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Zopf: Some parents do understand sports are not everything

Instilling in my own son the proper context of games

POSTED: February 13, 2011 10:59 p.m.

Ever since my son Brady was born four years ago, I’ve wondered about the past and contemplated the future.

That’s a perfectly natural thought process for any new parent, but for me, I never worried about whether or not I’d be a good father; I worried about how good of an athlete he’d be.

As a father, that all depended on me.

So I started to think about how my parents played a role in my athletic career.

I thought about how I started playing soccer by the time I was 2, baseball by 4 and basketball by 8.

I thought about how they focused on keeping a roof over my head and food on the table, and at the same time, found enough extra cash to sign me and my older brother up for youth sports.

I thought about how they’d volunteer their time by coaching our teams, and how much that made me respect, and ultimately want to become a part of that fraternity.

Then I started to think about what they didn’t do.

I thought about how I never went to any camps, except for the one at the local high school, and how the only showcase I ever heard of was the showdown variety on The Price is Right.

I thought about how they never worried that I was more focused on crushing Twinkies than I was with crushing fastballs, and that the first time I saw the inside of a weight room was when I was a sophomore in high school.

I thought about all the losses, all the kids who started above me even though I didn’t think they deserved to, all the coaches who focused on the stars and not the role players, and all the times my parents had a chance to say or do something.

But they never did.

They never questioned why I wasn’t playing as much as another kid. They never stuck their nose in the politics that go along with high school athletics. Even if a better opportunity was available elsewhere, there was no way they would have uprooted me from my friends and team so I could play for another school.

Aside from the constant cheering from the stands, they never made their presence known.

Who knows what would have happened if they stuck up for me and all of a sudden I played more minutes and got more exposure?

Who knows what would have happened if they would have worked another job or two so they could afford to hire a personal instructor or send me to a college camp or showcase?

Who knows what would have happened if they would have pushed me as hard as an athlete as they did as a student?

For the longest time I stewed over those questions and thought about how my parents might be the reason why I write about sports instead of playing them, but then my son started to play sports and I started seeing parents my age act as mature as the kids they were cheering for.

I realized that as much as I want my son to be a successful athlete, I want him to be a better person first. I want him to make his own decisions, play whatever sports he wants, and play them because he loves them, not because I’m trying to compensate for my lack of athletic accomplishment.

After all, that’s how I was raised.

Both my parents were high school athletes whose parents didn’t fill their heads with sunshine, rainbows and dreams of playing professional sports.

In turn, that’s how they raised my brother and me. They knew we were good high school athletes, but in the grand scheme of things, we were more likely to earn an academic scholarship than an athletic scholarship.

They knew we had a better chance of being a doctor, engineer or underpaid journalist than the shortstop for the New York Yankees.

They knew sports would play a major role in our lives, but that our success on the playing surface wouldn’t determine who we’d become; how we acted on and off of it would.

For the longest time I resented my parents for not pushing me athletically, but now that I have a son of my own, I realized they acted that way for a reason.

They wanted me to learn how to lose, how to deal with adversity and how to respect people of authority despite my belief they were making the wrong decision.

They wanted me to know how to raise a son.

Jonathan Zopf is a sports writer for The Times. Follow him at twitter.com/gtimesjzopf.



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