Category Archives: sports

Stop Stealing Dreams: What Are Sports For?

Seth Godin wrote a manifesto called Stop Stealing Dreams: What is School For? and it was shared millions of times. He spoke at TedxYouth about the future of education, how we reward kids, and what we can do better. Both posts are worth diving into.

I love athletics. I know this doesn’t surprise you 🙂

So many life lessons.

It’s a shame more kids don’t get the chance to experience them.

My competitive streak still comes out when I’m running and have to catch that guy in front of me, when I’m sprinting down the soccer field and just can’t get there quite as easily as before, or when my children play the long-standing rival.

With age, sore knees, and raising children, perspective grows. When your child plays, there’s an opportunity to reflect on the point of it all.

Growing up I accepted the “cuts,” the “sorry, you’re not good enoughs,” the “varsity players vs. the junior varsity players” because, well, I didn’t get cut. (I considered it a shame math class didn’t make cuts.)

Until one day I did get cut. I was 15 and willing to quit track to wear a Westside cheerleading uniform. Rejection was a phone call. “Sorry, you didn’t make it.” As I sat gloomily in the kitchen, I imagined my try-out buddy getting picked up by all the popular senior cheerleaders and celebrated with vaseline in her hair, marker on their face, and other humiliations. Lucky! 

My mother considers this a blessing.

I was cut again in college. The list was posted outside the cross-country coach’s door after a grueling run on a freezing cold Idaho morning before the sun was even up. No conversation, just my name missing from the posted list.

That was TWENTY YEARS ago this fall and I can still feel the sting. I can still smell the cold Idaho air and the faint whiff of cow. I can still see the stars that twinkled on that morning. I can still remember what I prayed for…God, please let me run fast, please let me make this team. Please help me run my best.

I didn’t.

This is the stuff that stays with you.

Alas, not everyone can play or run on a college level, but by that time I could scrape my dreams off the Idaho track and keep going.

But for the kid who gets cut too early? That’s stealing dreams.

DSC_0407That’s not to say we shouldn’t strive for a high level of play.

That’s also not to say there shouldn’t be tiers.

But for every kid who wants to play, let them play.

This fall, Cope tried out for the girls varsity team soccer team. She was so scared she almost bailed. I pushed. Don’t not do it because you’re scared. That’s something you’ll always regret. 

After a week of a grueling two-a-day preseason, her name was on the list. “I can’t believe I made it,” she said, dazed. She’s young. She acknowledges she has to work on her ball handling.

You know why she made the team? The coach rewarded her preseason “hustle.”

Life lesson = guts matter. Grit trumps talent. Hard works = dreams come true.

I weep. I thank my lucky stars for such a coach.

AliciaslidesThis isn’t Cope – it’s Alicia. And it’s just a sweet shot. Um, you want to talk about grit and lessons on the field?

DSC_0413I love this photo. When Cope was devastated after a game (she’s incredibly hard on herself) this awesome team rallied.

(you wouldn’t believe how much begging I had to do for Cope to let me post this pic:)

Mentorship, compassion, kindness, love, courage, resilience

Life lessons right there on the soccer field

nelson And then there’s this guy. Lucky boy, he got his mom for a coach this year. (And once again I feel terrible because it’s really hard to coach and get good pictures of him.)

This year was a life-changing year. All summer he worked his tail off. He was obsessed with the world cup and Messi, watched his Youtube soccer videos, read about “the greatest soccer player in the world,” inspired that Messi is only 5’7.”

He practiced and practiced and practiced. He was never without a soccer ball. Okay, he did sleep. Once.

He started playing with me at summer soccer. Gerry, a boy’s varsity soccer captain went out of his way to make my boy feel good about his game. Free, life-changing mentorship.

In one summer my Nellie Mak was a tremendously better player, impacting the start of his eighth grade year. He had momentum. His confidence blossomed. He became a leader.

In our little town, at our little middle school, we don’t make cuts. And even though it creates some logistical headaches, everyone plays no matter the skill level.

But there are thousands of kids just like my son that get cut from their school team. So sad.

