Monday, July 29, 2019

The Fields That Built Me

In my last edition of Stoll on Sports, I ragged pretty hard on the state of youth sports, particularly the win-at-all-costs culture it has created, and the harm it causes young athletes physically, mentally and emotionally. I still stand by those remarks, but this edition is going to take a lighter tone to the same topic.

You know the hit Miranda Lambert song titled "The House That Built Me*"? About a woman who goes back and knocks on the door of her childhood home, asks to walk around and is flooded by memories stacked one-by-one that over time, made her who she is today. I love that song. How can you not?

I had a similar experience recently when I was on a great Midwest tour for my work with Sports ETA. While visiting Cincy, CLE, L'Ville, Indy and CBus, I stayed with my high school best friend's family for a few nights in the 'Nati. One humid evening, after a run at a local park, I drove through my old neighborhood then stopped at my old school, Sherwood Elementary. I didn't go admire the building. Rather, I went high atop the athletic fields overlooking the playground. A playground, I might add, that is chalk-full of injury-proof apparatuses, unlike when I was a kid when the objective of recess was to defy death daily.

Slowly, I started to remember...

  • I remember walking through the woods at the top of my street to take the short-cut to the fields (we did crazy things like that back then).
  • I remember my first softball practice with the coach who would coach me in every sport for nearly 8 years (he wore the same polyester coaching shorts every practice, you know the ones!). 
    This isn't my coach, but the outfit is on point. (Photo: Coach Glass Podcast)
  • I remember two softball fields with meticulously manicured, thick, green grass in the outfield that spilled into a few soccer fields (not even second thoughts given to how unsafe it was to have simultaneous games going on).
  • I remember sledding down the hill in between the fields in the winter time (only a couple broken arms resulted).
  • I remember school field days kicking-off highly-anticipated summer vacation (God bless Field Day, am I right?). 
  • I remember playing 3rd base because I was the only kid that could throw it from 3rd to 1st (No wonder my shoulder is shot).
  • I remember playing 4 or 5 games a day until the lightning bugs flickered at night (then we'd play capture the flag until someone's parents eventually figured out we never came home).
  • I remember unknowingly seeing my passion for sports ignite (who knew those days would lead me down the path to my career?).
Time has a funny way of changing memories, the outfield was overgrown, the benches were splintered and warped, the backstop fencing was mangled, and the soccer fields were so small that goalies frequently scored. Heck, it was probably like this when I was 9 years old, but I didn't know the difference.

If I'm honest, I sat on that old, beat-up bench, exhausted from driving so hard in this career focused on this childhood passion of mine. The same bench where hundreds of kids have sat before and after my hay-day.

I smiled. I laughed. I cried. Sloppy tears.

Then it struck me...

These were the fields that built me.

Here they are. Funny how majestic this place was in my mind.
Lambert eloquently sings, "You leave home, you move on and you do the best you can. I got lost in this old world and forgot who I am."

Now, I'm not naive enough to think it there were no obnoxious parents or hyper-competitive kids, but I hope we never forget these special places in the sports history books of each of our lives. It wasn't about $400 baseball bats, fancy elite travel team uniforms, and scholarships. Then it was about kids being kids, having fun, making memories and experiencing true community.

Today it's about taking a couple minutes to slow down, reflect, feel the feels, appreciate the journey, and be grateful for this awesome, beautiful, crazy thing we call life. We each have a unique story to tell. This is a little bit about mine.

"Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory." - Dr. Seuss

This is Stoll on Sports.

(*Written by Tom Douglas and Allen Shamblin)


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