Father (Thinks He) Knows Best
For this Westchester dad (and Examiner's Publisher), putting trust in his parental instincts proved to be music to his ears, in more ways than one.
A Message from our Editor:
It’s with great pleasure that I present you with today’s story, an essay from our Publisher and fearless leader of Examiner Media, Adam Stone. With its ample green space, high quality of life, and superior schools, Westchester is an iconic haven for those looking to start and raise families. So, parenting — and trying to be the “perfect” parent — is very much embedded in the DNA of life here. As the proud and endlessly devoted father of two daughters, Adam makes it look easy. One of my favorite aspects of my work week is the little slivers of parenting life Adam will share with me on the fly — whether it’s having a pizza party with the girls on a day when they’re home from school, playing a game with one while making breakfast for the other, or attending their after-school events. His joy as a father is at once infectious and inspirational — something you’ll get to experience for yourself when you read his reflections on figuring out how best to discern a parent’s interests for his children from theirs. Happy reading.
Robert Schork, Digital Editorial Director
Good morning! Today is Wednesday, December 15, and you are reading today’s section of Examiner+, a digital newsmagazine serving Westchester, Putnam, and the surrounding Hudson Valley.
Today’s Examiner+ is sponsored by Greca Mediterranean Kitchen+ Bar in White Plains.
Maddie and Adam
The youth softball player cuts the shape of a young pro, strutting to the on-deck circle with quiet confidence, twirling her bat for fun with the ease and dexterity of a baton artist. She unleashes a series of fierce and fluid practice swings.
Sporting a muddied red and white jersey with black pants, glistening from a day of sweaty game action, she sprints around the sun-soaked bases with studied precision, skillfully nicking the corner of each bag, hustling around the diamond with the intensity of an inmate running a jailbreak dash. Patrolling centerfield, knees bent in perfect ready position, she glides to flyballs in the gap, comfortably catching the yellow orb rocketed her way. All familiar sights.
What made this spring of 2021 softball afternoon different, however, was what I saw that day when studying the lithe, athletic beauty flashing her on-field skills at her final Fox Lane Middle school softball game. I saw a young adult who was done with life dominated and defined by softball. She just didn’t know it yet.
Call it a father’s intuition, call it a subtle look I saw in her eyes, but I knew it was an issue that needed to be addressed, despite positive outward appearances. Sometimes you love someone so much that you know something about them that they don’t yet consciously know about themselves.
Here in Westchester County, we’re all too familiar with parents who lovingly but misguidedly apply all manner of unnecessary pressure on their kids, in the classroom and out on the ball field. Highly competitive youth sports deliver uniquely wonderful benefits to kids, especially team sports. Those benefits are sometimes counteracted by well-intentioned parents who lose sight of what matters and begin to rely on the athletic achievements of their kids to fulfill their egos and social lives. It is also true that feeling a sense of pride and generating a sense of community through youth sports can and usually is achieved in healthy doses, despite what naysayers might insist. But, in my case, I started to wonder whether my daughter Maddie was still playing because she loved it or because she assumed it was the expectation to make our lives feel whole.
We had always bonded over baseball and softball. I helped coach her teams. Our family weekends were all about her tournaments. We had catches together, visited Cooperstown together, cheered for the Mets together. She saw how much my wife Alyson and I and our younger daughter Mia cared about her team and her teammates and the entire extended community of parents, player siblings, coaches, and beyond. How could she not feel a sense of obligation?
And hey, the data supported my hunch. A study showed around 70 percent of U.S. kids quit sports at age 13 because the fun factor fizzles due to overbearing parents and wild-eyed coaches. Thankfully, Maddie’s recent experiences had been exceptionally positive, absent the extreme histrionics of bad behaving adults. Her private club team through Elmsford’s GameOn13/Lady Fury and her middle school team were nothing but great and enriching in every way you hope, with wonderful parents, fantastic coaches, and kind teammates. But she was 13 and had been going nonstop for years. And there was that look in her eyes.
