Struggle as a Sports Mom

Up to bat!

This morning as I was trying to get back to sleep after telling my son good-bye for school at 6:00am, I began thinking about sports, specifically the sports he plays. He has always been an athletically talented kid and it didn’t matter if he had never played before or was a seasoned player, it didn’t take him long to learn and become proficient at the game. I have always loved to watch him play.

My issue with sports in the past was always the crazy sports parents. The ones who yelled criticism from the benches, yelled at the kids when they made mistakes (not that these kids didn’t already know their mistakes), or simply acted like sideline coaches.

In the area where we live and the high school my son attends that is not the problem I have now. The families with kids on the teams are there to cheer each kid on during the games and their attitudes, toward the players maybe not always the umpires or refs, are always positive. My son does not get to play much for his baseball team, but when he does it warms my heart as a mom to hear the other parents cheer him on and encourage him.

My son plays football and baseball for his high school and he loves them both. I have always loved watching him play baseball and his freshman year was his first time even playing football, but that has been amazing to watch as well. He has a new found love of football and I love watching him play. When he began playing his freshman year it didn’t matter to the coaches that he had never played before, they found his talent and begun building on that talent. When he plays football, he gains confidence in his ability and talent as a player, he feels like he is a part of the team; actually, they feel that they are a family and are all there working together. He knows where his strengths are with the sport and where his weaknesses are and that does not hold him back. His coaches give him feedback whether that is yelling because he made a mistake (which is what a football coach does) or praising them and building the things they do well. That is the biggest part of the equation though, the yelling doesn’t bother them because the positive feedback with the football coaches always outweighs the negative and he always feels his worth with the team.

Now baseball…. I used to love watching my son play baseball. My son has always dealt with anxiety or been a bit more nervous about experiences, but when he would walk out on to a baseball field, I was amazed out how all that fell away and I felt like I was looking at a completely different kid. He would get out on the field or go up to bat and I could just see the confidence in him, because he knew this was something he was good at playing. He was always the big hitter, was good playing the field especially first base, and he had begun to do well with pitching also. After having played teams before when my son would get up to bat, I would hear the other teams coaches yelling at their outfielders to move further back in the outfield. His specialties were to hit the ball clear out to the outfield or he had these power line drives that the pitcher either moved quick to get out of the way of or get hit. (His coaches got really good at moving quick as to not get hit at practice from his line drives.) 

It has been disappointing for me to see how cliquish the sport of baseball has become as they got older. We moved out to a new area and the coaches and teammates did not know my son. They had never played him before or seen him play. So, since they didn’t know him, they would not give him a real chance to show what he could do. Enter his anxiety and nervousness to prove himself because they were not letting him play. Now for the first time in his life I see him doubting himself when he gets up to bat or goes out on the field. 

This has been the fourth year he has been on a baseball team in this area, and the second year at the high school. He plays one inning every other game, maybe, and gets up to bat only once during a game. Not one coach has let him play enough to show his talent to them and the team, or to remind himself of what he has always done with the game, but at this point he doesn’t even believe in himself anymore. He has become so critical of himself because when he finally gets a chance to get up to bat, he strikes out. He is not getting up to bat often enough to get a hit but doesn’t see that even the other players who bat at least 6-8 times a game, strike out half the time. He is not given a chance to show that he can get a good hit, but he sees it as a personal failure or he thinks it means he is not good enough.

I am not saying the coaches are bad, they are nice guys and my son likes the coach he has now, and has always liked the head coach but they stick to the kids they know or have their favorites. Like I already said, cliquish, if he is not known he either had to do something extraordinary right out of the gate or get stuck on the bench. The head coach told us his freshman year when he made the team that he saw something in my son and thought he would be a good pitcher, but then my son didn’t get to play more than a handful of times the entire season. My son’s confidence plummeted to an all-time low because in his mind the coaches didn’t play him in the games because they believed he was a horrible player. Nothing I or his dad said could change that feeling. We would remind him of what he could do and what we have witnessed him do on the baseball field, but to him this was just parental love. He believes that we could not judge his ability realistically and the coaches were more accurate in their judgement. I wish he could see that it is honestly us that see his talent more accurately than his coaches or teammates. This year has been a repeat of last season. He will never develop as a good pitcher or anything else if his confidence continues to plummet because he is never allowed to play and develop that talent. Now whether he is at practice or a game he cannot find that talent because it has been hidden by his self-doubt and discouragement of the past couple years.

The reason I sit and write this today is because I am in a tough spot and I think my son is at a crossroad. Do I sit quietly and let him continue playing on the team hoping that someday they give him a shot because they see his continued hard work? Or, do I ask him if he believes this is worth the work or not and encourage him to quit the team? 

 I hate the thought of encouraging him to quit anything! However, I am beginning to hate baseball more and more each game I go watch and my son never plays or only gets up to bat once and strikes out. Knowing the frustration, and self-destructive feelings he is going to feel when he comes home. Watching his confidence plummet with every little mistake he makes or each game he doesn’t play. Every time I go to watch one of the baseball games I sit in the stands with a knot in my stomach and watching every kid play, other than my son.

So, I reach out to the universe or internet-verse to see if there are other parents of sport teens who have had similar experiences. As a parent what do you do, encourage to fight the fight and keep going or opt to save their mental health and encourage them to quit and move on to other rewarding things?