The McKenzie Manifesto

This past Memorial Day I spent a majority of my beach time reading the book, “The Matheny Manifesto: A Young Manager’s Old-School Views on Success in Sports and Life” by Mike Matheny. This is not a book I would have picked up five years ago, but with two child-athletes I knew I would find it beneficial. While the book wasn’t completely what I thought, it put some things into perspective for me.

Years ago, I never would have imagined I would be sucked into the world of youth sports. I was not a child-athlete, although I spent much of my childhood going to Bowling Green State University sporting events ranging from my least favorite football games (where I would face backwards reading a book) to my favorite ice hockey (I liked the organist and Zamboni).

I played tennis from age 12 on, but was completely oblivious to parental politics. According to my mom, there were very little. There was one coach she didn’t like, but she never said a word about it until years later.

My entry into youth sports began later on when I was an exhausted working mother of two young children.  Mitchell had so much energy that he would run circles in my kitchen and leap from one couch to another. So when I saw an ad for U-6 soccer, I signed him up. This might be the best way to enjoy my Saturdays, I thought — take the 4-year-old to soccer to run around and use up his energy. Greg was skeptical, especially after the first week when it rained. Mitchell cried and wouldn’t play. But the next week was sunny, and from then on he loved soccer. He started baseball the following spring and years passed in which he played soccer in the fall and baseball in the spring. And then suddenly he turned nine, and he had the option for travel soccer, which was a year-long commitment.

That summer, I signed Julia up for swim team, and I thought Mitchell might as well do it, too.  Because really, it makes a five hour swim meet so much more bearable if one has at least two children to watch. Once my kids tried summer swim, they decided to start swimming in the winter as well.

In fifth-grade, Mitchell added travel baseball to the mix, which brings us to the point where we are now.

As I’m writing this, I’m getting overwhelmed just thinking about my own schedule.

My dad said to me recently, “At some point, Mitchell is going to have to choose,” which is what is so sad about this day and age.  Why can’t he play three sports? What ever happened to the multi-sport athletes of years past?

But it is tough to balance all the sports schedules. He ends up missing a lot of practices and at times is downright exhausted.

Even though I never played the sports my kids do, I love watching them compete. As a parent, one’s child’s ups and downs become the parent’s ups and downs. It is sometimes tougher to watch Mitchell lose a game than it is for me to lose a tennis match. Not because I get my value from his performance, which I know is a criticism of parents, but because I hate to see him disappointed. Failure is a part of life – an important part – but that doesn’t make it any easier to watch one’s kids make mistakes or lose.

For whatever reason, of the three sports Mitchell plays, baseball brings the most politics. I don’t even consider myself that competitive of a person, but I find myself praying (yes, praying to God) that Mitchell has a good game. I don’t even believe God works that way. Surely God has more important prayers to answer than whether my kid has a hit or makes a play in the field!?!

In his book, Matheny says, “Watching their kids play sports becomes many parents’ primary activity. Other parents become their main social group and their entire identity begins to revolve around their kids. All of a sudden, whether or not their kid makes the team can become almost as important as whether Dad or Mom keeps their job.”

There is much truth to that statement. I am not exempt from this group. We have met some of our closest friends from sitting together at soccer games, swim meets and baseball games. Greg often says, “What did we do with our time before we had kids?”

Eat dinner on tray tables and watch “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “Seinfeld” re-runs?

When it comes down to it, I hope my kids continue playing sports. I want them to learn life lessons, make friends, stay out of trouble, and learn to live an active and healthy lifestyle. But as I’ve told them, more than anything I want them to be kind.

I want them to learn the importance of building up their teammates, of doing what’s best for the team rather than for the individual, and of winning and losing with class. These skills will help them succeed in life, which is our ultimate goal as parents.

Our children are not a reincarnation of ourselves as child athletes.  They are not a prize or trophy to brag about at the office, and they are not an achievement to give us self-worth.

As my grandmother used to say, “Our children are on loan to us for 18 years.”

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Photo by James McKenzie

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