DSC_0074This year I had 30 kids. With only 11 kids that can play on the field at one time, is this a challenge? Uh, yeah.

Did we have the best year ever? Yep.

Do I want to keep all of these kids? YES. A million times yes.IMG_5537Because if there is one thing I’ve learned as a teacher and a coach, it’s this: human beings are remarkable. They’re ability will constantly surprise you.

DSC_0002With enough hustle, grit, and a little athletic ability mixed in, the kid who never played soccer before becomes a solid high school recruit.

For kids, athletics starts out as fun. But coaches are fired because they don’t “win.”

What are sports for?

What if we approached athletics as a learning environment, where attitude and effort counted as much as height and natural strength?

Seth Godin says, “When you’re six years old and you try out for the hockey team, only two things are going to get you picked ahead of the others: either you’re older (it’s true, check this out) or you were born with size or speed or some other advantage that wasn’t your choice.”

A seventh grader recently told me, “Adults say that winning doesn’t matter, but that’s always the first thing they ask – did you win?”

As a coach, I always try to remember: soccer is so great because it’s so FUN. Because it’s hard. Because it requires so much mental and physical effort. Because you get to play with a TEAM – those that are better than you and those you are better than. You get to make plays, learn to do the Maradona – you get to kick something! How FUN is that?

DSC_0041Some of my kids who I thought just weren’t very good last year showed up this year and they suddenly KNEW HOW TO PLAY SOCCER. All that dreaming over the summer, brain development, growing and kicking and running and world cup analysis. Coordination improved, dribbling clicked, bones, muscles, balance, the ability to see the field, anticipation – all of these things take time.

If I had cut them last year?

“What if we celebrated the students who regularly try the hardest, help each other the most and lead? What if we fast tracked those students, and made it clear to anyone else willing to adopt those attitudes that they could be celebrated too?”

IMG_5358Can’t you see their potential? 🙂

As a side bonus for coaching, you’ll get to ride THE BUS! Forget the field, this is really how you get to know a kid. I would tell you about “secret circle,” but sorry, I’m sworn to secrecy. Anyway, you probably don’t want to know.DSC_0697Our last game season was a friendly match-up on the turf, under the lights. It was the culmination of a near-perfect season. Lucky, lucky us – TURF! Screaming fans! All our dreams came true!DSC_0147Here’s my Brynnie-the-Pooh. She loves the game so much she laughs when she dribbles. DSC_0189Soccer makes stars shine in her eyesbrynne1 DSC_0230 DSC_0171 Perhaps you’ve heard me mention a few times how much I love this game?DSC_0417 And this guy. He just happened to come walking across my camera lens!DSC_0137The youngest roams during all these game. I hope she loves soccer some day, too. Right now she’s soft, sweet, and easily wounded. She could go either way. It depends on what kind of experience she has at an early age. I hope it’s a good one. Please don’t steal her dreams.

Recently Julia wrote of the origin of the word “compete.” We often connect compete with battle. Beat, destroy, annihilate, kill.

It really means:

compete: verb from Latin competere to seek together, from Latin com- petere  to come together, agree, to go to

Wouldn’t it be awesome if we saw team sports that way? Seek together. You’re right, Julia, that sounds so much better than “attack.”


The Start of it All


We said our good-byes to late night summer nights and jumped right into fall. What a leap! We are busy going from one thing to the next. Before school could start however, we had some shopping to do.

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Paige found some beautiful mushroom accoutrements and Brynne found this…she was not impressed. I can’t even write the word I detest it so much. Anyway, we did not purchase the lovely little undergarment for my fifth grader.


Mama managed to get one more soccer game in – in the pouring rain!

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To get pumped up for his last year in middle school, Nelson watched Rocky IV. My brother, Eric, waxed poetic about the great cinematic creation and ended the tribute with…”I’m not ashamed to admit I wiped a tear from my eye while writing that.” As you can see, we take our sports seriously.

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And then we really were off to school. Cope was inside eating bacon when I took the annual school photo. The tradition of four darlings in a row is totally ruined. On the first day, Nelson and Brynne scampered off to find friends, but at least there is one who still allows a photo with her mama. I’m including her shoes here because she wore these the first week. A little worn, but still perfectly good shoes, wouldn’t you agree?

