Part 2: Parenting a (very) young student athlete

izzy boogie ride


Dear Izzy, Max, and Kate,

“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.

Mommy handed you the phone. 

“Hi Daddy,” you said softly. I could tell you had been crying, but it had subsided.

“Hi baby. Mommy said you’re upset. What happened?” I asked.

“I didn’t make it Dad. I mean, I made the team, but I didn’t make the competition team.” You paused and I just let the silence hang.

“It was so hot, Daddy,” you continued. You were right. The heat index was 104 degrees that afternoon. You’d struggled in the heat on one of our runs in FL in the preceding weeks. “It was so hot. My head started pounding and then my stomach started hurting,” you said. Your explanation grew more frantic.

“My stomach was upset and I started walking. Once I started walking I couldn’t start running again.”

“Oh baby, I’m sorry you didn’t feel good. What was your time?”

“15:30, Daddy. That’s really bad,” you said. 

“Hey Izzy, I’m proud of you baby. I want you to stop crying, okay? You can try again next week.”

“Okay, Daddy. I love you. See you this afternoon.”

And then you handed the phone back to Mommy. 

I had a thousand questions running through my head. How many girls tried out? Did you start too fast and blow up? Did you drink enough water at school before try-outs? 

The entire drive home from work they ran through my head; but I knew I couldn’t ask. In your first week of middle school I wanted our conversations to be about that transition – not about your athletics. While we believe in our house that sports are important (we require you kids to be involved in at least one sport or another most of the year), we also know they aren’t everything – in fact, they’re pretty far down the list.

That may surprise you. I think most people see your Dad as a “sports guy”, but the truth is, the proudest moments of my parenting life thus far have been away from the sports arena: baptism, presidents academic award, etc. 

I was in knots by the time I got home though. Not because I was disappointed that you didn’t make the meet team, but because you were hurt and upset. I hung my emotion on the tree outside our front door and walked in smiling as always, petted Coco the Dog, hugged Max and Kate as they tackled me at the door, and then gave you a tight hug Izzy.

“Hey Baby, how was middle school today?”

“Fine. I really like it.”

“Tell me about it….what it’s like? What do you do in the halls between classes? Whose locker is next to yours? Which teacher is your favorite?” 

We talked about everything but Cross Country. You seemed relieved that I didn’t ask.

And I haven’t asked about that 1st day at try-outs yet. We all have bad days on the course when something just isn’t right. I knew that’s what you had experienced and I didn’t need to belabor the point. 

You had a good week at practice this week.

The team did a time trial again yesterday; every Friday those on the training team try to qualify for the meet team by hitting the goal time for the team: 13:20. 

Mommy called me yesterday afternoon after picking you up from practice. 

“Baby, Izzy is a mess. She missed it by :03 seconds today. She was in 1st place the whole way, but just barely missed the time cut.”

“I’ll talk to her tonight,” I said.

“She’s in bed crying,” said Mommy.

“It’s okay. We’ll do something fun.”

So we went for ice cream and then watched Beetlejuice. You initiated conversation about Cross Country. I showed just enough interest to suggest you can try again next week. 

“Yeah,” you said. “Next week.” We ate our ice-cream cones and talked about something else – I don’t remember what, maybe it was the outfit I wore to the ice cream place that you kids thought so much of: dress socks, crocs, athletic shorts, and a plain white tee shirt.

This morning we talked more when the reality of how close you had come started to sink back in. You went to your room and began to cry again. I sat on the edge of your bed.

“I was so close, Daddy.”

“I know Baby. You can try again next week,” I said gently.

“I don’t want it next week!” you replied. “I want it this week! 3 seconds!? That’s close enough!”

“No, it’s not Izzy. I’m proud of you – very proud of you for the courage you have to try something new. I’m proud of you for being in all advanced classes. For standing up for what you believe and for your Faith. For what you accomplished in swimming and making it to Southeasterns. For everything you are, baby. But you didn’t make the time. I know it hurts. But you’re a 6th grader on a team of mostly 7th and 8th graders. You just need a few weeks to catch up.”

“Dad!” you exclaimed and turned to face the wall.

“I love you Izzy,” I said. “You ever heard of Michael Jordan?” 

“Yes! Of course..and yes, I know…he didn’t make his high school basketball team.”

“He became great because he never stopped believing. He never stopped trying. You can try again next Friday and I’ll bet you do great. You know those state tournament wrestling medals I have framed in my office? You know why I have the silver one framed with the gold one? Because it reminds me that I once failed – but that the difference between failure and winning is only in our ability to stick with something. I wanted to give up wrestling after I lost in the finals my junior year”

It was silent for a few moments. I sat and rubbed your back while you stared at the wall. I stood to leave your room.

“Dad?” you said.


“What time is my triathlon in the morning?” (you asked to race in the 12-15 year old age group at a local triathlon tomorrow despite still being 11).

I love you,



Mon: Ran 4

Tues: Biked 28

Wed: rest

Thurs: Ran 3

Fri: Biked 17

Sat: Ran 6