Competitive Sports: A Brave New World

Jack was a perfect baby. He was sweet and reserved, gentle and loving to everyone. I still say that he is the reason we kept having more children… He’s a joy and a love through and through. Over his short seven years, he has retained those traits-his sensitivity to others and their feelings brings me pause daily. Of course, like most people, he has his moments at home that he specifically reserves for us. I’m able to see him deal with things in a much more raw way, sometimes I can help… Other times I’m completely disarmed.

When he was about a year old, Jack would sit and put together the wooden puzzles that Justin and I had used as babies as well. Over and over, he’d try to fit the pieces into their spaces until he figured them out and moved on (some of these I still can’t do all that well). He moved onto floor puzzles and eventually the amazing Ravensburger ones that, again, even I found challenging. He was a whiz and has shown the same determination in most tasks he approaches in his every day life to this day.


Socially, Jack is less aggressive. He is shy, especially in new situations but this past year has proven to be incredibly monumental in terms of establishing his place in his classes, teams, and peer groups. His confidence is growing, and his determination to complete a task is intense. For months he spent every afternoon shooting baskets out on our hoop by the curb until he could make them regularly, and he made sure to apply that vigilance during the games on his first basketball team. The same went for his skills in baseball and swimming.

These are parent-led team sports in which every child received a trophy at the end of the season. All children were recognized with participation awards regardless of performance or how hard they tried. The kid that spent practice and games sitting in the dirt picking grass or rough-housing and distracting got the same acknowledgement as the child that made an incredible personal effort as well as being supportive of his team mates.

Regardless of that, the point is to have fun and encourage these kids to try their very best, and that involves learning how to treat each other in a positive manner so that it benefits everyone.

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For the past two weeks, Jack has been participating in a Junior Lifeguard program in our area. Every morning, Monday through Friday, for four weeks he is on the beach at 9 AM doing drills with a bunch of other children- his first competitive co-ed sport involvement. While I don’t think they’re actively competing against each other daily, there is definitely a lot of physical activity involved-running, swimming, boogie boarding-he’s learning the basics of being a Lifeguard. Earlier this week the league held their summer competitions where the kids were participating in drills in hopes of gaining placement. The first game, Surf Ball, had 20 kids lined up in the sand to race into the water, grab a tennis ball and race back. The quickest to do so would place and get a ribbon, those who didn’t… Didn’t. My mom and I stood at the ropes watching, cameras rolling, yelling and whooping for our boy who clearly had the intensity in his eyes and demeanor to win. The call was given and he ran his heart out into the water, only to retreat back slowly without a tennis ball, his face stuffed into the rim of his shirt, clearly sobbing and trying to conceal his defeat and embarrassment from his peers and onlookers.

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I just stood there, stunned. I shut the camera off, threw on my dark sunglasses and began discreetly wiping tears of my own. YiaYia was on the other side doing the same. I felt like a failure too, crying like a baby when I was supposed to be his strength and support…the one reminding him that this is just for fun that he did really, really well no matter what. I know the taste of self-defeat and disappointment, as I held it in my mouth through much of my youth. The thought of him experiencing that is more than I can bear. He’s stronger than that though, and he’ll rise above. In fact, not twenty minutes later he earned a third place ribbon in a team boogie boarding competition.

He wasn’t happy though. By the end of the day, he was drained emotionally and physically and lacked the sense of pride that, as his parent, I practically live and breathe on. It was a lesson that perhaps I wasn’t prepared to learn that day, and one that was inevitable to come for him as a young, competitive, sports loving child heading into second grade. He tasted defeat and it will make him stronger… he got up, tried his hardest, and he won.

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Parenthood is so much less about actual parenting as it is learning and guiding.

I keep relating this experience to how it affected me as his mother because I’m learning these lessons all over again, too. As the oldest of nearly four children, Jack is truly guiding us all along this path in the best way possible. I just hope I have the ability (ok, lets be honest, I hope I have the balls) to make it through next decade being a supportive and positive influence in his life as a sports mom.

Join the Conversation


  • I’m sitting here crying for Jack and for you and YiaYia… it’s so wonderful when you can encourage and cheer them through all their successes (and Jack, Zoe and Beau have MANY!!), and so awfully hard to watch them stretch and grow through the struggles. And a challenge to know what to say and do. You will figure it out, and Jack will grow even stronger because of these experiences. Thank you for sharing this important moment with us.

    • Thank you Carol! Your words are truly appreciated (always).

  • Jessica, you are so gifted at sharing your heart. Thank you for your vulnerability. Carol is sooooo right. You will figure this out. It may not get easier on your heart but you will get stronger. Just like the kids do as they grow. Many blessings to you and your precious family.

  • A difficult story to write and one of many lessons for you and Jack. Thank you so much for sharing it. I’m the mom of a 22 year old Olympian and the lesson I’ve learned is the most important role you can play throughout his entire sports career is simply being his number one fan – there will be so many who will provide him advice, coaching and criticism with Jack likely hardest on himself – I hope you’ll love being the cheerleader as much as I have – its something he’ll rely on when down and role his eyes when successful but always, always know you’ll only ever ask that he just do his best and that will always be good enough for you.

