Ballgame: When Your Kid Quits Your Favorite Sport

In Kiddos, Payton Denney by Lola Magazine

My daughter retired from gymnastics, and I’m certain that I need therapy.  Her decision to quit was not a hasty one.  It was accompanied by handwringing and tears.  But after 18 months of chronic shoulder pain, we knew that the only option was to hang up her leotard and grips.  I’m still grieving.

For the past 4 years, I have watched Dylan transform into a talented athlete.  She trained for 16 hours each week while balancing family life and schoolwork.  I can remember her coach encouraging the parents as he laid out the time and monetary commitments.  He said, “If they want it bad enough, they will figure out a way to balance everything.”  He was right.  Dylan is a straight A student.

Progress comes slowly in the gym.  Mental and physical toughness are imperative for advancement to occur.  Just four years ago, Dylan couldn’t do a cartwheel.  She finished this season by placing 4th in her age division in the UGA National Championships in Orlando.

It makes sense to me why this life transition is difficult.  The time and money invested, the personal gut punches I felt when she didn’t hit her mark, the joy our faces shared when she’d climb the podium—we experienced those failures and victories together.  It has become a part of our growing process—Dylan as a kid and me as a parent.  While Dylan learned how to sling her body around a bar, fly 10 feet in the air, and land on her feet, I learned how to braid and hold my tongue.  I also learned to trust her body to safely perform the skills she attempted.  We both made girlfriends along the way.  That’s no small feat for us boy-loving gals.  We’ll miss being in the mix of this sport and among these people.

Interestingly enough, this isn’t my first time to grieve a chapter close on my kid’s sporting story.  When my youngest quit baseball I felt a similar tug on my heartstrings.  Cameron is our social kiddo.  Once Cam started school, it didn’t take long before parents were calling the house to see if Cam would play ball for their team.  “It’s just t-ball,” I thought to myself.  “How big of a commitment can it be?”

It wasn’t long before I was eyeballs deep in ballmom town.  I had the t-shirts, the monogrammed bag, and the canvas wagon.  I sat in the same spot each game and welcomed the after-game swim parties and barbeques.  I knew all the kiddo nicknames and cheered the loudest when a kid came out of a slump.

While Cameron loved the social aspect of the game, he didn’t love how he sized up to the other players.  The nail in his baseball coffin was swiftly administered by a colossal error in parenting judgment.  A few years into Cam’s baseballing days, Dakota decided that he wanted to play.  Because they are only 18 months apart, it made sense (mainly because it was convenient) for Dakota to join Cam’s team.  Thus began the sibling comparison war.

I didn’t realize how bad it had gotten until Cam broke his arm.  His overwhelming sense of relief of not having to perform on the field was obvious.  My parenting heart was mortified.  How had I missed my kid’s misery cues?  I vowed never to do that again.

The following season, I found myself watching Cam’s old team play from a different set of bleachers.  Dakota had aged out of playing with them.  I missed the comradery of those parents and celebrating the victories of their kids.  It was easy to be envious for all those reasons and also because watching Dakota’s live arm game was like watching paint dry.  Just as Dakota’s team began hitting the ball and I learned the parents’ names, he decided to hang up his baseball cleats too.

This next chapter of life will be full of change.  Dylan has decided to pick up a set of competitive pom poms.  Dakota has joined the Griffin football team.  Cam is still creating things with his hammer to sell for cash.  Periodically, Cam will mention wanting to play ball again.  But once we dig deeper, it’s evident that he actually misses being part of the team.  Instead, we schedule a sleepover with a former team member or two.

Pat and I are preparing to pivot.  I’m entering a deafening world of glitter and eyelashes.  I might as well walk in there naked as I couldn’t be more out of place.  Pat is charged with teaching the tiniest kid on the team to block kids twice his size.  I overheard one recent coaching session, “You gotta learn how to turn on that speed while wearing those pads.”  I couldn’t agree more.  Run buddy, run!

Here’s the thing, as much as we are not looking forward to transitioning again, this isn’t about us.  Pat and I have had our time.  Our glory days should remain in our memories and should not be relived through our kids.  Keeping the urge to project our wishes onto our kids is difficult but not impossible.  Our kids’ choices good, bad, or indifferent belong to them.  No matter the outcome of those choices, it’s all going to be ok.  There’s no need for us to orchestrate how those choices play out.

I do however have one request.  If, at any point from here forward, you see me wearing fake eyelashes, please be kind.  I’m doing this thing called parenting, and I’ve never been exactly here before.  A little grace and some prayer would be appreciated.  Go team!  Now someone pass the Xanax.