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One of her friends though, deemed them unacceptable. “Ew,” she said. “Get some new shoes. Ew. Get some new clothes. You’re supposed to wear new clothes on the first day.” After school, Paige frowned while telling the story, but she later decided someone must have been having a bad day in second grade 🙁

Brynne, however, got her some fancy shmancy shoes.

And picture 3 is included because Mom is DETERMINED to pack snacks the night before school.

I’m already failing. I can’t do it. It’s a wretched late-night task. Can’t a girl just watch Jack Bauer without thinking about carrot sticks and applesauce?

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As the youngest, Paige does a lot of waiting around for siblings. Here she rolls around the floor waiting at Brynne’s eye appointment. I was wondering if it was socially acceptable to do the same. She got back at me by getting strep throat this week so I had to wait on her.

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Before school started for eldest child, we trotted to the big city so I could get those red Bean boots I’ve been drooling over. Now that I’m teaching a class on campus, I can justify such purchases, no? Red galoshes are probably not what you stylish urban dwellers wear, but come on, they’re red!

Well. Apparently, I am not allowed to simply TIE the shoelace. I have to do this thing curly-cue thing on the end and leave it untied. After my first effort, Cope shook her head sadly. “Oh, honey, no.” She really called me honey. And then a daughter tied her mother’s shoe. We have now come full circle. Sniff.


After school, these are my peeps. Oh my goodness, what a TEAM we have! I love them so much. Our skills are mad good, sure, but we are also KIND and SUPPORTIVE. Ah, the athletic field; one of the best classrooms in life.


Putting up the nets


I am now back to being the bag lady: snacks, Barbies, water, shoes, dolls, pencils, gum, soccer lesson plans, whistle, dog treats?


Cope has been playing some intense soccer as she tries out for the varsity team. Before school officially started she spent a week living at Hogwarts in the dormitory! Away from ME!

We had many text exchanges.


My children love my compassionate, nurturing, texting tone.

Now tell me, are you off and running, too???



Family Competition

In general, it’s probably not good to be too competitive with your family members.  Especially if it’s always one-sided, not fun, and the outcome is bawling and tattling.  On the other hand, many a great athlete credits an older or younger sibling for pushing them so hard.  Mia Hamm, women’s soccer great, comes to mind.
Sometimes, family competition is quite motivating.  For instance, when Cope’s 7th grade co-ed team played Nelson’s all-boy soccer team?
I’ve never seen Nelson bring his A-game like he did.

No way was his sister getting to the ball first.

“Hi Cope.  My ball!”  Cope was thoroughly put out.

That little boy in the goal.

I almost gave a half-time speech, “This team is NOT going to beat you…” but unfortunately, we were down 2 players, and missing key players to make anything happen.  Basically the 5th graders kicked our 7th grade booties.  I thought Cope might throw herself into the Blackwater she was so mad.

And then there was the other competition where my 8th graders played Gregor’s high school boys JV2 team.  “You’re going down,” I promised.
“Try to control yourself,” he said.  “No kicking the benches or throwing tantrums.”
We even had 2 hired refs!
It was so cold the kids could hardly feel their feet, hands, cheeks, or any other body part.
They felt awesome though, to play high schoolers.
Our winning streak ended right there and Gregor was quite gracious.  Unlike I would have been 🙂

My middle school players are in white.  Proctor in Green.  No way were they going to let us win this one.  I was so proud of my kids.  It capped off a great season.

Even though she was only a 7th grader, the other coach and I agreed – Cope had to get on the field to play her daddy’s team.  Intimidated and wide-eyed, she did awesome.

Other competition:  Pumpkin decorating.  Luckily, they all took home a prize at the church trunk or treat.  Everyone was happy.  Except Paige who forgot hers in the trunk.

