My oldest daughter plays club soccer, and we spent the weekend going to soccer tryouts in near 100-degree heat.
For those of you unfamiliar with the world of club soccer, every June soccer clubs hold tryouts. Kids can try out for as many or as few teams as they like. Then, they wait for soccer clubs to call and offer them a spot on the team.
We're a family that has chosen not to tryout hop. Our daughter tries out for one club that guarantees her a spot on one of their teams. The whole tryout process leaves me feeling conflicted, though.
My daughter is 10. She's a decent soccer player who shows occasional flashes of brilliance. She's not a girl who can dominate a game all by herself, but she's an important cog in the wheel of her team. And she loves playing soccer at a competitive level. However, tryouts generally leave me with a sobbing child at some point during the two-weekend long process.
The first day of tryouts on Saturday did just that. The club she plays for has different levels of teams. This year, our daughter played on the top level team and before the tryout we talked about what it would take to make that team again.
A combination of nerves, heat and getting kicked in the ribs had my daughter having a bad day at tryouts. She was exhausted and frustrated. All weekend, I watched girls come off the field in tears. The combination of stress, heat and exhaustion were taking their toll. As I watched the tears fall, I thought, "Why do we do this to our kids?"
The answer is our youth sports culture forces it on us if our kids have even a smidgen of talent. To sit out of the process pretty much leaves your child with no chance of ever making the team when they get older. But the pressure those 10-year-olds felt on the field this weekend was crazy.
Don't get me wrong. I love having my kids play sports. I wouldn't trade the things they have learned from playing team sports for anything. My girls have had great coaches who have invested in them both as people and players. They have learned lessons about winning and losing well. They have gained self-confidence and courage.
But the pressure they feel in trying to make a team is out of proportion with the importance of making that team. Short of pulling my girls out of the sports they love, which would stifle some of who God made them to be, we have to figure out how to help them through the stress of the situation.
So, after a tear-filled Saturday, we changed our tactics on Sunday. Instead of talking about how to make the top team, we simply encouraged our daughter to go out and do her best. We reminded her that we love her whether she makes the team or not and whether she plays soccer or not. Removing the pressure of expectations from my daughters' shoulders made a huge difference. Even a ball to the head didn't keep her down long on Sunday. She even found reasons to smile out there on the blazing hot field as she competed for her spot.
What was the difference? Well, a good night's sleep helped a lot. But the thing that made the most difference for my daughter was knowing that her worth to us and to God was not tied in up in whether she did well on the field or not. Sometimes in our efforts to encourage our kids to do their best in whatever they do, we place unrealistic expectations on them. Everyone wants to be the parent of the next super star, but most of us are not those parents.
When our kids know that they will be loved and accepted by us no matter what happens on the field or at school, it frees them to be able to be themselves. God expects our best. He tells us "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men." (Colossians 3:23). But God doesn't expect us to be someone that He did not design us to be. Ephesians 4:11 reminds us that He gave everyone different gifts: "It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers."
Expect the best from your children but be sure they know your love and acceptance isn't dependent on anything they do. Don't let the expectations of the rest of the world get in the way of your unconditional love for your child. Your unconditional love and acceptance allows your child the freedom to be who God created them to be.