Especially When They Don’t

We’re nearing the finish line. A marathon summer of insanity. I know you’re thinking it. I’ve even thought it. Why in the world do you do that? Why does your family get so involved in travel sports? Defensively I might respond that it’s not just us. Actually, there is a major trend in the United States and it’s alarming…and our family is a statistical number in that trend. I like to think it’s more than that. We’ve never done things because others did. Quite the opposite really.

So why do we do it?

Why would we log over 5,000 miles since April between us traveling to sports for three kids?

Why would we juggle hotel points, find the cheapest rates and sometimes fit 3 in a queen bed on the road?

Why did we go to the grocery store in each town and stock up on food for meals, get rolls of quarters at the bank for laundry on the road and cash for parking, entry and fees?

Why ignore the advice of our College Financial Planner, some friends and even a Pastor?

Why trade a relaxing week at the beach for the expenses incurred on multiple road trips?

Why steal 30 minute walks with your bride during the week to get caught up and plan out the next weekends schedule?

Why burden neighbors and family members with feeding and letting out the dog? (Thanks Tom! Sorry Wubzzy)

I can’t speak for everyone. I can only speak for us. Here’s what I would say.

I once read a quote by Rick Reilly long before any of this travel stuff. It stuck with me. I was a young dad at the time and didn’t really understand it but I do now.

We’re here to be there when our kid has three
goals and an assist. And especially when he doesn’t.
-Rick Reilly

We do it for the friends they make in the dugouts, in the bullpens and on the teams.

We do it for the friends we make on the fence lines and in the bleachers. We can’t be in a small group at church but I would argue we’re in one every weekend.

We do it for weekends like this one when social media is filled with parents who are doing it for the last time and knowing we are just a blink away from making those posts too.

We don’t do this to puff our chests or promote our kids. Any pride you may hear or read isn’t to make anyone feel bad. It’s simply a joy in their adventures, memories and moments.

We do it for Sunday nights around the island in the kitchen when we’re all back together again sharing stories of our latest trips.

We do it for the hours of “windshield time”  discussions or complete silence.

We don’t do it to chase scholarships or pro careers. We do it to build character, camaraderie and work ethic. Those things last longer.

“Understand when you’re playing sports it’s a blessing because you’re in a controlled setting. It allows you to build character.” –

We do this to be there when our pitcher son can’t find the plate or throw a strike in the pitching debut with his new team. We also travel all of those miles for the day when he throws a complete game gem and the umpire shakes his hand afterwards and says “it was a pleasure to call your game.”

We do this for the moment, with tears in our eyes, that our freshman daughter, qualifies for the Regional track meet in 100 meter hurdles. We also do it for the day she misses the cut for the State track meet by hundredths of a second.

We do it so we can put our arm around her, wipe the tears, tell her it’s okay to mourn this moment but when she’s ready, to put that number on her mirror as a goal for next season.

We do this to watch our swimmer compete, over and over again and cut her times. We do it for the weekends when she just “doesn’t have it” and wants to give up.

Back in April as we laid all of the potential travel schedules (baseball, swimming, diving and track) out on the calendar I told my bride “We’re gonna blink and it will be August.”

Today is July 22nd.

We blinked.

We were there when they won and especially when they didn’t.

It Takes a Village

I used to hate this time of year. If you’re the parent of a travel baseball player, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s that time of year when you turn into a sports agent for your child. It’s the season that makes Lebron James picking a basketball team seem like a walk in the park. The most stressful weeks of the summer. Every summer. Before I go any further, let me set some ground rules for this post.

  1. I am writing this 100% as a parent that has been through the battles from t-ball to now. I may work at Bo Jackson’s Elite Sports, but I’m not wearing that hat as I type this. Just sharing the knowledge we’ve gained in the past 10+ years.
  2. Each and every one of us have different goals and dreams when it comes to why our kids compete in travel sports. For some it’s fun in the sun with friends. For others it’s dreams of continuing their career in college somewhere. Here’s the important thing for all of us, both are absolutely okay. There’s not a right or wrong or bad or good. Choose the opportunity that helps you achieve what you and your child are aiming for.

I have said this and will continue to say this as long as I have breath….The best advice I can give any parent of an athlete is this – You give them the bike. Where they go and how hard they work to get there is 100% up to them. Give them the best bike you can afford to give them. Give them the tools they need. Then, let go of the handlebars. Cheer them along the way, but let go of the handlebars.

Several months ago we were meeting with our College Financial Planner and his tone got very serious. He said “you need to have a talk with your son. You need to find out if college baseball is a goal he has. If it is, then continue doing what you’re doing. If it is not, then our planning and conversation needs to change.” Wow. After all these years of playing on travel teams and “going where the stream takes us,” we were now at a point where we needed to put some structure and planning around this whole thing. We had the conversation and he said “yes, I want to play baseball in college.”

Thanks to the hard work (much on his own), our son has put himself in a position to potentially pursue one of his goals of playing baseball at the next level. He doesn’t currently have dreams of playing in the Major Leagues, but 4 more years in the sun while chasing a degree does sound fun. This is where we get to the meat of this post and story.

