Your kid is destined for greatness.
Your kid is different.
And every second of his or her eight or nine or ten-year-old season is determining his or her success starting….
One misstep by a coach, one bad call, one wrong move, one unforced error, one bad event, one missed opportunity, and your kid is now officially screwed out of any and all Olympic or professional hopes and dreams.
If your kid has what it takes, your kid has what it takes.
It will be fairly obvious from very early on.
If you have a future Michael Phelps, you will know it.
Michael Phelps wasn’t just a really good swimmer when he was a kid.
He blew everyone out of the water.
Tiger Woods wasn’t just winning golf tournaments as a child. He was a prodigy.
At two years old.
If you have a superstar, you will know it.
Your kid won’t just be good.
Your kid will make everyone else around him or her look like a chump.
There are a few phenoms who come up through the ranks in every sport every few years, and it is very clear that they have potential for Olympic or professional greatness.
Then there are the rest of us.
Most of us will never see the participant side of an Olympic event. Most of us will never be on the field at Yankee Stadium. Not as a player, anyway.
About one out of every 200 high school seniors are drafted by a major league team. Most of those players go to a minor league team first. Approximately one in 33 minor league players make it to the big leagues. This works out to about one in 6600 high school players actually making it onto an MLB team.
That’s a 0.015% chance of playing professional baseball in the big leagues. It’s very small.
We don’t even need to go that crazy. We don’t need to talk the pros.
A 2001 study by the National Alliance for Youth Sports found that 70 percent of American kids quit sports by the time they are 13.
Forget the major leagues or the Olympics. 70% don’t even make it to high school!
I know. Not your kid. Your kid won’t quit. Your kid is going somewhere. Your kid is already talented. And your talented kid won’t quit.
A study done by the American Swim Coaches Association showed that only 17 to 20% of 9 and 10-year-old swimmers ranked in the top 16 are still swimming at the national level 5 years later.
Another study done by USA Swimming using the all-time Top 100 list showed that only 11% of the top ranked 10 and unders are still ranked as 17- 18 year olds.
Being a great young athlete does not guarantee being a great older athlete later on in high school and college.
It doesn’t even guarantee that your kid will still be an athlete at all!
Millions of kids would love to go to the Olympics.
But let’s face it.
I wanted to go to the Olympics when I was a kid, too. I don’t know about you, but I never even came close.
Maybe that’s part of the reason why we’d all love our kid to be an All-Star. A record-setter. A gold medal winner.
That would be awesome. We could be proud and live vicariously through them.
But before I set my sights on a gold medal in Rio, I just want my kids to make it through high school.
And college, if they go that route. I want my kids to be involved in sports for the long haul.
Because the best part of a sport isn’t the hardware you collect. It’s not even participating at an elite level.
That’s not the measure of whether you were successful or not.
The best parts of participating in a sport are the connections you make and the things you learn about yourself.
Making friends. Having fun. Sharing a common bond with a group of people.
Pushing yourself not necessarily because your goal is to be the best, but to be better than you were before.
Learning to be a leader. Leading by example. Learning about sportsmanship. Learning to handle disappointment and loss with grace and dignity. Learning to compete against yourself.
Learning to use missed opportunities and unmet goals as chances to self-reflect and look at the things you can change in order to be better than you were yesterday.
Seeing growth and improvement in yourself and knowing that you pushed yourself to get better.
And having fun.
It’s great for your kids to have goals and dreams and aspirations.
It’s great for them to want to go to the Olympics.
But being a part of a sport is so much more than that.
It has to be. If it were only about going to the Olympics or going pro, it would be a pretty big waste of time for 99% of us.
I swam on my high school swim team. It was the best experience of my life. My best friends to this day are swimmers from high school and college.
As far as high school teams go, we were one of the best. We won the state championships for our division most of the years I was on the team.
I can’t even remember, to be honest.
And that’s the point.
I have no clue what any of my times were in high school. I don’t think I could tell you a detail about a single meet or race in the four years that I swam.
But I do remember being chosen as a captain.
I remember what we did on just about every bus ride to an away meet. I remember singing every Michael Jackson, Prince and Flashdance soundtrack song on that bus.
I remember laughing harder than I have ever laughed before.
I remember all of us going to the Rocky Horror Picture Show on the weekends and I remember my teammates all being there for me when my brother died my junior year.
I remember how hard practices were and I remember my coach continually reminding us that complaining is cancerous.
But I don’t remember a damn thing from one single meet.
Your kid isn’t going to remember the details of the games and the meets in thirty years.
Or probably even ten years.
But your kid will remember the good times.
She will remember playing cards on the deck with friends and catching frogs in the nearby pond with friends during a meet.
He’ll remember swimming in the pool at the hotel or playing miniature golf or going to an amusement park when the team travels to a tournament.
Who doesn’t love the movie The Sandlot? That’s a great movie!
But we don’t love it because the kids were amazing baseball players who were crushing the competition. Sure, (spoiler alert) they were the underdogs who beat the douchey rich kid team, and everyone likes to see the underdog win, but we love that movie because the kids were all having fun. Because they just loved playing baseball. They loved spending time together and doing something they all really enjoyed.
If I had the choice of being on the douchey rich kid team or the Sandlot team, I know which one I’d pick. I’d pick the one where the kids were having fun, and where everyone was a part of the team, no matter how talented they were.
We have some good athletes in this house. Number 4 wants to be an Olympic swimmer and Number 3 wants to play for the Yankees.
Is that going to happen?
Who knows. Statistically speaking, the chances are not good.
It’s great for them to dream big. But I’m not delusional.
And right now, all I want is for them to try hard and to have fun in the process. To be a part of a group that is having fun. And to learn to push themselves rather than relying on a coach or a parent to do it for them.
The other day I was talking to a mom whose kids are on the town swim team. This is their first experience with swimming, and one of her kids is starting very late in comparison to everyone else on the team. He’s also got some significant physical limitations that will prevent him from every being a super competitive swimmer. His mother is completely aware of and realistic about this.
In every meet her son is put on a relay team, and in every meet that relay team finishes well behind everyone else.
And she remarked to me the other day, “Everyone has accepted him. Everyone cheers for him. Everyone makes him feel like part of the team. No one complains that he’s holding them back. This team has been wonderful for him.”
And along with having fun and learning about yourself, that is what being part of a sport is about.
Setting goals, pushing yourself, being a leader and being part of something bigger than yourself (as opposed to making it into that top .05%) is what truly makes a kid an exceptional athlete.