COLUMN: Take some time to enjoy summer

There are now less than three weeks before the start of fall sports practice for our local high school teams.

Where has this summer gone?

I know I say this every year, but I think summer is getting shorter and shorter. I know it is for our athletes, who wrap up the spring sports season the first or second weekend of June and jump into fall preseason practice the second or third week of August depending on the year.

I truly feel bad for athletes because unlike those who choose not to participate in an extracurricular activity, they do not have the luxury of having three full months of summer vacation. I understand that they make that decision to be an athlete, but it seems somewhat unfair that they have one less month to enjoy being away from school than others.

It did not used to be this way. There was a time when everyone had three months off and we all got to enjoy our summers. We got to go on family vacations that did not mean going to a baseball or softball tournament somewhere in the country. We went to places like Mount Rushmore or Disneyland. We did not concern ourselves with sports for at least a week or two. We got a chance to regroup and recharge.

Maybe this is why so many kids get burned out when it comes to sports. I can understand it because they never get a break. There is the high school season, which now runs from mid-August to mid-June. Then there is the travel season, for some sports it is during the middle of the high school year.

It is a never-ending cycle. Most of it is driven by parents, who think for some reason they are going to develop into a player who can receive a Division 1 scholarship or will play a professional sport.

It is time to get real, people. The chances of a boy or girl reaching those heights are pretty slim when you come from our area.

It is not because they do not want it more than other players, but they certainly are limited by a variety of things being from small communities. Among them are the facilities to train and the opportunities to be seen by a “big time” coach that will offer them that scholarship.

In my nearly 40 years of covering high school sports in southwest Michigan, I have seen my fair share of outstanding athletes. There were even some I felt had a chance to jump to the Division 1 level or even have a shot to play on the big stage. But despite all their talent, I am still waiting to cover my first professional athlete from one of the six high schools we cover.

We have been close, but close is not the “show,” and so still I wait for that moment. If you believe in the law of averages, it is bound to happen at some point. Will it be in my lifetime? That I cannot predict.

What I can predict is that your son or daughter is going to get sick and tired of playing sports by the time they become juniors and seniors in high school, if not sooner, if you do not let them stop and enjoy something other than sports. They need that downtime to re-energize themselves.

They also need to see you as a regular parent instead of a sports mom or dad who is constantly pushing them to be “the best they can be.”

I learned this from a man that I have the utmost respect for: Bernard Thomas, who coached Dowagiac football to a state championship in 1990. Thomas told me once when a school wanted him to be their football coach, he turned it 

down because he had retired from teaching and did not have the day-to-day contact with the kids outside of football practice. Thomas wanted to interact with the athletes outside of football so that he got to know them as people and not just a number or a position on Friday night.

There is an important lesson to be learned from Thomas, who was a great football coach, but is a better human being who is a great leader of young men. Players and coaches need to get to know each other as people. They need to learn respect for each other based on something other than the player-coach construct.

Josh Hood does a great job of this at Brandywine. His basketball team works hard and spends a lot of time together throughout the year, but they do so in a matter that is both fun and constructive. They go places to compete where the players, and their families, can enjoy some downtime in between and have fun.

So, when you start thinking about “next” season for your kids, plan to have some fun family time in the ever-shrinking summer vacation window.

Scott Novak is sports editor for Leader Publications. He can be reached at scott.novak@leaderpub.com

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