Today’s supporting sponsors are the Town of Yorktown…
…and the Peekskill Business Improvement District.
In today’s fast-paced, angst-filled world, it was worth stopping, taking a beat, and confirming whether a professionalized youth sports culture and all of its demands remained her priority. She had gained so much already from her participation in this local softball universe. Her impeccable work ethic, her supportive friends, and many wonderful childhood memories were earned through her involvement in softball, from the Katonah-based KLBS rec ball to the exclusive USSSA All American games in Jupiter, Florida.
I mean, listen, it’s become popular and cliched to bemoan the perils of today’s (admittedly crazed) professionalized, big business youth sports culture, largely a 21st-century phenomenon. But the commitment required also delivers participants a lifetime of valuable lessons. Maddie benefited immeasurably from her years of dedication. Was broaching the idea of opting out even good parenting? A teenage girl involved in a healthy activity. Was it wise to mess with that?
And wouldn’t it be exciting to see how living a new life would manifest itself?
As a family, we were also grappling with my sister Laura’s upcoming surgery and eventually realized that committing to another summer of softball was ill-timed and only made sense if Maddie remained passionate about the sport she’d been playing since first grade. We were ready to support her continuing. We were also prepared for her to step away.
After sitting Maddie down, and talking it all out, it became clear that this middle school student just assumed total dedication to softball 24/7/365 was fated into her teenage future. It’s not that she explicitly thought we required it, or assumed we would be disappointed if she stopped. It simply didn’t even dawn on her that a different lifestyle was an option. She was the girl who played softball. That was who she was.
But it wasn’t who she was. It was just what she did. She’s so much more. And wouldn’t it be exciting to see how living a new life would manifest itself?
“I can still play for the school team next year even if I don’t play for the Fury,” Maddie realized, a note of insight in her voice, a new light in her eyes. Yes, exactly, Alyson and I told her. You can play softball without it being your everything. It can be your something instead. In fact, if that is how it’s approached, my suspicion is ditching the year-round practice and competition can even unintentionally up the game of certain young athletes with the pressure dialed down.
Over the past five and a half months, a new world has opened up for Maddie. In addition to enjoying more quality time with family and friends, joining a laundry list of thought-provoking after-school clubs, and having more time to excel academically, she started to pour energy into guitar. It was an instrument she already knew how to use but didn’t always have enough time to play — largely due to an uninterrupted softball schedule, including self-imposed practice responsibilities at home.
That work ethic she learned from softball is now being applied to guitar — a new passion and priority, one that is totally her own, not a hand-me-down from dad.
While just enjoying guitar for guitar’s sake is what it’s all about, that pure, natural love she has for rocking her swaggy red and white Fender has paid dividends. She was picked for rock ensemble as a high school freshman at Fox Lane and, amidst this writing, was asked to play with an excellent area band, The Independence, a collection of local music teachers and teen musicians. In fact, in the picture from above, you can see Maddie rocking a solo to "Mars, The God of War," by The Beths, crushing a song she learned through the great Music in Chappaqua program, delivering a stellar performance at the Wainwright House in Rye last weekend. (Video available upon request!).
Having enjoyed a front-row seat to Westchester youth sports over the past half dozen or so years, I will say I think most local youth athletes are thriving in myriad ways as a result of their participation. This isn’t a story about opting your kids out of elite-level, highly competitive club team travel sports. I LOVE team sports. This is a story of one family’s experience and how, every once in a while, it’s best to take a breath, collect yourself, and make sure you and everyone in your orbit are spending their precious time the way they genuinely desire.
This life zips by, and there’s no more valuable commodity than time in our fast-spinning world. Make sure you spend each second right. We all know, deep down, what that means. Listen to that voice.
Adam Stone is the publisher of Examiner Media. When not running local news outlets or chauffeuring his children, Stone can be found on the tennis courts at Mt. Kisco’s Leonard Park, on his Ipad playing chess, or on the floor cleaning after his two dogs.
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