Does this honestly work for any family?   It is such a cute dish that I inherited from my mother-in-law. Filled with Halloween treats.  
Sitting on the counter?  Yeah right.  There was grabbing, hiding, hoarding, and a scramble to get it first!  Before it’s gone and someone else gets more than you.  Piggies.   Talk about family competition.  It’s put away now, until G and I are on our own, fighting over the last Twix bar in our eighties.
We are covered in a foot of snow and it’s still coming.  It’s beautiful.  I texted my running buddy at 4:47 and went back to bed until 8:30.  Quite possibly a highlight of my life.  Tomorrow is Turkey Day, where we will show great gratitude for all the blessings we have been given.  We will be polite and gaze around the table, thankful we are all there, eating and laughing together.  I love it.  
There will be no family competition.  
Unless it involves that last piece of turkey sitting in the fridge for a late-night turkey/cranberry sandwich. 
Game on.

Dear Simone,

Dear Simone,
I know New England is hard to understand.  I am often befuddled and I’ve lived here for fourteen (!) years.  I know, I know, it’s not supposed to snow until at least Halloween has passed.  Being from Camaroon, I’m sure you’re one freezing college student, but remember, New Hampshire is the state you wanted to come back to, right?
You do have long underwear, right?
Foliage mixed in with a snowstorm, it’s rather breathtaking, no?
Paige told me to start driving and stop taking pictures!
I have to keep stopping because the turkeys are crossing the road, trying to escape before they become Thanksgiving dinner.

Yesterday Paige and I heard five shots go off and a little while later a man walked by the side of the house with a gun.  Thankfully, he wasn’t carrying a dead turkey. Run turkey run!  
I am not a vegetarian, by the way.
Paige wants to know what happens to turkeys when it snows?  Where do they go?
The pumpkins on the porch are in a state of shock.

Brynne’s advice is to make a snow baby as soon as possible.  Sneak silverware, bowls, cheese cutters, and cookie cutters out of the house before mom notices.  When the snow melts (as it surely will!) make sure to forget to pick up all silverware and metal parts so Daddy can run them over with his new lawnmower.

Amy’s advice is to go for a run.  Really?  Really.

Paige’s advice is to run around in the snow like a crazy girl.  Make sure not to wear proper winter attire so you can stomp around the house having a fit because your toes are freezing cold.

Nelson and Cope’s advice is to pray for a school delay.  Sorry children.  The roads were okay.

If there has to be school, then Nelson’s other piece of advice is to make soup.  It will warm you right up.  Chicken gnocchi or spicy sausage with basil.  Oh my goodness.  Which do you prefer? 

Or make pumpkin muffins with cream cheese filling from  They’ll cheer you right up.  Hard to make in a dorm room?  Where do you live?  Paige and mama make deliveries!
My last piece of advice comes from Coach.  It’s all the advice you’ll ever really need to survive New England snowstorms before Halloween is even here.  It will get you through all those tough times, the finals, late night study sessions, two-a-days, or a daily practice.  It will keep you right there on the straight and narrow until you get to where you want to be.
Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose

couldn’t resist.

Love, Amy

Doing the Hard Things

It’s a hard balance knowing when to push your kids and when to back off and let them make their own decisions.  They are getting older.  The decisions are less about physical harm (you will get burned if you touch that stove!) to more emotional, social, and moral.  It’s especially hard when the consequences are painful but you know they need to learn from it.
This was the case a few weeks ago when Nelson was going through a rough patch with basketball.  He’d had a tough day of soccer, then basketball, and then fell on the ice.  He said his knee hurt, he limped, and he absolutely COULD NOT play in his game.  Though I do believe his knee was sore, I suspected there was a larger issue.  I thought he was nervous and just wanted to forget he had ever signed up.
My dad with Brynne on his lap…thank goodness.  Watching sports with my two little girls can be such a treat (not).
The big day came and Nelson came home from school.  Nope, leg was still lame, couldn’t play.  I had been thinking about it all day, had discussed it with Gregor, and decided that he should have to at least try.  There were tears, anger, “I can’t do it!”and mom and dad saying, “You just have to try.   You’re part of the team.  If you really can’t play then you can sit on the bench with your team.”
“I don’t WANT TOO!”
“Tough.  You’re going.”
I have to say that I’m a rather impatient person when it comes to illnesses or injuries.  It’s a weakness I’m working on.  
But I made him go.
Then I watched from the sidelines.
Was it the right decision?
Nelson was happy when I wrapped his leg with an Ace bandage.  It made him feel a little more secure and he got some attention from his teammates.

