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Wins, Losses and Life Lessons in Youth Sports

Local parents share stories from the sidelines

Kristin Leong headshot

Published on: June 26, 2024

Youth sports baseball dad and son
courtesy of Gregg Greene

For Jennifer Jackson, a Puyallup mom of three and a second-grade teacher, school comes before sports, but it’s a close race.

Jackson has two 12-year-old daughters, Madisyn and Zoe, who are cheerleaders, and a 10-year-old son, Mason, who plays football. Jackson adopted Zoe in November 2019.

Jackson’s involvement with youth sports began in 2018 when Madisyn started cheering for the Benson Bruins Junior Football and Cheer program in Renton at the age of 6. That’s when Jackson began volunteering to help the team with snacks and practice supervision. At the time, Zoe was undergoing hemodialysis for end-stage renal disease. Her kidneys could no longer adequately filter waste products and excess fluids from her blood. This condition is extremely rare in children.

The following season, a kidney transplant for Zoe brought new hope to the Jackson family, and it meant that Zoe would be able to join her sister on the cheer team, since the family would no longer have to be at the hospital four times a week. Also in 2019, Mason started playing football at the age of 5, and Jackson continued to volunteer as a team mom. All the while, Jackson was also teaching and traveling to Portland twice a week with the kids for Zoe’s treatments.

Sacrifices of sports families

Jackson was raised by her aunt in South Seattle, together with eight other children. While there wasn’t always money for sports or extracurriculars, she says she was able to be part of the drill team in middle school and the dance team in high school. Despite money being tight, Jackson says her aunt always found a way.

For today’s parents, perhaps even more so than for any previous generation, balancing family life, professional responsibilities, and the time and financial demands of youth sports requires superstar-level organization and compromise. Expensive team fees, equipment tracking and hauling, and late nights and long weekends of practices and games that require endless schedule coordination are par for the course.

“Some days you have it — the meals are prepped, kids are in good spirits, all the work things are going well — and some days you just don’t,” Jackson admits candidly. “Some days someone didn’t get enough sleep or cleats were left at the other parent’s house. And we’re eating out again! It is in those moments, however, that you breathe deep and find your people. The other super moms on your team [are the ones] who you can lean on, laugh with and have a mutual understanding that this sports mom life is not for the faint of heart.”

Despite the challenges and occasional chaos, Jackson says she wouldn’t trade her family’s athletic lifestyle for anything. She and her kids find strength in their community of fellow sports families that are right there with them for all of the wins, loses and logistics.

"Youth sports football "
Madisyn, Mason and Zoe. Photo: Jennifer Jackson

A mom’s worst nightmare

During one of the last games of that 2019 season with all three kids on the field, the strength of that community was put to the test. Zoe didn’t feel well that evening while cheering. As she walked into the stands to rest next to her mom, she began to have a seizure.

As Jackson caught her daughter, several of the other moms in the stands jumped into action, grabbing blankets to lay Zoe on the stands and calling 911. While Jackson and Zoe were taken to the hospital, other families made sure that Madisyn and Mason were taken care of until they returned. “This is a testament to the village you cultivate as you sit at practices and games cheering on each other’s children and sharing in their success and losses,” Jackson reflects.

Lessons from the field for the classroom and life

The values Jackson instills in her children at home and on the field are mirrored in the teaching philosophy that guides her work with students.

“I have always called myself a teacher-momma from day one,” Jackson declares proudly. She says cultivating a growth mindset and having the grit to persevere through setbacks is at the core of her classroom’s mission.

She regularly reminds her second-graders, her three kids and their teammates that when things feel difficult in the classroom, on the field or in day-to-day life, that means their brains are not just growing, they’re building muscle memory that will support them the next time things get tough. She says that matters because it’s important that kids learn not only to show up for their fellow classmates and teammates, but also for themselves in the face of challenges.

Taking a page from the playbook of one of her son’s coaches, Jackson says that she’s learned that how you do anything is how you will do everything. “If you show up for yourself,” she says, “give it your all and respond instead of react when things don’t go your way, you are on your way to being the greatest version of yourself.”

