for kids in general.

I may not battle the way men do, but I can fight, and I am not afraid to get into the fray.

To learn more about Meagan or her current book project, you can find her at www.meaganfrank.com