Sometimes winning looks like losing
Youth Sports is a very complicated place. I have pondered writing this post for years even though I never had a blog. I knew I had to write about what I am seeing. Youth sports is not healthy – especially in Texas! I say this loving youth sports. I think the only people who can write critically are the ones who truly love what they are writing critically about. (That is why I write critically about the American church too).
I am writing this post judging no one! This is my own blood revealing what I learned getting blinded by the lights and the deceitful phrase “what is best for my kid”. I cannot think of a more loaded phrase than “What is best for my kid.” Let me tell you if we dug deep on that statement, we would make a decision that would seem the opposite of making our kids successful. I am saying we are overdoing it, and it will be to our kid’s detriment – even if they love it. This world blew up in our face and I am glad it did. I have to tell what I learned because it is important. Sharing soccer articles cannot tell this story.
Why am I writing this? I have a dual perspective as a parent and as the wife of a coach who engages in this world. I am going to give both perspectives.
Let me start by writing as a parent. I think many parents are dying to hear they can slow down. Your kid can succeed in life even if they are not the champion of their sport. I realize kids show great promise at a very early age and it triggers us as parents. (Spoiler: Very few make the national team!). I was a gymnast. I was pushed so hard and I hated it. I always asked my parents – why can’t this just be fun! Why do we have to be champions? I quit because it was not fun, even though I had everything a coach could want to succeed. I know many say their kids love playing soccer all the time, but I promise you they need to enjoy so much more than just one thing. Being able to play without structure is critical to their development. Kids have the best imaginations and we are not letting them use it because we are tied up with fear that something can happen to them. This translates to youth sports too. In soccer, kids under 11 should be playing without a score–not because we are snowflakes who can’t handle losing, but because they need to learn to be creative without pressure: to love the game, to learn their teammates, and to just play for the love of the game. When Blake was in Academy at 4 (we did not even do multiple academies) he was unhappy. When we took him to Atlanta (on a mission trip) and he played freestyle soccer with the kids in the neighborhood -he told me that was the best kind of soccer. Out of the mouth of Babes! Blake is right!
Why would I write this when my husband is an Academy Coach? We still believe Academy has its place. There are kids wanting to play at a higher level than recreation at a younger age, and that is ok. Honestly, Jake and I tried to avoid Academy until we realized we could not move Kimberlyn forward staying with Rec. We could not keep the same team to move forward. We were constantly starting over and we saw Kimbo regressing, so I say this realizing skill level matters even at a young age. But let me tell you what happens when you enter Academy at a young age – now the pressure is on to win it all!
Kimberlyn started Academy at 7. That sounds young, but many start at 4 (we did this with Blake, but his experience was way more positive –until he was 7 ironically). When we came, despite Kimbo’s great foot skills, she was way behind. The atmosphere felt tense when she played because this team is used to winning. I judge no one for this because I realize I was this same person a year later. I soon learned many played for more than one team, and the other team many played for had parents that had been harmful to our current team and were asked to leave. I am going to be honest about this because winning makes us overlook a lot and we say “What is best for my kid.” That is a loaded statement.
When Kimberlyn’s team fell apart when she joined (at 7 years old!) because people were playing for other teams, we felt we had to do the same thing, even though we still had enough players to play as a team. The only thing that kept us from leaving completely, that ended up being our saving grace, is Jake worked for our current club. I loved our club, but felt Kimberlyn was getting the shaft—and she was, but I did not want to be rash because as a coach’s wife I know how it feels, so we did 2 clubs. Oh how I hated it. It was constant soccer. I had no time to invest in Blake, and Jake couldn’t either because he was busy coaching his own 4 teams! I was messing up at work because I wasn’t sleeping with this horrid schedule, but I was so flattered by this other coach about my child, I was sure she was going to be a champion. (Side note: I was warned plenty of times about this coach and his lies). I am thankful it only took 6 months for me to wake up. I also realized I had a different problem than most. Most people get used for their kids and their talent, I was being used for my husband and his soccer knowledge and Kimberlyn was the collateral. I am talking straight up because this is reality. Many coaches in America are a 3 on the Enneagram, and I wish I understood this earlier. They find value in their results. Being a 3 is the hardest number to be healthy in America because of our love of winning.
