My Youth Sports Story: Play for the Love of It

By Gloria Averbuch

What’s more satisfying, and more beautiful, than watching our children “get it?” The ‘it’ is the deep and lasting understanding of why they play sports and what those sports can ultimately give them.

I got to experience that when my daughter Yael — now 24 years old and playing for the U.S. National Women’s Soccer Team and the Western NY Flash of Women’s Professional Soccer — gave a speech to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America. Yael’s speech has made the rounds on the Internet (and, I am proud to report, has just been requested to be reprinted in an educational college textbook). Here is a paragraph from that speech:

As I learned the night of the 2008 national championship, if everything that you do, day in and day out, is solely building for a single moment — what becomes of it all when that moment has passed? It is this perspective that I have gained during the past year, and which I hope to carry with me throughout my life: Ideally, what we do in each moment should have value in and of itself. We should train just for the sake of training, play just for the sake of playing, and live just for the sake of living.*

Yael’s message underlies everything positive that parents and coaches hope to give their athletes:

* An appreciation of what Yael calls in her speech “the process,” so that they can apply love of process beyond sports to the even-more-important endeavors in their future lives.

* The value of playing, just for playing–whether or not you make a team, win the game, or hoist a trophy. All of that is fleeting, as Yael has come to understand.

* Knowledge that success is temporal. There is always another competition to win, or lose; always another team to which to aspire. And there are no guarantees. Ever. But what is permanent, and what is guaranteed, is the experience of playing, and all that it entails.

How we communicate this to our children can be as simple as our own understanding and consciousness of it. I recall a day many years ago, with my daughters, both elite soccer players and best friends on and off the field to this day. I was watching them during a casual “kick around” with each other at the local school field. Suddenly, I recalled all the hours at the neighborhood playground with my dad and my brother, enjoying myself while honing my athletic skills.

As the sun was setting, and my girls and I walked toward the car, I found myself telling them, “Don’t ever forget there was a moment like this, when the grass was so amazingly green, and the sun was bright, and your mom was ‘shagging balls’ for you.”

I hope that one day, they will remember the moment as fondly as I did, and understand it as a gift, as well as an enduring lesson of why we play.

(Gloria Averbuch is the Editor-in-Chief of Points Sports Health website. To read Yael’s complete speech, visit the Women’s Professional Soccer League website.)