  • Oh … reading this brought tears to my eyes. It reminded me of a powerful losing experience we had this winter – my son (who had just turned 9) was very moved (and upset) by a loss that came after tremendous effort. I wrote about it – – there’s no question that I’ll never forget that day, and I know he learned from it tremendously too.

  • You will both grow and learn together ….and you will cry again! I have a son who struggled so very hard socially and athletically and I had my heart broken more than once watching him be left out or over looked or the last one chosen…..and today he landed in Africa for a two year assignment with the Peace Corps and I cried again, but not from trying to bear his hurt any longer but from pride for him becoming the exact person he was supposed to be…..the one that I wished everyone else had seen too….life is an incredibly bumpy, happy, sad, joyous journey for all of you, just hang on they will thrive and become stars!

  • Thanks for sharing your story about jack and this competition (and you and your mom too!) my oldest daughter (soon to be 8 in 2 weeks) is my shyest yet most competitive and driven baby of all three of my girls. Sounds a lot like jack. It breaks my heart seeing her struggle or feel unsure but I know it will make her a stronger person in the end.

  • I love reading your blogs, i think your such an inspirational, beautiful mum my kids are 5 3 and 10months, my daughter is very competitive so its going to be interesting to see how she is in a competitive situation and i always cry at the tip of a hat now i have had my kids, so its nice to hear someone who is going through it!

  • Such a heartfelt piece, learning about life’s defeats and becoming stronger from them. I love your stories, such a moment of mother/child sharing their disappointment together. Thank you for sharing this moment with you son. xo

  • As the mom of 2 athletic boys, we have faced this struggle a lot. I have always tried to have my boys compete against themselves. They set personal goals at the beginning of the season and as a family watch them grow and stretch themselves to reach it. The unintended side effect of this was watching my 14 year old encourage a friend to keep trying because of how much the boy improved this season not his placement at Meet of Champs. He reminded him of how hard he worked to get there and how far he had come.

  • Enjoyed reading this Jessica. I have found with my boys that the biggest lessons have been learned from their losses. As a parent I’ve had to sometimes just help them navigate those losses or obstacles and it sounds like you are on your way to doing the same!! xo

  • I just love reading your blog beautiful words from such a devoted mummy

  • You are such a wonderful mother. I think not hiding from reality is the best gift to give anyone.

  • It doesn’t seem like it now, but our kids are so lucky for these experiences. This is how the real world operates, – and some days it really sucks, but it’s vital to feel that blow once in a while. Losing can be crushing , but it’s also how percerverance is born. His future successes will be so much sweeter. He will appreciate his own hard work and achievements more because of days like today.

  • I needed to read this and then let it settle in my mind and heart. I have a nine-year-old involved in a competitive sport. I was when I was younger, but not to this degree. Margaret’s comments above really affected me and I hope that Inwill always just be her cheerleader. Thank you for sharing!

  • I think it’s brave of you to write about the difficulties (we all) experience as part of our parenting journey. It’s not all sunshine and roses and, hard as the lessons are at the time, it’s part of living in the real world. My youngest loved playing basketball. He suffered from asthma and was always small for his age. Even though he never missed practice, and was much more athletic and faster than many of the others he often didn’t make the team.
    He was also a very enthusiastic and talented actor… As a ten year old he auditioned for the King and I stage show and from a group of several hundred kids got to the last three. They wanted two boys… he didn’t make it… the producer told him he was too tall. He was heartbroken… the irony of being too short for basketball and tall for the role was a bitter pill. He amazed me a few days later when he told me “you know mum, I can’t make myself grow any faster, all I can do is train harder” his maturity and insight took my breath away.
    I’m sure Jack’s determination and fortitude will serve him well as he grows and matures. He is a lovely little man.
    I so enjoy your blog and photos of your family. They are all so beautiful in their own way and you are a lovely mum.

  • As a mom to 3 grown children… I totally understand where you are coming from. We always want our children to be successful in all they do… but sometimes it doesn’t play out the way we want. As parents, we can only offer positive encouragement and praise. It will all work out… Thanks for sharing!

  • Great post! Made me choke up on my lunch break at work.
    I felt your pain and Jacks too. Life is hard and often
    Unfair. Sounds like Jack had good coping tools
    And tons of love.

  • Oh Jessica, I am in tears for the second time today while reading this post. Learning about your wonderful children and family, I can’t help but feel the same sorrows and happiness as you share it with all of us. I wish I could give Jack a hug (and you!) Carol B nailed it with what she said.
    I have an 10 1/2 month old boy and I know the hardest part about watching him grow up with be challenges like this.

  • Jack is quite the inspiration that children and adults can learn from. He didn’t give up and he won. In addition, there are many of us (including myself) sitting on our tushies (in front of a computer) and not even trying what Jack did.

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