I was an athlete until the day I walked across the stage at high school graduation. Being from a small high school we traveled to play most away games. My parents, both employed full-time, never missed a single game. My father was one of the assistant coaches. They spent my entire childhood schlepping me and my sister to city-organized soccer games, then middle school softball games, and then finally high school soccer and softball practices and games.

I don’t say all this to brag about what a wonderful family dynamic I grew up with. I write this because it wasn’t until I had children of my own that I realized the sacrifice my parents made for me to play sports. My young children are currently finishing up a one-month soccer season organized through the local parks department, and I am worn out. It’s been a month of crockpot dinners, a lot of time spent in the van, and desperate last-minute searches for shin guards or shorts (it’s always the shorts that disappear!).

But I get it now.

I get why my parents worked so hard to watch us play sports.

I’ve been let in on a parenting secret: watching your children try something new and succeed in it is better than being a parent on Christmas morning.

I have loved watching my children play soccer. My oldest (who has played four seasons) has gone from the girl picking daisies and doing handstands on the field to a team leader who is willing to do her best and has even scored a few times. My son is a naturally athletic boy who dribbles well and high-fives his coach every single time anything happens. I see myself in both of them on the soccer field, and I love it.

Most of the time our children grow up before we even realize it. Personally, I can’t believe my daughter is turning eight this yearwasn’t she just a baby? But watching them practice specific skills over the course of a month gives parents a rare opportunity to watch learning in action. I have seen my children learn the physical skills of soccer: dribbling, shooting, passing, but I have also seen them learn about more important things like sportsmanship and teamwork. They learned how to act when they win, and they learned how to act when they lose. My children are more well-rounded people than they were a month ago, and I am so grateful for that.

Besides being an enthusiastic parent, I also was my daughter’s coach this season (something I eventually volunteered for after a few please-we-really-need-coaches emails from the sports coordinator). But playing soccer is incredibly different than coaching eight 6- and 7-year-olds. Most of the time our practices were a session of herding cats: there was grass thrown, little girl giggling, and a whole lot of “Eyes on the coach!” And yet, every single girl on that team improved this season. They were fun to watch on the field, and I’m sad to no longer have these bright souls in my life three times a week.

And that’s where the secret lies: it’s fun!

Watching your kids try something new is fun! Whether it’s 30 minutes of 4-year-old bunch ball or a well-trained high school soccer team, we as parents love to watch this physical and mental growth in our children. We can’t help but feel a bit of pride when our child does well, maybe scoring a goal or making a great defensive play. We are also there to support our children when they are frustrated or saddened about their performance. We teach our children, in those moments, that teamwork and trying your best are more important than the points on the scoreboard.

So even though this season is ending, sign me up for the next one. In fact, sign me up for the next 18 years (I’ve got a baby, after all). I’ll be the minivan-driving, fruit snack and Gatorade slinging, unapologetically cheering momma watching whatever my children love doing.

Because I get it now.

You may also like: 

It Matters More Than You Think When You Cheer For My Kids

Dear Youth Sports Parents: The Only Words Your Child Needs to Hear From You Are, “I Love Watching You Play”

My Son Will Never Be the Star, But He Loves Being Part of the Team

Haley Cole

I am a wife, a mother to 3 children, a speech-language pathologist, and an outdoor enthusiast. I enjoy playing and teaching music, hiking with my family, and binge-watching British TV.