And then…he was off.

He played the whole game.  Afterwards, when we asked if his leg hurt, he shrugged and said, “a little.”

There are only six boys on Nelson’s team.  He is not the best player.  He is not the worst.  He does not practice on his own every second he can get, like some boys do.  He is small, is not overly aggressive, and he hates to lose.  He takes it very hard.
In this case, I think we made the right call.  We made him do something that was hard.  And it worked out.  I think it was good for him.  I want my kids to do hard things.  In fact I want a big sign in my kitchen saying, “We Do Hard Things.” 
But it won’t always be my decision.  I’m still not sure I have the right balance.  In high school my parents let me quit track.  To this day, it’s my biggest regret.  I threw away a lot of opportunity when it really mattered.  I failed in that decision, but I also learned from it.  I think it made me stronger, more resolute about the kind of person I wanted to be.
It’s hard, this parenting thing.

Fall Soccer

So now it’s my kid’s turn to have some soccer fun.
This weekend marked the end of fall soccer for my kids.  It’s been so much fun but I’m exhausted and ready for a break.  I was Cope’s coach again this year for the 5/6th grade girls.
What was so great about doing it for two years is you see the great growth the girls make in just one year.  We moved these two girls up last year when they were only in 4th grade – they’re that good.  Danika on the left is going to be a varsity goalie someday, and Katie B. on the right is going to dominate the field on the varsity level.  Not only, that, but their attitudes were something I wish everyone brought. We had quite a bit of drama this year….GIRLS!
We had practice every Tuesday after school.  I would leave the house at 2:30 with Paige and her lunch box full of snacks.  I’d pick the kids up from school, drop Nelson off at daddy’s football field to play, and bring Brynne and Paige down to the Blackwater Field from 3-5.  Cope liked to walk with her friends.  Luckily, there is a playground and the girls were really good about playing.  Sometimes Paige would wander over, without her shoes, and want me to hold her.  Overall though, they were so good.
Then, games were every Thursday night and every Saturday afternoon.  There was a lot of travel this year.
Cope of course was on my team.  What a great year she had!  She loved it so much she’s begging me to play year-round – indoor this winter.  (This makes me so happy 🙂 She liked playing center defense and was good at it.  That position requires settling the ball in a stressful situation and then distributing it well.  Her dad saw her play and suggested we try her at center half.  I think that’s the hardest position on the field because you control the middle.  You again have to settle the ball quickly and find an open player to pass to. 
But as a midfielder you also have to run, run, and run some more.
She was nervous when I put her there.
She even cried and yelled for a sub more than once.  “I can’t do this,” she cried.
But after a pep talk and some perseverance, the magic happened.
She was awesome.
And she found her position.  Good girl.
This is one of the reasons I love sports.  It can be scary and it can be hard. But when you find that it, you feel it, you know it, and you own it.
She came away with a lot of confidence.
And here’s my Nellie-Bell.  He had a great year on the 3rd/4th grade team!  It was fun to see his skills improve.  He had quite a few goals and is already signed up to play with some buddies on an indoor team (in addition to basketball!)  He had practice every Wed. night and a game every Saturday afternoon.  Can you say logistics?
The team bench.  In between kung-fu moves and wrestling. Hilarious.
A future Gatorade ad.
Off he goes.
His coach was so great.  Boy am I glad for good coaches.  Jeff taught the boys to play, have sportsmanship, and gave everyone equal playing time.
After a game, there is always time for leaf-jumping

The team after a good win.  Aren’t they cute?
This is the Andover Beacon photo.
Our tournament this weekend.  Thanks goodness I didn’t have to drag the other kids.  Daddy had them during parent’s weekend.  What a trooper.  The tournament was a blast despite 40mph winds in 40 degree temperatures.  It was a round robin and we played 5 games, 25 minutes each.
My girl
And here’s the latest soccer player in the family!  Brynne thought it was ok and only had to go every Saturday morning.  She missed half the practices we were so busy.
Brynne liked this part of practice the best!
So, there it is.  Another year of fall soccer come and gone.  Boy oh boy do I love it – cold, wind, drama, fatigue, wins, losses…bring it on.  We’ll be back for more.

