Parenting Athletes


From the desk of Wally Dawkins, Athletic Director:

Both of my children were athletes.

My daughter was what I will call a non-traditional athlete, in that she was a dancer.  Most of my contributions towards the early development of her dance career included sitting through endless hours of hip-hop routines before she would perform her ballet or lyrical number, or by pulling out my checkbook to pay for costumes, fancy hair bows, and point shoes.   As she got older however, I found myself sometimes providing her with a shoulder to cry on while re-assuring her after a sub-par performance.  But more times than not, it was to greet her with a proud smile, tell her how well she had done, and how proud I was of her.

My son on the other hand, was your more traditional type athlete who had some sort of ball in his hand from the time he was a month old.  I remember his first soccer game, when at the age of 5; he took the field in his red high top Converse “Chuck Taylor” basketball shoes.  “Chucks” are great shoes, but not for playing soccer.  From the minute my son began playing sports, whether soccer, tee-ball…you name it, I assumed the role of coach, agent, consultant, advisor, scheduler, trainer, uniform designer, transportation director…whatever he needed I supplied it.  I was super involved in every aspect and in every phase of his young athletic career.  I ended up coaching my son in basketball, all the way through high school.  But when he played in college at Texas-Arlington, my days of coaching him ended.

With all that being said, does it ever seem to you that raising children can sometimes feel like a cruel trick?  When your children are young, they need you desperately, and you find yourself providing everything they could possibly want and more.  Then just about the time you get comfortable that this role is your stage in life…they leave.  They’re off to college, and then they get married, and sometimes move overseas.

As parents of athletes, the same scenario plays out.  When your athlete is young, you as the parent decide what sports the child will play, what position they are going to play, you teach them the skills necessary to play that sport, you tell them what team they are going to play for, and the list goes on and on.  As the athlete gets older however, the role of athlete-parent also starts to diminish.  Most parents, although having some experience and/or knowledge of the sport their child is involved in, slowly begins to assume the role of not being “the primary caretaker”.  This is a normal, natural, and this is the correct progression when parenting an athlete.  Seemingly overnight (actually it is the 6th-7th Grade); the coach at school begins to be the person they look to for guidance, instruction, strategy, etc.  This is sometimes a hard pill for us as parents to swallow.  After all, we are the ones who got them to where they are today…right?

Refer back to my daughter’s “non-traditional” athletic participation.  The role I played in my daughter’s development as a dancer turned out to be exactly the correct approach.  Whether or not I knew anything about dance, as she turned into a teenager, the main thing I did was to encourage her when she believed she had failed, congratulate her when she had done well, and share her joy when it was joy she felt.  I left the dance coaching and strategizing to her dance teacher!  And what a great move that was as she became Captain of The Kilgore College Rangerettes, and no thanks to me!  What an amazing concept!

Encourage your teenage athlete when times are tough, celebrate with them when times are good, and allow them to follow the leadership of their coach.  My experience with raising children/athletes is primarily this:  children/athletes don’t need parents any less as they become teenagers, they just need us in different ways, and it is our responsibility is to recognize these differences, and graciously accept and adjust to our ever changing role.

And just so we end on a positive note.  Take Heart (or Heed)!  Your children will leave but they will come back, and when they do, they will bring others with them!

It’s just another reason to be “ALL ORANGE” All The Time!