Youth Sports is a Journey (And We Have Lots to Be Grateful For)

By Changing the Game Project
Source :
- John O'Sullivan
This week I wanted to share with you some thoughts I recently sent to my local youth soccer club. I wrote these as I was working in the Middle East, visiting a series of international schools and doing coach, parent and leadership education in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Kuwait. It was a fascinating trip, as I learned about cultures and sports across the globe. In light of the recent horrific tragedy in Israel and Gaza, I am so grateful that I made it home, and have a safe home to come back to. And it got me thinking.

In the US, I hear a lot of complaints about politics, unfairness, and situations that cause kids to struggle and get out of their comfort zone, so I wanted to share an experience I recently had here. In the US we worry about team politics. In the Middle East, as the world is so acutely aware of right now, they worry about geopolitics.

A group of ADs I recently met with were telling me about their travel challenges. You see, they have games in Qatar, India, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Lebanon. And each of those countries has travel restrictions on certain nationalities. That means your team might qualify for playoffs, but 2-3 team members cannot attend because of their nationality, or another teammate cannot fly with the team because the route takes them over a country their government does not allow them to fly over. In fact, I watched an AD scramble as India decided to ban all Canadians from the country, and his volleyball team that was headed there in 2 weeks had 7 Canadians. Who knows what is next, as most of these schools have kids from Israel, Palestinian territories, and beyond. It’s crazy. This is real world stuff. This is struggle. How do you think these kids feel who just want to play a sport with their teammates and friends but cannot? How do you think they feel when families or loved ones have recently lost everything, perhaps even their lives?

So, as your Fall season kicks into high gear, one thing we know is that every season is full of highs and lows. There will be times of celebration, and times of frustration and disappointment. There will be wins and losses, bumps and bruises, and everything in between. There will be good fields and bad ones, good referees and bad ones, nice hotels and lousy ones. That is the journey of the young athlete. And without the frustrations and lows there would not be the highs.

As a parent, we have to think of these moments as learning opportunities. Every disappointment or bit of adversity is a rep, and every rep makes a young person stronger. It is hard, I know from experience, to see your kids struggle, but I can assure you that over time the growth far outweighs every disappointment. We can’t do those reps for our kids, and we cannot stand in the way of them, or our child will not grow.

My daughter is a senior in high school. As of this writing she has five high school soccer games left. Five more times I can go watch her play with her lifelong friends. Five more times to represent her school. And as they battle for a playoff spot, as the tension mounts and I see her and her senior friends scrapping for every loose ball, fighting for every inch, I am so glad she has had many of those difficult reps. That she has faced adversity many times. That she has developed the resilience to play through pain, overcome bad calls, and compete on the next play instead of worrying about the last one. That’s not an accident or stroke of luck. That is putting in the reps, and those reps put her in the best possible place to compete and lead her team.

So take a moment to think about how you might be approaching these learning opportunities. Are you letting your kids get some reps on the journey of life? Or are you stealing those opportunities to struggle, fail and overcome?

And perhaps most importantly, when you get really frustrated, please just pause for a moment, and be grateful that your child still has the opportunity to be on a team and participate, because I have spent a lot of time with kids and parents in the Middle East who would give anything just for the chance to play.

Have a great season everyone.