Turning a Little League loss into a coaching win

Mount Baker dad Gregg Greene is not only a sports dad to two sons — 15-year-old Max and 11-year-old Sam, who both play baseball and soccer — he’s also fostering our city’s love of America’s favorite pastime as the vice president of marketing with the Seattle Mariners.

Greene played mostly soccer and tennis growing up and says that a bad coach drove him out of Little League when he was in kindergarten. Today, Greene says that one of the reasons he volunteers as a coach for his sons’ sports teams is because he wants to ensure that their experiences are different from the one he remembers as a budding baseball player.

"Youth sports baseball family Seattle Mariners game"
Max, Gregg, Elisa, and Sam Greene. Photo: Courtesy Seattle Mariners

As both a coach and a parent, he says, it’s essential to him that the kids have fun every season. “My practices usually involve candy, challenges at the end to earn a dollar and sometimes even water balloon batting practice,” Greene explains, adding that he measures success as a coach by how many players want to come back and play the next year.

When asked how being involved with youth sports has benefited his family, Greene reflects that the first word that comes to mind is “community.” “We’ve made lifelong friendships that wouldn’t have been possible without the boys’ athletics,” he says.

Greene echoes Jackson’s sentiments about the positive impact outweighing the sacrifices it requires to balance family life, work and youth sports. “It is a never-ending juggling act of ride coordination, travel time, uniform washing, snacks, weather reports, practice prep, lineups, equipment purchasing and ‘Where did I put my shin guards?!’ each and every week,” Greene says with the weary but determined optimism of a team dad. “But I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Making hotel grilled cheese and other surprising life skills

For Kent mom and ParentMap client services and design coordinator Angela Goodwin, when her son Jack fell in love with hockey at age 6, she didn’t know what he was getting their family into.

She admits to being naive at the time, having no idea of the time and financial commitments the sport would require. That was five years ago. Today, Jack is a serious hockey player at 11 years old, and while Goodwin acknowledges it’s not always easy to be a sports family, they’ve found their rhythm, and the benefits have been substantial.

One skill she wasn’t expecting to pick up: While on the road for games, she has mastered the art of dinner prep in a hotel room with no kitchen. Goodwin says that if you’ve never attempted grilled cheese with an iron, then you’re really missing out. She also says she doesn’t want to sound dramatic, but seeing her son’s love and dedication to the sport grow over the years has been awe-inspiring.

"Youth sports boy playing hockey"
Jack Goodwin doing what he loves. Photo: Angela Goodwin

As with Jackson and Greene, when reflecting on the gifts of being a sports family, fitness doesn’t come up. Instead, Goodwin emphasizes that hockey has not only taught her son how to bounce back from disappointments and the value of working collaboratively as a member of a team, but also shown her that the sport has given them invaluable opportunities for mother-son bonding.

Like the rest of our ParentMap team, Goodwin works remotely. Her digital schedule means that she is usually the parent to travel with Jack to tournaments, sometimes cracking open her laptop to send emails while sitting in the bleachers at an ice rink. “I cherish all the memories we’ve had and will continue to have experiencing these trips together,” she says.

All about relationships

Goodwin also notes that because Jack hasn’t yet found his close group of friends at school, she’s grateful that he has his teammates, to whom she hopes he’ll stay connected for the rest of his life.

According to Goodwin, the buddy benefits extend to parents in the stands, too. She says that hockey is a great way to stay social through the long, gray Pacific Northwest winters. “I could easily stay holed up in my house, but hockey doesn’t allow me to be the Netflix-binging hermit I could so easily be,” she says.

Love for the sports family life

“I’m sure some people think we’re crazy,” Goodwin jokes as she imagines what it looks like to non-sports parents who get a glimpse into the money management and scheduling magic that’s required of families with kids in youth sports.

“Maybe we are, but watching Jack follow his dream of being a hockey player has honestly been such a joy for us. His passion for the sport is really awesome to witness. And as a bonus, we’ve made amazing lifelong friendships, too.”

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