My older daughter’s soccer team has had a rough start to the season. They have lost two games by a lot of goals. That’s made for some pretty grumpy Sunday afternoons around here.
It’s been a rough sports year in this house. Our hockey season was something of a mess with my younger daughter. My older daughter went through a coaching change back in the fall followed by about four months of nagging injury. The frustration level surrounding sports has been pretty high.
As we were driving home from practice the other day, my older daughter was talking about how much pressure she felt to do well in soccer, to do well in track and to keep her grades up at school. When we got home, I stopped the car and looked at her. “If this isn’t fun, then let’s not do it,” I told her.
My daughter is 13. She has high hopes for playing soccer in high school and maybe college. But the reality is that she’s a 13-year-old girl. She has a dream she’s chasing, yes, but she also has a family and friends. She has school and church.
She loves soccer with a passion. I have no doubt that God gave her a talent and a passion for the sport, and I want her to follow that talent and passion as far as she wants to. But I also want it to be fun. At 13, if it isn’t fun, you shouldn’t be doing it.
We as a society have created this merry-go-round youth sports culture where there seems to be no in-between. You can either pour tons of money and time and stress into your kids playing sports or you can play at a level where the coaching isn’t great and your child doesn’t improve. And the parents at the first level are often pushing their kids hard to see a return on their “investment.” When you have a kid who is driven to succeed, it seems there is no middle ground.
I can’t change the culture where I live. I can’t suddenly create a less stressful environment for my daughter. But I can remind her that this is a game, and it’s supposed to be fun. When the game causes more tears than smiles, it’s time to reevaluate. It’s time to take a step back and look at the priority my daughter is placing on it. Because I want her to succeed at whatever it is she attempts. I want her to work hard and be the best she can be at whatever she sets her hand to. But I want her to do it for the right reasons, and I want her to do it with joy.
I want her to be striving to succeed because she’s living out the words of Colossians 3:23-24, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” And I want her joy in using her God-given talents to shine through when she’s playing. If that’s not the priority, then we need to reorganize.
Because the reality is that someday my daughter’s playing days will be over. When they are, I want her to have learned life lessons about winning and losing and doing your best. But I also want her to have memories of fun and joy and laughter. I want her to look back at these years and think it was worth it because of the friendships she’s made and the fun she had.
Because in the end, this is a game, and it’s supposed to be fun.