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Sports Are More Important Than School – Ekemode Damilare Seun

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I know what you’re thinking. That title is click bait. She doesn’t really think that sports are more important than school. That’s ridiculous.
Not true. For my kids, sports are actually more important than school. Here’s why.
I have a 13 daughter year old daughter, Sophia, who is a softball pitcher. If you saw that girl on a pitching mound,  you would say she is confident, mentally strong and able to persevere in a high stress situation.

You wouldn’t even recognize her from five years ago before she started pitching.
My daughter has anxiety. Debilitating anxiety. Looking back, I can recognize the signs of it in her even when she was a baby. She cried for no reason, incessantly. She couldn’t tolerate any type of sensory discomfort.  As a toddler she was painfully shy and skittish. When we decided to have her go to day care a couple of days a week to help her social skills, the day care lady promised us she would stop crying at drop off after a few days.
She was wrong. She cried every day we brought her until it was time for her to go preschool where she continued to cry every day and so on through kindergarten, first grade, second and on and on for years. She had trouble making friends. She didn’t advocate for herself at school. What we thought were tantrums, we began to realize were panic attacks.
We had her seeing the school psychologist at the suggestion of her pediatrician and going into fifth grade we took her to see a psychologist at a premiere anxiety disorder center in Boston once a week.
I don’t want to diminish what the anxiety disorder center did for her. It was immensely helpful and she learned many strategies to deal with her anxiety. But it didn’t give her an oasis where there was no anxiety.
Pitching did that.
We had enrolled her in all of the things kids love, soccer, gymnastics, Girl Scouts. They were all torturous as we’d spend the entire time prodding her, cajoling her, bribing her into participating. She ended up sticking  with Girl Scouts (because I was the troop leader) and softball (because daddy was the coach).
Girl Scouts was at our house with 6 girls she knew from school with me as the leader and still it was painful to get her to participate. Softball was the same for the most part. Except for one thing. She was kind of good at softball. That is,  when she wasn’t second guessing herself or crying before going up to bat. That anxiety was still there, always lurking in the recesses of her mind, ready to ruin the one thing she was growing to love.
Then, in fifth grade, her team ended up without a single player who could pitch. Her dad was the coach and said, “Soph, you’re going to have to learn to pitch”. I thought he was crazy. The anxiety was more under control with the help of her therapist, but I don’t think there is a more anxiety inducing position to play in any sport than pitcher. Maybe quarterback. But with pitching, it’s all eyes on you. You can’t “hide” at pitcher. You throw strikes, or you don’t.
But, of course, and thankfully, Dad didn’t listen to me and started working with her on learning to pitch. It’s fun to look back at where she was in fifth grade to where she is now, but right from the start, she showed an affinity for it.
I’m not going to tell you that she worked really hard and slowly got better and better and it built her confidence and NOW SHE’S CURED! She does work really hard at it and she has gotten MUCH better and she did build her confidence. But she still has anxiety.  Everyday it’s there, not as strong as it used to be, but she battles it every day.
Except when she’s pitching.
As a mother of a daughter who has anxiety, I get super anxious about her getting anxious. So, this is what happens every time she pitches in a game. I find a spot, out of her view. to stand and I either cheer every strike or I quietly curse every ball or hit. Also the umpire. I have whispered every swear in the book about the umpires. I’m never within earshot of anyone and especially not my daughter so she only hears my positive “great pitch” from somewhere in left field. At the end of every inning, I go sit back down with the other softball parents (who totally understand my ritual and are completely non-judgmental) and let my heart rate come back down until she’s up again. Then I’m back to my spot.
That’s how anxious I get when she’s pitching. It stands to reason, then, that a kid with severe anxiety would be a puddle on that mound, right? Well, you should see her. It makes me want to cry tears of relief to see my kid, in charge. In charge of that ball, the game and her team in those moments. She stands tall, walks the mound with confidence and hurls that ball. The most impressive is when she’s a little off, has fallen behind in a count and then comes back to strike a girl out. And she does it like it’s no big deal. Like every eye isn’t on her. Like her team isn’t COUNTING on her.
This is the same kid that still doesn’t want to ask her teachers for the bathroom pass.
I asked her once, why isn’t she nervous when she’s pitching? She says when she is on the mound, she is in control.  Whether it’s the hours of practice she puts in (and it’s HOURS of time spent every week perfecting this. And her dad is her catcher.  I can’t let this post go without mentioning that if it’s not game time, he’s catching EVERY.SINGLE.PITCH) or her belief in her own ability, something clicks for her when she’s on that mound.  She owns that spot and she is in control.
She doesn’t get that feeling from school.  She does a little better than average in school, but her anxiety has held her back, I think, from reaching her potential because it does take her so long to get comfortable enough to really connect with her teachers. She doesn’t have that “in control” feeling when she’s sitting at her desk. Maybe it’s because she’s surrounded by other kids clamoring for attention and she’s never going to be the squeakiest wheel.
School is going to teach her to think critically and write well and do a little math. It will teach her about working with others and organizational skills and will feed her curiosity. She loves school, actually. She is a very avid reader and loves to write fiction.When she finally starts to feel comfortable, she usually forms strong bonds with her teachers. I love that school offers her all of that and I do believe it is very important.
But, for Sophia, it’s second to sports.
Softball has given Sophia something nothing else has. And it’s not “teamwork!” or “practice hard, win easy!” or “defense wins championships!” or any of the other sports cliches that don’t really quite sum up what sports can do for a person. It has taught her a stronger work ethic (although she can still be a lazy teenager) and how to be a good teammate and how to lose with grace. But none of that makes it the most important thing in her life.
It’s the most important thing because it has given her that peace that nothing else has.
It has given her an oasis where she is finally free from anxiety. And that feeling has started to creep into the rest of her life. There is a definite quiet confidence that is battling that anxiety. The anxiety is still there, but it’s like she has this reserve of calm that she can use to battle it back.  I have to believe that a large part of that reserve is built on the mound.
What I’ve learned from watching my kid grow and struggle and thrive every day is that the most important thing you can do for your kid is to find that thing that gives them that inner peace.
Find one thing that makes them feel good about themselves.
Try everything until they find it. Maybe it’s drama or painting or karate or cooking or rock climbing. That thing might actually be school for your kid and if so, then go *all* out for school.
Put everything into it.
Let them have that feeling of being in control.
See what it does for their confidence and see how it makes you feel when you know that that confidence will be with them for their whole life. Because they excelled at something and now they know that they are capable of excellence. It’s now something they can expect from themselves. Then come back and tell me that I’m wrong and sports aren’t more important than school.
And if you still don’t believe me, I’ll tell you the story of my son with ADD and apraxia and what basketball has done for him.

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