Several weeks back, my husband and I and our soon-to-be high school sophomore son, Anderson, sat in a meeting led by several college soccer coaches. The purpose of this meeting was to give parents and players information on how to best, in effect, market their athletes in order to be noticed by college coaches.
Things like going to college-sponsored ID camps, sending emails, notifying coaches of tournaments your child would be playing at and sending videos and player resumes, among other things were mentioned.
As I sat there, I still felt like the 14- to 17-year-old high school girl who had hopes of earning a college athletic scholarship. It was surreal to sit next to my son who was now facing the prospect of becoming a collegiate student-athlete. I began to feel the empathetic pressure build up inside of me, as I knew that the upcoming years would be starkly different from the ones in the past.
No longer would soccer just be soccer, but would have that pressure to perform “because people are watching” tied to it. This game he is so passionate about and talented in wouldn't be “just a game” anymore because there would now be high stakes tied to those games.
I remember it well — the transition from competing because I loved it, to competing because I had to. I knew full well that running was my ticket to school — my only ticket. It was my livelihood that I would now have to maintain to get through the next several years.
This transition sucked the love of the sport right out of me, replacing it with fear, anxiety and even depression. I put too much emphasis on winning, and when I wasn't winning, I was worthless. The sport became me, and I became the sport, and I lost myself in the process. I didn’t know what I was without running, and when I failed at it, it wasn’t just failing at it, but failing at being me. It was a dark several years that took me a long time to recover from.
Sitting there in that meeting, however, also gave me feelings of excitement and a resolve to make things right. I want this time in my son's life to be filled with a renewed excitement for the game he has loved for the past decade. I know I can't eliminate pressure put on him by coaches and himself, but I can do all I can to lighten the load he is carrying by not adding to the weight that comes naturally with this process.
If it is in the cards for Anderson to play the sport he loves beyond high school, I want nothing more than those years to be joyful and full of growing as a player and as a person. Because, man, the years fly by, and before he knows it, he’ll be sitting next to his child all wide-eyed as he enters this world of planning for his future — whatever that future may be.