We have just finished another season of youth football in my house, and, once again, I am feeling a certain kind of way.
I am grateful for a break; we all need it. I’m relieved to see the late nights and multiple trips to the field each day end. I am glad my boy gets to rest his body, and I am happy for more family dinners around the kitchen table instead of drive-thrus.
But, I am also so sad to see the season end—the excitement, the traditions, the fun, the hope, the potential, the light in my boy’s eyes as he runs on the field. There is nothing like football season for a boy mom. It’s magical, amazing, exhausting, frustrating, fulfilling, disappointing, and a million things in between. It’s a whirlwind from July to October (or beyond), and there is nothing that can really prepare your “mama heart” for it. I thought I knew what we were signing up for a few years ago, but there is sooooooo much “they” do not tell you about youth football.
They don’t tell you about the awful smell that comes with youth football.
If you’ve been there, you know it. It’s more than sweat, it’s determination and grit mixed with the awkward stage of physical development that these sweet boys are in. This smell seeps into jerseys, pads, socks, and shoes. It stays in the car long after they get out, then follows them into the house. You can wash, but that’s not enough! You need to get creative to get rid of THAT smell. You need a concoction of baking soda, vinegar, detergent, and steaming hot water. You need Febreeze, carpet freshener, car deodorizers, and maybe a professional detailing. It’s a truly repulsive odor!
BUT they don’t tell you that while you are smelling that one-of-a-kind aroma on the way home from practice, that’s also the time when your pubescent boy will spill the tea.
I don’t know if it’s the endorphins from practice, or that he is happy for one-on-one time with his mama, but that car ride will be the only time all day he will share his heart. From the field to home, you will learn what each teacher is discussing in class and the truth about what grades you can expect on the next report card. You will learn who likes who, who is wearing what, who is going where the next weekend, and that (OMG I’m not ready!) your son has a crush on a girl two years older, and, maybe, she likes him back? (Nope!)
And in the mix of middle school gossip, you might also hear what he wants to be when he grows up, what he feels about things happening on the news, some goals he would like to reach, and what hobby he wants to pick up next. You might even hear how much he appreciates you for being his biggest fan “no cap.” And you might melt when he says “love you, too” while getting out of the car. These sweet moments are what we live for.
They don’t tell you how much of a sacrifice youth football becomes for the whole family.
You see the schedule; you know there will be three to four practices a week and weekly games when the season starts. That doesn’t sound like too much, you know? But they don’t tell you that when you are mid-season, driving the sixth, seventh, or eighth trip to the football field that week will feel like hell. The hour-long drive to an away game will mean you need an afternoon nap followed by a strong cold brew to ensure you have enough energy to make it. It’s a busy schedule for your boy, but it’s a lifestyle for the whole family. You either need to have dinner cooked and ready by 4:00 p.m., you wait until 9:00 p.m., or you eventually resort to a rotation of pizza and chicken nuggets.
You’ll need to load up all the children (for me that’s FOUR of them), the lawn chairs, wagon, pack-n-play, toys, snacks, coats, blankets, and more snacks early enough to have your player at the field an hour before game time. Then undoubtedly, the games before yours are running behind, and now you’re watching someone else’s kid for an hour before your child ever hits the field. Your kindergartener goes to bed at 10:30 p.m. on a school night, your fourth grader goes to bed with no bath, and your baby may or may not scream the entire game while hitting the people beside you with apple sauce all night. Your husband meets you at the field and stays in his dress shoes and blazer all while yelling at the refs for bad calls. It’s a family commitment, a family sacrifice, and sometimes a family nightmare.
BUT they don’t tell you that your son’s teammates and their families become your family, as well.
They don’t tell you how you will cheer just as loud for your son’s friends as you will for your own child, how you might even shed a tear when a sweet buddy of his makes a touchdown, or how you love them as your own because they share this bond with your child that can’t be explained in words. They don’t tell you that you will be just as worried about these teammates when they take a hit as you will your own child, that you will hold your breath when the kicker lines up his shot, or that you will jump out of your seat when the ref calls a penalty on a teammate who didn’t deserve it.
These boys become like your own! You become invested in them, proud of them, worried when they get hurt, happy when they make a good play, and crushed when they make a mistake. They don’t tell you how your heart can grow to love these sweet friends and how thankful you are to have them in your child’s life. They don’t tell you how you will root for those boys the rest of their lives and pray for them every night to be safe and to fulfill their potential.
They also never tell you that those boys’ moms will be your best friends!
The team behind the team—the parents—will become your village and your lifeline, IF you let them. They will be there when you need backup unloading your trunk full of essentials. They’ll step in and offer to carpool or feed your child after practice. They will call you to make sure your son is okay after a bad day at school or a rough day on the field. These moms will cheer for your child, love your child, stand up for your child, and fill in the gaps for them when you need it.
You will have fun dressing in the team colors and planning team events. You will share stories and secrets on the sidelines and have each other’s back when you need to stand up and yell over a bad call. You will celebrate the wins together and help each other comfort the players through a loss. You will share meals with these mamas and snacks in the bleachers. You will take turns watching each other’s babies and create community for your players. You will never forget these mamas and families, and you will be so thankful that football brought you together.
They don’t tell you about the physical toll football will take on your boy.
They don’t tell you how he will fall asleep on the way to games, or how he will be tired all the time because he wakes up early to exercise before the school bus comes, then works hard all day at school, and then comes home to grab a snack before heading to practice. He is sore all the time from the conditioning, the hits, the tackles, and the running. You see bruises, cuts, and scrapes, and you hate it. You will make ice packs, rub Neosporin, and distribute Tylenol so he can sleep. You will constantly wonder if this is worth it or even the smart thing for your child to be doing? DO you allow them to play such a physical sport, where there is a risk of broken bones and concussions?
BUT they don’t tell you about the lessons it teaches.
Yes, it’s physically demanding on your boy, but he is learning to be a good steward of his body—the body God gave him and described in scripture as a temple to Him. He is learning to keep his body in top shape, to exercise, and to eat good foods that will fuel his health. He is learning that anything worth having requires dedication, commitment, and sometimes pain. He is learning that his teammates are depending on him to work his hardest for the betterment of the team, just like his family will depend on him one day to work his hardest for the betterment of his family.
He is learning that he is a part of something larger than himself, and that it is the team before him. The individual is not as important as the whole. These lessons are ones that will benefit him the rest of his life. They are lessons worth every bump and bruise along the way.
The don’t tell you about the heartache.
You don’t know how devastated your child will be after a loss, and how helpless you will feel in that moment. “Mom, I did everything I could do. I did my best and worked my hardest and it wasn’t enough!” Yikes. That’s a big one—a big moment to talk through— because that is life. That is what it’s like to be an adult. You work your hardest and do your very best and you still come up short a lot of the time. It’s awful and heartbreaking, but somehow you must pick yourself up and try again.
It’s the same in life as it is in football. You win some, you lose some, and you must keep playing. It is so hard to see your boy learn that firsthand, BUT what a blessing that he can learn that through football! Because he will face it over and over a million times again in life. He will make mistakes, he will be let down by teammates and partners, he will be disappointed, and he will lose.
That is life. But maybe, because he played football, he will know one loss doesn’t equal a losing season. One bad play doesn’t mean you’re out of the game. Maybe he will remember what you said to him after a tough loss against a rival,“It hurts. There is no way around it. BUT you will enjoy the win so much better next time because you got back up, worked hard, and tried again.”