2 years ago, Austin joined the Black Sox travel baseball team from Bo Jackson’s Elite Sports. We knew going in that there would be significant benefits for playing for the Black Sox. They practice year round inside the dome. He would have membership to the facility and could continue to work on his craft. He would have access to former players and coaches. He would have access to the OSU Sports Medicine team located right inside The Dome. There were a number of other appealing features that made this a no-brainer. What I never anticipated is what would come a year later after our conversation with our Financial Planner.

After successful seasons with the Black Sox and in High School, Austin was offered the opportunity to join the Bo Jackson Elite team for this summer (earned, not given). This was an entirely different level of travel baseball. 8 of the players have already committed to Division I baseball programs (Ohio State, Ohio University, Ohio Dominican, Wright State). He would now find himself playing with and competing against the best teams in Ohio. Each weekend is more about showcasing talent than winning tournaments. We regularly see scouts behind the backstops watching each game. If this was about providing the bike, Lance Armstrong would be jealous of the kind of bike he was being offered. He obviously said “yes.”

Our baseball staff at The Dome were also quick to assist. As with every player on our teams, they provided information and a road map to help figure out how we go from “I want to play college baseball” to creating a short list of schools he is interested in. As the summer progressed, the list has moved and changed (he is currently uncommitted but working towards a decision) but they’ve been there every step of the way. They’ve helped us weed out the emails from colleges promising big things and only wanting to profit to the serious requests about his potential and interest in him. Their relationship with area coaches has been so valuable in getting him “seen” and in front of opportunities.

At one point this summer, one valuable contact from the dome sent him an email after a tough outing. It was short but powerful. The best line simply said “you belong.” To have an outside source give you the confidence to take the mound again is powerful and words can’t express my appreciation.

When complaints of neck soreness lingered, we made the way down the hall to The Ohio State University Sports Medicine Team for a quick check-up. What a valuable resource to have right there at The Dome. They took care in getting to the bottom of the soreness, recommended some exercises and care and he was back on the mound the next weekend. Peace of mind between the ears for a pitcher is often a majority of battle. A free visit to the caring staff at OSU was even better.

I should take one step back and mention that from the first game of the High School season, our baseball staff was asking about his pitch counts, recovery and between start workouts. Even when he wasn’t playing for our teams, our staff was looking out for his arm care and recovery. They do this with all of our players. Not just our pitchers or because I am on staff.

Dr. James Onate of The Ohio State University is on the cutting edge of sports research. In addition to his full-time job, he oversees all of the Sports Performance programming at Bo Jackson’s Elite Sports. As if that wasn’t enough, he also coaches for a local High School. Our son pitched against his team in week one of the High School season. In the weeks that followed, Dr. Onate talked to Austin at The Dome while they were both there one day. He asked about his season, his goals and his workouts. He is often quoted as saying “it takes a village to raise a baseball player.”

The point of this entire post is that some day over the next several months, our son may choose from a number of schools to continue his baseball career. No matter where or what he chooses, I will never forget the “village” that has helped to raise our baseball player. From all of the coaches early on in his travel days to our entire team (OSU, Black Sox, Bo Jackson Elite) at BJES, we are so thankful for each one. You’ve all left your finger prints on his career no matter where it ends.

It does take a village and I’m glad you have all been a part of ours.

Don’t Wait and Don’t Blink

I have a confession to make….I should have listened to my wife. I could probably say that a million different times for a million different reasons but todays confession deals with one thing in particular – College. Wait, did I just say that? Wasn’t I just posting about having our first, then second, then third child like a few months ago?

It happened.

I blinked.

Now we’re here. One year away from the first of three going off to college. This is an important summer of showcase tournaments, potential scholarship offers, visits and decisions about the future. And I’m scared to death. I was always the “let’s put that off and talk about it later” kinda guy. My lovely bride wanted to plan early. Early is gone and now we’re racing against the financial clock to prepare. My advice to young parents reading this –

Don’t race against the financial clock to prepare.

One of my favorite parts of my job is making connections. One day an email to a great local company called “College Liftoff” led to a meeting and my confession from above. My new friends at College Liftoff just smiled because they have seen and heard this before. They know what we’re going through and we aren’t alone. I am so glad we were able to create a partnership between College Liftoff and Bo Jackson’s Elite Sports because I want to provide the families that come to our facility that introduction. I want to see them start this conversation long before we did. I know College Liftoff can guide, advise and help.

While I know we waited too long and now we are here, I also know we’re not walking this alone. We have guidance and a partner along the way. I know all three of our children will end up right where they are supposed to be and pursing whatever dreams they have. With all due respect to Drake, if you’re reading this it’s not too late. Don’t just take my word for it, see what other people had to say too (HERE).

So take my advice, listen to your bride and plan ahead. They grow up way too fast.

*Side note, the image above is from The University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. It’s nice to have dreams. It’s also nice to have roughly a 32 on your ACT if you are an out-of-state student with hopes of attending this fine University. On the positive, they pay 100% of need. On the downside, it’s REAL hard to get in from out of state. Plan ahead and accordingly.