Thankfully we had our current club to fall back on because we never left. We got a new coach for Kimberlyn’s team. I hated what big clubs were doing to kids and families and I knew we could do it differently. I am going to tell a different story- I know I am saying “I” a lot because I really thought I could do this. This new story worked for awhile. We picked up those who had been rejected and built a team for Kimbo. We were defeated over and over for years, but we were growing despite defeat, and we had a committed coach. Something new was happening. Our church opened their doors for us to practice when the Spring was unusually rainy (a miracle – the only season the church was this available) and this was essential because this was when I was calling people constantly and getting them to either come back and try again or leave the place that was rejecting them. I was relentless to make this work because no one should be treated like we were just treated, our kid was 8 – it was beyond stupid and mean.
I poured myself into all of Jake’s teams, even teams that weren’t ours. Community was our story and I was posting constantly telling what we were doing (and others). I really felt the passion and rejuvenation because I knew we had a better story, but I was also exhausted. I really wasn’t made for what I was doing. I worked so hard for no pay and little recognition – which I did not need necessarily, but I realized we were not appreciated fully either and I had given everything that was within me. I was ok with people leaving, but I also realized people wanted everything from us, and we did not have that to give. We lost in big ways. In shocking ways. But many did stay because of our heart too, so it wasn’t all lost. There are some people who had to leave because their team actually did fall apart and they were contacting me lamenting it had to happen. (I am not an employee of this organization, but I laid myself out there. People knew me and knew I cared and knew I would be sad to see them go. It was an honor to hear their heart and cry because they had to go.)
Our club is proof systems can prevent you from being successful (let this translate to human live too!). Mutiny is the most successful small club I have ever seen. The caliber of leadership and coaches are amazing. You won’t find this in a big club – not like this. I say this honestly because I am not here for bullshit. This is why we were highly sought after when we knew we had to merge. Mutiny produces talent. We do. Kimberly’s 2005 team is proof development works! We never stole players. We flat out produced who came and took rejects from other teams. We got our tails kicked for years, but miraculously made classic league when the time came. By the way the soccer world works that should not have happened. Her team almost made it to where they did not have to try out again the next year, but 6th place is where we landed and that is fuel for big clubs. Now were are on the radar and big clubs are contacting our players with “better” offers. Playing above classic league is now a thing. Scholarships are offered. It is an absolute mess that makes it impossible to survive as as small club. Not to mention leagues are making it impossible to join unless you have so many playing at a certain level. Youth Sports is operating at a bullshit level. People are losing their minds thinking they have to play at the highest level possible at such a young age —and now I am going to tell you why this is Hell as a coach. (And please realize this is a metaphor for human lives that cannot flourish because of systems too!)
Youth Sports is hell for a coach. This is why you will see so many jerks. The pressure is high.. The expectations are unrealistic. Coaching is not a full time job – this is in conjunction with another full time job. So we coach 2-3 practices a week with games on the weekends. Parents are wanting scrimmages when no games are scheduled. More than one league because we need to be playing multiple formations. It is insane! And the money isn’t great. Even if it was, the time we lose with family is a travesty. And even if your coach is highly qualified and with a positive atmosphere, that still isn’t enough. I hope this blows up because it is sad. So many relationships are blown and we say “What is best for my kid”. I know we don’t own anyone and people can leave as they choose and we are happy for all opportunities for our kids, but no one says “Thank you for developing my kid”. We develop and often times people think big clubs are better and leave without realizing we put in the hard work someone else did not want to do. It is possible to develop from scratch, but we operate from a mindset of scarcity vs abundance. I don’t think you can operate from abundance until you slow down and step out of production.
Why do I write this when we still believe in youth sports? Because I am asking parents for help in telling a better story. Jake and I won’t compromise anymore. We realize asking parents to cut back might mean we are not the chosen club. We are ok with that because the kids are more important. Jake and I are not in a financial secure place to lose funds, but we won’t profit off of something we don’t believe in. Both of our kids teams fell apart in the worst possible way. I cried for 2 years straight because it happened back to back years. But what happened when we fell apart, we found abundance. Blake found something else he likes better. Kimberlyn found a team with more realistic expectations on time and they are still progressing! They are all making their school teams and growing. Kimberlyn has joined Tae Kwon Do which has improved her as a soccer player.
What is best for you kid? What is best is they are loved. They have friends lifting them up. When something isn’t right, you as the parent make the decision to do what is right – even if that means you take them away from success. I know that is countercultural and hard, but that is the way of Jesus. Stressing yourself or your kid out for success is no way to live. Making them a champion is not your job – making sure they know they are worthy of love and known by you is your job. We will lose when we do the right thing initially, but not in the long run. Jake and I know our philosophy won’t take with many high achievers, but the reality is our philosophy wins in the long run. Love Wins.