Parents: Savor your child's volleyball experience before it's too late

by Jeff Smith

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Last weekend marked another milestone passed for my wife and me and our two daughters. On Sunday our girls competed in their final Windy City Power League matches. They each played in the power league for three years and a combined 100 matches or so. They're both high school seniors, and their final club season is nearing an end. Two more tournaments in April and their club volleyball careers will be over.

It feels like time is flying by. High school graduation is seven weeks away. The girls' final high school volleyball seasons zipped past us last fall even more quickly. College and adulthood are on our doorstep and with it the conflicting emotions of pride and mourning.

As match point concluded and our daughters' team lost in the quarterfinals of the playoffs, the loss felt different than past defeats. It was like losing more than a match but a part of their childhood. As a family we would discuss their power league matches afterwards and look ahead to who they played next. Now there's no more looking ahead to the next match or the next season. The girls are both likely going to play in college in the fall, but at separate schools and separate areas and probably coming off the bench or not playing at all as freshmen.

It won't be the same again. And my wife and I can't rewind the tape and relive it all, as much as we'd love to.

As I looked through photos and video clips my wife took during the power league playoffs, I thought about parents whose kids have next club season and next school season to look forward to. It's easy to get caught up in the mindset that there will "always" be a next season with their son or daughter and to take their participation for granted.

But the reality is their child's volleyball run will end someday, too, and with it the pride they feel as they watch their child on the court. As a volleyball director, as a coach and as a journalist by trade who was trained to observe people, I can't help but notice a lot of parents who spectate as if watching their daughter play match after match at a tournament is a chore and grind and not a privilege or blessing. Their son or daughter makes a good play and they either passively react to it or don't notice it at all because they were busy checking messages on their phone or embroiled in a conversation about something else.

Or they weren't there at all, and haven't been to more than one tournament all season, a fact that their kids do notice and that does pain them.

As a parent, I understand it's not easy to stay engaged in every match. We're tired after having to get up at 5 a.m. to get ready and drive our daughter to the tournament. We all have jobs, homes, family responsibilities, bills to pay and problems to solve in our lives. Sometimes our kids are struggling on the court. Sometimes we feel pulled in multiple directions with Johnny playing basketball in Wheeling and Sally attending music practice in Wheaton, too. Other times we have a litany of worries on our mind, and all of which are legitimate concerns needing real answers, and now.

Been there and done that. Being a parent is a never-ending challenge. It takes guts and grit.

Still, at the end of the day, to those parents I'd say be careful because the time does fly by quickly. One day you'll walk out of the gym for the last time with your child's volleyball career finished. That's when it will hit you:

  • No more matches where you get to cheer on your daughter and her teammates and enjoy watching them do something they love.
  • No more discussions about the day's volleyball matches on the way home or stopping at Culver's for a post-tournament treat or seeing them fall asleep in the car after a long day on the court.
  • No more late-night conversations to celebrate an achievement with her or to console her after a hard match.
  • No more post-match pictures of her and her team standing in front of the net making goofy faces and enjoying just being kids.
  • No more words of encouragement and advice needed when they have a tough day at practice or are battling an injury or struggling with their confidence or not getting along with a teammate.
  • No more nervous excitement when they try out for the school or club team and make the team.
  • No more donning school or club spirit wear with pride when you go to your child's matches.

The next time your son or daughter plays, treat it as if it were their last match. Love on them from the bleachers. Take pictures and video. Cheer loudly for them and their team even if, truth be told, you're not a big fan of the sport or you're an introvert who'd prefer to be home working in your garden or reading a book.

Savor the moment because you never know when it might be their, and your, last one, and you then lose one more shared connection with them. And when that part of their lives ends, so does another chapter in their childhood and your family, because they're only kids once.

Jeff Smith is Serve City's girls club director.