Parenting a (very) young student athlete through adversity

izzy boogie

Dear Izzy, Max, and Kate,

We’ve been running together in the evenings, Izzy. As soon as summer swim season ended you said you were ready to start “training” for middle school cross country try-outs. So in the evenings, every other day, we’d put on our shoes and running gear and run together.

It was yesterday that you were our first baby in a crib in your pink nursery. I would lay in the floor of your bedroom and reach up to hold your hand through your crib. That was the only way you would go to sleep in your nursery. When I felt your grip loosen I would belly crawl out of your room so not to wake you. Anyway, that was “yesterday”.

This week you started middle school. And we’ve been running together – that same baby I pushed in a jog stroller …yesterday. You are in all advanced classes in middle school, so you’re satisfied with how school has started. You wore your school spirit shirt on the first day because you wanted to have “the most school spirit”. You joined the cross country team and you believe that because of your swimming and triathlons you can compete with the older girls.

In the evenings we have been running about 2 miles to prepare of the 1.5 middle school distance. I’ve held you back, only allowing you to run 8:45 per mile, knowing that would be enough to make the meet team at school. We talk about running and swimming – and the world and life, as you understand it, in general.

Try-outs were yesterday afternoon. I waited all day for mommy to call and tell me how they had gone.

I read The Matheny Manifesto recently by Mike Matheny, the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals. He’s obviously a successful coach, but the book is more than a baseball book; it’s about parenting athletes, leadership, and Faith. It had an impact on me in how I interact with you about sports. So, I’ve been supporting you, but holding back. Not smothering you with advice and constructive criticism. I’ve focused on occasional encouragement and general interest in how you’re feeling. Giving your best is important – you already know that. I’m letting your coaches coach while I provide what parents are meant for – love and support. I don’t think I was doing it wrong to begin with in all your years as a gymnast and swimmer, but now I’m more focused on letting you just enjoy being a kid and swimming and running.

At a  young age you’ve shown some talent for athletics, but you aren’t competitive in the sense that winning really matters. You seldom even ask how you did in a race, instead you end up hugging your team mates and consoling or congratulating them depending on how they did. While we’re the same in so many ways, we’re different in that way. 

My phone rang at 4:15. It was Mommy.

“Hey, I talked to Mary (our neighbor whose daughter is an 8th grader on the team). Izzy didn’t make it. She’s upset. I’m picking her up now.” she said.

“What? How does Mary know?” I said. “What happened?”

“Can’t talk. Izzy’s coming to get in the van now,” she said and was gone.

My heart sank. Not because you didn’t make the meet team, but because I knew how badly you had wanted to. You like overachieving and for some reason, still unknown to me, hadn’t been able to – this time, even when it looked so obvious that you would. The meet team is made up of the top 10 girls on the team, as determined by a weekly time trial at practice. Making the meet team as a 6th grader is a long shot, but because you had been running so well you felt confident you’d make it.

The 10th girl generally runs about 13:30 for 1.5 miles. Jogging in the evenings you had been easily running closer to 12:30.

I called Mommy back.

“Is she with you?” I said.

“Yes. In the van,” she said. “She’s okay. Just needs a little while.”

“What was her time?”

“Don’t know. She’s upset.”

“Let me talk to her,” I said.


I love you,



Sat: Rode 38 miles

Sun: Ran 8 miles

Mon: Ran 4 miles

Tues: Planned 20 mile ride