Mark Kennedy: Pause in youth sports creates eerie void for Dad

·3 min read

Aug. 28—For the last 16 years, our family life has revolved around youth sports: a seemingly endless calendar of practices, games and out-of-town tournaments.

Soccer, baseball, lacrosse, basketball, track, cross-country — our two boys have done it all.

A friend at work once warned me that one day it all would end. Dad-to-dad, he said, life would feel empty for a while.

I nodded for a second and processed the unhappy thought. Then I immediately launched into a description of a game from the night before.

Now, years later, I know what he meant. It's like the moment you step off a roller coaster and your knees vibrate. I've been feeling curiously unsettled for the last few weeks.

Then it dawned on me: For the first time since 2004, I'm not carpooling kids to sports practice any more.

Our older son, a multisport athlete in middle and high school, left home this week for a second year of college in Birmingham, Alabama. After briefly flirting with the idea of pursuing college soccer, he decided that would limit his academic options.

Meanwhile, our 14-year-old son has decided to take a break from club soccer — his main sport until now. He may still play school soccer in the spring, but for the moment he's sampling other things.

So, here we are, paused from team sports for the first time since our oldest son, who is now 19, started playing recreational soccer at age 3.

I still remember his first game. He scored two goals, and I was elated. I was going through our lock box this week and came across a video disc labeled "First Soccer Game." I started to take it home to watch, but changed my mind. I'm always a little sad when he goes back to school, and I figured this video would put me squarely in the Kleenex zone.

His last soccer game was in the 2019 TSSAA state semifinals, a 2-1 loss. There were tears, not because of the loss but because he realized it was the end of something that had been a big part of his life.

By then, I had realized that my own feelings were twisted up in our sons' sports, too. I'm competitive, but not athletic, which is a dangerous combination for a sports parent. At the end of my son's soccer career, I could barely watch a game because it sent my blood pressure through the roof.

It was a love-hate deal. I loved the idea of high-level competition, but I couldn't bear to watch it. Now, with sports out of the picture for a few months, my pulse rate and stress have come down, for sure.

Frankly, our boys seem a little less stressed, too. In club sports, winning is expected. This can cause stress on players, coaches and families.

With no kids games to attend, I've become a regular at professional soccer venues around town. The fact that we seem to have two thriving professional teams in Chattanooga, Chattanooga FC and the Chattanooga Red Wolves, is amazing. I get to feed my soccer itch by watching them.

I'm sure a time will come when I get wistful again for youth sports.

Wise people tell me that's what grandkids are for.

Email Mark Kennedy at

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