 

The Hills We Die On

There are select set of phrases that have found there way into my lexicon over the years. If you’re around me long enough you’ve probably heard some of them. One of the ones that I use rather frequently in day-to-day business decisions is “It’s not a hill to die on.” What is interesting about that phrase is that it makes the assumption that you know what hills you will die on. As we inch closer to the start of another year, I have been taking some time to reflect and evaluate what those are for me.

One of my greatest fears as a blogger is to come across as if I know much about anything. I don’t like writing posts that tell people what to do or how to do it. The reality is I don’t know much and am an expert at pretty much nothing. I’m simply a guy with a head full of thoughts, a laptop and a blog program. Nothing more. So take whatever I say with a grain of salt.

It’s probably grammatically incorrect anyway.

That being said, have you ever established the hills that you would die on? Do you know your non-negotiables in life?

A few years ago I was completing an application for a job and was faced with a question that forced me to make a decision. Do I be honest or do I fill in the blank with something that I think they want to hear? I’m on the hill. Do I risk dying here in this interview process or do I own what I believe and take that chance?

Q: What are your 5-year professional goals and why does this position fit those objectives?

A: My 5-year professional goals are to continue to raise and support my family. This may sound like an odd professional goal, but I believe I am a failure at any professional position if I am failing as a father and a husband. My children are 12, 10 and 8. In the next 5 years they will be in their high school years and not far from moving on to college. Family is one of my core beliefs so to work in a position that is something we very much believe in as a part of family and life fits that professional goal. In accomplishing the goals of any organization I work for on a daily basis, I am providing for my family as well. That is my greatest goal.

I might be strange, but if you know me, you know I don’t care about titles. I never have. I’m not in this game to get as high as I can in some organization. They won’t discuss that at my funeral. They WILL remember how I made people feel, how I loved my family and my wife. That is forever. Titles are not. They fade. That is why family is a hill I will die on every. single. time.

It’s been 5 years since that application question and answer. Those three children are now in high school and middle school. Over the course of those 5 years, I have died on that hill a few times. It’s been worth it.

Establishing your core beliefs will help guide you through the minefields of life. Without them, it is easy to end up in places we don’t want to be and doing things we never thought we would. Our “hills” set the guardrails and keep us focused on our priorities. None of this is to say that it is easy. Actually, it’s not easy at all. You’ll be forced to make decisions that won’t be popular or even make sense to others.

As we approach 2018, take some time to think about your core beliefs. What are the hills you will die on. What are the things that are so important to you that you are willing to fight to the bitter end for?

Life is so short. Knowing what we’re living and dying for will make it worth it all in the end.

Thank You, Nationwide Children’s

In 2017, our family encountered one of those moments you never anticipate or even plan for. We were in uncharted waters. I cannot allow the page to turn to 2018 without sending my heartfelt appreciation to anyone and everyone that works at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

A few years ago I was invited to attend a special tour of the incredible new addition that Nationwide Children’s Hospital was getting ready to grand open. Apparently I was a “blogger of influence” or something so my name came up for this behind the scenes preview. I was honored to attend so I took advantage of the opportunity never thinking one day, I would owe a huge debt of gratitude for this facility saving our daughter’s life.

One day the entire story will be written. One day we will be at a place that allows us to share her story. One day her story will impact lives. We believe it is one of the reasons she walked the journey she did. I can say that today, she is doing so well. She is strong, courageous and there are more hours where we forget that the dark moments were even a part of our lives.

Today is about Nationwide Children’s.

We arrived at this facility thinking it was just another consultation. It was where the path took us. As parents, we were following the stream and this is where it led. We knew what we were dealing with was bigger than us. We had no idea they would tell us what they told us that day. We could never have anticipated the schedule and recommendations they made the day my wife and our daughter arrived in their offices. Complete strangers were recommending we clear our scheduled lives and place the health of our daughter in their hands. The program was drastic, complicated and difficult. There were no shortcuts.

After a huddle around the kitchen table, my wife, my daughter and I decided this was the next right step. I never doubted our daughter. She is a fighter and determined. I knew she would rise. What I didn’t know is that there was a team of caring people that stood along her side and at times, carried her through this journey. They had the map. They knew the way through the troubled waters. They do this every day. My guess is they do this because they love what they do. They have been called to a life of service. Their passion came through each and every time we visited.

While this may appear to be cryptic, I am doing my best to say “thank you” to anyone and everyone from Nationwide Children’s that reads this. I’m not the only one. I’ve talked to so many parents that have needed you and you were there. While the days may seem mundane or tedious, the lives you are forever changing are not. From my family to each of you, thank you. You will forever hold a special place in our hearts. You gave us our daughter back.

A few weeks ago, she competed in her first gymnastics meet of the season. A sport and a season that was in question just a few short months ago. She was beautiful. She is happy. She is home. She is free. She won the award from coaches and teammates for “Gymnast of the Meet.”

The moment was for her.

The award is for you.