Summer Soccer!

It’s back!  Summer soccer, that is.  For us, the mom and the dad.  Gregor and I have been playing pick-up soccer for years with this bunch.  As soon as PA is done for the school year, Monday and Thursday nights are game time.  (It’s a great Family Home Evening Activity!) Proctor faculty play, local students play, all levels and abilities welcome.  Carr field.  Oh…it’s too much fun.

It had been one whole year since either Gregor or I had put on a pair of soccer shoes.  I felt rusty, but it came back.  What do the kids do the whole time?  It’s a little over an hour of self-entertainment and I have to bring something tasty to bribe them.  Paige is finally old enough to do pretty well.  Except for when Paige wandered out of the neighboring cemetery by herself, I trust the kids to watch each other.

Paige gets in some soccer skills of her own…all those touches on the ball…they add up!  10,000 hours might make her a pro.

All my girls know how to pose.  Paige believes in barefoot running training.  She’s always taking off her shoes, inside or outside of the house, car, or field.

“Play with me, Daddy,” she says.  We have lots of moms and dads play.  This year Gregor is NOT going to get hurt.

Now this guy is Ross Young.  He’s a superb runner and athlete.  He gives me lots of advice.  Last year was his first year playing soccer.  While he did wear soccer shoes on the field, he put these on his feet afterwards.  What are those?

Ross is also practicing barefoot running.  These are actually water shoes he got at Wal-mart for $8!  Have you read this book?  It’ s been sitting on my bedside table for a year after Ross recommended it…I’m going to get to it.

“A Hidden Tribe, Super Athletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen.”  The title alone is intriguing.  It’s about a man discovering a hidden tribe of super runners.  That run barefoot.  And unlike the wealthy Americans with their expensive shoes, they don’t have injuries.  A must-read, I think!

Here’s Alan McIntyre, a great endurance athlete and organizer of our fun pick-up parties.  His wife Sarah just started playing for the first time.  She was a rockstar!
We play soccer for fun, for competition, for that thrill.  As soon as the ball is in play and I start to run, I remember why it’s such a great sport, the most popular game in the world.  It’s not something I have to gear myself up for, make myself do.  It’s not a chore.  It’s too much fun to be that.  But it’s not easy either.  It’s one of the best workouts out there because of the short sprints you’re constantly doing with little recovery time.  It’s speed training, I tell myself.  The first night we played my watch said I ran 3 miles.  Last night, the golden goal went on forever and I ran 5 miles.  You can’t be lazy.  It’s hard, it can be scary with the ball flying at your face and Gregor trying to take you down.  (He’s not nice to me on the field 🙂
This morning my back is stiff, I have a blister on my big toe, and my quad feels pulled.  But never mind, see you Thursday!


Winter Widow No Longer

The beginning of basketball season brought out the planners…three people in the family with heavy duty schedules.
Nelson and Cope had practice 1-2 x week and 1-3 games x week.
Gregor had practice everyday except for the days he had games:  2-3 x week.

Nelson played on the 3rd-4th grade boy’s team.  Wow.  What an improvement from last year.  A friend gave him a pair of REAL basketball shoes he had grown out of.  Big time.
These are bad pictures but the lighting in basketball gyms is pretty poor.
Getting the ball and going for a run
Here’s Gregor’s team.  He had tons of talent but it was a difficult year for many reasons.
When they were on, they were awesome to watch
Gregor, Assistant Coach Scott, Assistant Bench Coach Nelson with our senior, Ben.  We’re going to miss this guy.  He’s moving on to play college ball.
We take our losses hard
We watched a lot of games this season.
I uh, feel badly because I can’t find any pictures of Cope!  I know I took some.  She did play.  Really.
Another season done and we head into spring.  No one is signed up for a sport!  I feel free.
But maybe Nelson would love lacrosse…