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I Already Miss Watching My Kids Play

Next time I get to watch my kids play, I know I will appreciate it so much more. 

It’s Tuesday, March 17, at 3 pm. It has been a week since I got to watch my kids play soccer, at their final practice before the state of Oregon canceled all group gatherings and sporting events. It has been 10 days since I watched their last games. And like all of you reading, I have no idea when I will get to see them play again. And it got me thinking, I already miss watching my kids play.

Now, I realize that we are living in unprecedented times, at least in our lifetimes, with the global pandemic that is COVID-19. There are a lot more things happening out there that are far more important than youth sporting events. I know first hand, as my wife is a physician and surgeon, and watching her prepare her staff and patients for what lies ahead puts what I do every day in perspective. We also live 2500 miles from our elderly parents, and we know that they fall into the highest risk category, so every day we worry about keeping them safe. 

This week I had a call with the seniors of a college lacrosse team I work with, whose final season was cut short. At first, they cried, sad that they cannot compete for a national title Then they reflected on how much they will miss the people, the camaraderie, and going to battle with their teammates. They talked about their parents, who thought they had a few games left to watch, but now are only left with the realization that it is all over. Did they make every moment matter? Did they savor the final game? What would they do to have one more chance to watch their daughter play?

Every day I am reminded by my 12 and 14-year-old how much they miss their friends, and their teammates, and just getting together with their teams to play. They miss not the wins and losses, but the companionship. And I am reminded how much I miss watching them play.

Their last weekend of games, I was pretty tough on them. I had some harsh critiques for my son and his team (whom I coach) and my daughter (whom I used to coach) for her play in certain situations. I was frustrated with them because I don’t think they spend enough time on their own improving their weaknesses. I was frustrated that their teams still had not picked up certain things we went over time and again. I vividly remember my son in the car after his game that Saturday, upset with himself that he played poorly, and upset that his coach/dad was not happy with the team performance. I remember my daughter’s game was not much of a contest, so I spent part of the game catching up on phone calls and emails, figuring I can always watch more of next week’s game.

Only there was no next week. Or the week after that. And who knows how many “next weeks” will be canceled. And today, all I could think was I miss watching them play. Already. A lot. 

I spend a lot of time speaking to parents, telling them to appreciate the moment, and that pretty soon they won’t have anyone to drive to practice because their kids will be done with sports and off on their own. Yet realistically, when it comes to my own middle school kids, I don’t always follow my own advice. I always think I have a lot of time left. And like many people this week, I have come to realize that may not be the case. You never know what game will be the last game. 

Over these next few weeks there will be a lot of hardship and sadness I think. There are many people who will be struggling with their health, and others trying to keep a business or a family afloat. I will pray for our leaders, and those on the front lines of this crisis. And I will also reflect deeply upon myself, and my own coaching and parenting. I hope you will too, for in these moments of reflection, imposed upon us by working for home, or staying home to care for our kids, I truly hope we can reflect upon how much we love watching our kids play. And how much we miss it when we cannot. And how much we appreciate their coaches and the referees for allowing them to play. And in the end, who really cares if they play well or not, simply that they have the chance to participate, to try, fail, and try again. And all they really want or need from us is our presence and our love. 

I hope that the outcome of this pandemic, at least when it comes to sports, is that we all have the chance to hit the reset button and appreciate what really matters. That we take some downtime if we have it, and play more catch, kick the ball around, or even try something new. Enjoy the time that has been forced upon us, away from electronics and distractions. Help them improve if that is what they want. Or help them rest if that is what they need. I have been playing soccer in the garage with my kids, and yesterday I took them backcountry skiing for the first time. They gained a new appreciation for chairlifts, and for one of dad’s hobbies. No friends, no other people, just us in nature as a light snow fell in the forest. And as my son said, “I love spending time with you dad,” I had tears in my eyes, hidden beneath my goggles, as I realized how fleeting this all is.

Next time I get to watch my kids play, I know I will appreciate it so much more. I will focus more on the fact that they can play, and not how they play. It will be a win simply by stepping on the field. I will love each and every moment. I will accept the not so good, and celebrate the good. I will play more catch, and go on more bike rides and hikes with them. I will honor the fact that my children have the opportunity and courage to be in the arena, whatever arena that may be. And most importantly, I will simply love watching them play. 

If we all could focus on that, I think youth sports will be a better place. I hope you agree.

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