Parental Encouragement: Being a Good Sport by Merlisa Lawrence Corbett

Parental Encouragement: Being a Good Sport
By Merlisa Lawrence Corbett

A few months ago my 17-year-old decided to quit the Winter Haven High School football team.

He made me so proud.

Not because he left football, but because of the maturity he showed in arriving at his decision.

He was heading into what would be his second year of playing football. After going through spring practice, he came to this conclusion: “I’m a decent football player. But I think I can be an elite rower.”

He had been a rower for three years before trying football. His decision to make the switch, so late in his high school life, took guts.

When it comes to children and sports, I’ve learned this: support and encourage, but allow them to come to their own conclusions.

That’s easier said than done. A certain amount of guilt and second-guessing comes with parenting.

My first choice for him was tennis. I love tennis. I play tennis. I write about tennis for Bleacher Report. So of course I wanted him to be a tennis player. I enrolled him in tennis lessons at age 5. It was too soon for him. He lacked the necessary attention span.

He started swimming competitively at age 8. Tall for his age, he excelled. Each summer he racked up more trophies and blue ribbons.

Being a swim mom was easy. I’m a morning person and enjoyed sipping coffee poolside. However, the once laid back summer activity developed into a year-round commitment.

Many of the meets, although close in proximity, took forever to get to. That’s because we lived in Arlington, two exits from the Pentagon. Any road trip outside the Capital Beltway could mean getting stuck in traffic for hours.

He enjoyed swimming. So I endured the traffic.

In Arlington County if a sport was not offered at the middle school, eighth graders had the option of participating on a high school team. My choice was lacrosse. He chose rowing.

As a sports writer, I had covered everything from harness racing to squash. I had no experience with rowing.

Yet here was my son, an eight-grader, on the Wakefield High School Crew team. Every day after school he would aboard a bus that took him to practice on the Anacostia River near the Navy Yard in Washington D.C.

I was excited about attending his first regatta, a meet on the Occoquan River. Imagine my surprise when I found out that attending regattas could be a sport in itself.  My casual clogs that I wore to many swim meets lacked sufficient shock absorption for the one-mile hike from where the rowers camped out to the finish line.

It never occurred to me that to access the grandstand on the other side of the Occoquan, I’d have to dip under tree branches and climb rocky hills. I learned my lesson. The next regatta, I wore hiking shoes.

Despite the early mornings—we left at 5:30 a.m.—I loved being a rowing mom.

Rowing is the ultimate team sport. Unlike football, which tolerates hot-dogging, in rowing, any free styling could render the boat inoperable.

Along with rowing for the high school, my son volunteered for Athletes Without Limits, a program designed to help athletes with disabilities excel in sports. He rowed with military veterans who lost legs in combat, and a pair who won bronze medals at the 2012 Paralympics in London.

He embraced rowing with enthusiasm. Instead of me dragging him out of bed like I used to for tennis, he was reminding me about upcoming regattas and team activities.

His face lights up when the talks about rowing. I remember when he described the rush he got while rowing on the Potomac River. He said there was nothing like viewing the monuments from the water.

It’s hard to believe that last year he nearly gave it up. That’s when we moved to Winter Haven.

In Winter Haven, football is king. There are no rowing teams at public schools in Polk County. I was prepared to drive him an hour away to row for the South Orlando Rowing Association (SORA). But it conflicted with football.

Although he never played football, he was always intrigued. New to town, I think the peer pressure got to him. Joining the football team was a quick way to fit in. He had to quit swimming.

I was not happy. He had been swimming so long and rowing was his life. Yet, his father and I decided to trust his judgment. We’d let him sort it out.

He gave it shot. He enjoyed the camaraderie and wearing the jersey around school.

But this spring, something changed. Perhaps it was the arrival of his senior year.

One day, he came to me and said he was going to tell his football coach that he was quitting.

I asked him why.

“I’m a decent football player. But I think I can be an elite rower.”

I immediately signed him up SORA, which practices on Lake Nona out of Moss Park in Orange County. At first, the coaches were skeptical about this former football player from Polk County. Most of the kids who participate in SORA were from Winter Park and Celebration.

But after one trip on the water, the head coach exclaimed, “Looks like we’ve got ourselves an oarsman!”

This summer my son participated in a two-week rowing camp at George Washington University in D.C. He also reconnected with Athletes Without Limits.

This September his first season with SORA gets underway. I have no idea of what the future holds for his rowing career. However, it’s clear, he’s committed.