Being A Parent & Athletic Supporter

My son’s lifeplan is simple. Play football for Auburn. Play football for the Steelers. Coach football. Enter the Hall of Fame.

When I was eight I wanted to be a cartoonist. And a Green Beret. I drew one comic book that wasn’t comical and laid some trip wires across the walking path at the park down the street. One Summer. But Gresham?

boy diving catch for football

10,000 Hours

Gresham has me run him through offensive and defensive drills every day. Every. Day. For the last two years.

We pretend the couch is a receiver, I’m the quarterback and he’s the defender. I hurl the ball at Couch Johnson and Gresham blocks it. Again and again.

Then he’s the receiver. We’re in the front yard, two neighbor kids defending him as he jukes to get open and I throw him the ball. Again and again.

He runs routes. He sprints. He lines up at an invisible line of scrimmage in a three-point stance. He saves his money for a tackling dummy. He watches DVDs of the Steelers history, pauses after a spectacular play, lines up on the rug and runs the play himself. Again and again.

Well on his way to 10,000 hours.

And all this, apparently, has made him very very good at football. He’s being recruited. At age eight.

This week he’s at a local football camp for eight hours every day. Football. All day. For a week. Friends quit after the first day – like I would have – but I’ve never seen my son so happy. “What was the best part of your day?” I asked last night. “Everything,” he said, “I’m so so so so happy.”

His coach is happy too, recruiting him to play tackle football in the league that’s hosting the camp. I said no before camp even started. We’re doing camp and that’s it. But now I’m not so sure. Maybe one season. Maybe not. I don’t know. My head floods with fears.

boy running with football

What Could Go Wrong?

There’s no doubt Gresham is talented. Passionate. Happy. But my job as parent isn’t to raise a happy kid but to preserve and develop his mind, body, spirit, character and to do that for all my kids. Without being tempted by the size of home one overly-supported kid could one day build me after the endorsement deals start rolling in.

Joining this league would mean spending a disproprtionate amount of our family’s time on one of the five people in it. And that means not only less time spent on everyone else in this house but also less time for Gresham to study, be a good friend, serve, and be unstructured – free to play and self-direct.

And have you seen Earl Campbell? Mean Joe Green? Busted joints. Battered brains. Shadows of other men their age. One injury can inconvenience or cripple for life. My father-in-law and his brothers still have injuries from their days playing college ball. It’s compelling when my father-in-law, who loves football and was great at it, warns of the dangers of playing the sport.

And do you remember the jocks you went to school with? Not the most well-rounded, kind, grounded, humble individuals on my campus. Many just got by in school, got worshiped on Friday nights, and got left behind in life after graduation. Judgmental? Stereotyping? Absolutely. Of course my recollection could be colored a tad by the fact that I was a braces-wearing saxophone player without pectoral muscles, who couldn’t get a date with the cheerleader of his dreams at the time. Bitter much?

Then there’s the cost. There’s a fee to play in this league. And then uniforms. And gas to and from games. And I’m sure we’ll have to sign up to bring snacks. And do you realize how many Eskimo pies and bottles of Gatorade an entire team of football players probably consumes? And I’ve not seen a Groupon for that sort of thing yet.

And I’m a musician who frosts cakes, writes a mom blog and buys Groupons? The other football dads will give me a wedgie for sure.

Seems unrealistic to think my kid will be an exception. Plenty of time for stuff other than football. Never injured. Never worshiped. Never struggling against ego. Never one-dimensional.

Seems overprotective nutso to decide an eight year-old can’t play a sport he loves mainly because of the potential dangers of playing at the high school and pro levels.

Your Turn

I’m not asking for specific advice here, so please don’t offer any to us. Every kid, every league, every coach, every family is different.

And because of that I would really like to know what your kid’s passion and talent is. And what you’ve done to encourage and equip them in that? And is your kid’s passion potentially dangerous…to body, mind, soul, character or family? How do you protect and support simultaneously in your situation?