Valexit: Tips From the Non-Sporty Mom of a New Stanford Athlete

Valerie at 13, sure that she was destined to be a basketball player.

I came across this picture on Facebook the other day. What fantastic memories we have of watching our younger daughter, Valerie, play basketball. As a recent high school graduate, she’s enjoying coaching and playing hoops this summer at the YMCA camp where she works as a counselor.

Her basketball life is behind her now and she’s on the Road to Stanford (the name of their student onboarding program) as part of their Class of 2021.

Last night I saw that she has been added to the 2018 Stanford Track & Field Roster.

At 16, winning her first PA State High Jump Championship, Spring 2016

Beyond exciting!

As we get closer to VALEXIT (like BREXIT, in case you don’t get it), I’m getting nostalgic … can’t help it. It’s such a life changing time, sending our youngest off to college. A time for reflection and reassessment. A time to appreciate and evaluate. A time to share family memories and set new goals. And to top it off, our first grandchild is due on October 1st.

I’ve written a few blog posts about Valerie over the years, and yes, shamelessly bragged about her on Facebook. It’s important to believe in your kids. To search for the best in them and tell them what you find while also acknowledging and coaching them on what you suspect may be their greatest challenges … all without labeling them or getting it totally wrong.

It’s not easy!

I hope we’ve done a good job; I think we have. We trust that she’s ready to spread her wings and fly from the East to West Coast. One of her long-time basketball coaches lives in the Bay Area now, which is cool! He’s one of her greatest fans. She has a fabulous coach and a new Stanford family waiting for her. I’ll try not to worry.

We believe in her and more importantly, we know that she believes in herself … certainly much more than I did at 18. I hope she won’t forget all of our long mother-daughter talks, tears, and resolve to always do our best, to keep trying, learning and evolving.

I bought a little sign for her dorm room yesterday.

It says, “Be EPIC!”

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Visiting Stanford last Summer!

So, as Valerie travels on the Road to Stanford and her parents face an empty nest, I’d like to share a few things I’ve learned from parenting an athletic kid (from the perspective of a non-athletic person):

Tips From the Non-Sporty Mom of a Stanford Athlete

1) If your young child has a compulsion to move (more so than the average kid) and/or has an innate competitive or aggressive side, absolutely get them into sports. They need an outlet. They also need to learn how to work with a team, control their impulses, energy, etc. As the years go by and the credit cards are charged, don’t worry about whether your child will become a high school, division 1, or professional athlete. First and foremost, they need to understand and channel that powerful personality. Trust me, positive channeling and outlets will take them farther in life than a D1 scholarship.

Through sports, Valerie has navigated age-appropriate challenge after challenge, beginning at six years old, that fostered her ability to work with a team, lead teams, overcome frustrations, enjoy the successes of others, better communicate, take direction under stress, strategize, channel her aggression into a win, lose gracefully, understand resilience, be humble, see the best in others, etc.

2) Everyone will tell you not to push your kid and I agree. It’s important to constantly evaluate whether or not your child is truly enjoying their athletic activities. We were careful to do that along the way. I eventually had to pull back from my “Feel free to quit if you don’t want to do this anymore,” comments because as she matured she began to question why we didn’t fully understand her level of personal dedication. Why questioning her interest was still applicable. She began to wonder if the speech was a subtle hint that we didn’t believe she was capable of reaching her athletic goals. Of course, that wasn’t the intent at all. So by her junior year of high school, we stopped that speech and simply believed in her. We all accepted that it was absolutely about what she loved and wanted … not what anyone else wanted.

All we ever wanted for her was a positive, productive outlet for some of the personality traits we saw in her as a very small child. If you find yourself lamenting over all the money you’ve spent on sports and that it may not “pay off” by helping foot the college bills, remember … everything I’m including here is your true payoff; the investment is not about paying for college, it’s about providing your child with all the learning opportunities available to them through sports. As a parent, you have the ability to maximize that investment by understanding and fostering those lessons.

3) While it’s true that most kids will not become D1 or professional athletes, some will! Don’t let other parents, kids, coaches, anyone, tell you that your kid “WILL NEVER EVER play D1 sports … just like all the other kids on the team.” I heard this comment tossed around quite a few times over the years. I’ve heard it said in front of the kids after a loss. We have a couple of D1 athletes (and many D2 and D3 athletes) in our family. Upon hearing these comments, I often thought, Certainly not with that attitude. How do you know what my kid, or any kid on this team, can or cannot achieve? I’m a big dreamer. I’ll admit that, but please don’t give up on winning while at the starting line, the kickoff, the tip-off. That’s one of the worst lessons you can teach a kid in sports and in life. If that’s your approach, perhaps you should put the credit card away.

If you don’t want to pressure your kid about ultimately playing at the higher levels, keep your thoughts about their potential to yourself, but don’t assume that your athletically talented kid will not rise to that level. Instead, think about what they may need to get there, which is much more than athletic talent. Help them with those things … hard work, dedication, resilience, strategic thinking, listening skills, etc. whether applied to their sport or anything else they do. Teach them that it’s not ridiculous to have a dream, but it is ridiculous to expect a dream to turn into reality without a lot of hard work on multiple levels.

There are tons of success stories and published research available to demonstrate and explain the numerous traits, behaviors, and beliefs that ultimately dovetail to enable an athlete to win Olympic Gold. It’s not all about natural athletic talent. And the majority of those traits are common to winners across industries, topics, and time. Champions of all kinds emerge supported by a deep and complex formula that includes sprinkles and splashes of unexpected ingredients. Study it all and inspire your child to understand and apply these ideas not only to sports but also to life. Try to identify their unexpected ingredient!

Who knows what Valerie will achieve athletically at Stanford and beyond. We absolutely believe in her and see her potential. In many ways, the story of her life is just beginning.

But more importantly, the lessons, values, and insights she has learned and will continue to learn, through sports are the ultimate payoff. They are the true, priceless gifts she will carry throughout life; they are part of the fabric of Valerie. She can apply them to all aspects of her life at every age. Rather than an NCAA Championship or a Gold Medal, those are the wins that will make Valerie a true Champion.

That was our greatest hope for her on her first day of soccer at 6-years-old. When I picked her up that day, the coach came over to ask me if she was left-handed. She told him she was right-handed but had consistently kicked extremely well with her left foot during practice. She was twice the size of the other kids, her big foot sending the ball much further … and in the right direction. When I confirmed that she’s right-handed, he told me that she may have an advantage in sports, that she seemed to be equally coordinated on both sides of her body. She was listening and I remember looking down at her bright, proud smile. I was overwhelmed with excitement and love for her, just as I was when she signed with Stanford.

She had a big smile that day!

I will miss my little Valerie … but I’m excited about watching her evolve into adult Valerie; We’ll continue to support her in every challenge she tackles.

I’m sure it will all be EPIC.

Once upon a time … empty nest, here I come!

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