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Candy A. Westbrook: A Dear Football Mom column
Helmet Kisses

Dear Football Mom,

Our son’s high school team was in reach of going to state playoffs for the first time in school history. In the last game, he missed an extra point, and then with seconds left on the clock missed the field goal that we needed in order to win. Sitting in the bleachers that night, I overheard so many parents — friends of ours even — trash our son for missing that field goal. I could understand the kids doing that in disappointment, but the adults? It deeply hurt me and still does. At our last booster club meeting for the season, it was all I could do to show up and try not to cry. How do I handle this hurt that doesn’t seem to go away?

Ouch, that is some sting. If I had to guess — and I do a lot of reading between the lines in these questions — I imagine it is your son who feels worse than anyone. I’m sure he’s not too thrilled with his performance either. I can just see him walking the halls of his school, head down, feeling like the last toad in a dry well. His feelings are what really matters here, and I’m sure his feelings are weighing heavily on your heart.

The truth is if your child plays anything, at some point in time they are going to take the heat when things don’t go quite the way they should. Let’s pretend he made that field goal. Now he is walking the halls, head high, chest bowed out, and is the most celebrated guy around, known as the player who saved his team from defeat. Would you still be hurt? Of course not. The thing is, you have to grow some tough skin. Period. Besides, it takes a team to achieve greatness. Every player has to give it all and leave it all on the field. There is no room for sloppiness. They work, they toil, they become one. Team. No one is any better than anyone else. They are all equal. They win equal. They lose equal. If that isn’t being coached, it should be.

Your son did not lose this game. They all did. You’ve heard the cliché, it should never come down to one point, or one play or one field goal. Well, that’s true, even though it does a zillion times over come down to that one play in time. But that one play can leave fans either near euphoria or heart sickened. That’s what’s so great about football. Still, it shouldn’t have to come to one play.

If a team is well coached, then all the players share in this loss, and I do suppose most of your sons’ team know that. What about the wide receiver who dropped the ball on the 20-yard line, or the defensive player who missed the tackle and the opposing team scored? What about those players? Your son did not lose this game. Trust me, they all did.

Dear Football Mom,

We are scheduled to go on some official recruiting trips soon. What is the one question we should ask, and what should we look for when visiting these college teams?

You nailed it, “college teams.” What I’m about to ask you to do is very hard, but these programs are all business. Your son is a commodity, so you have to try to view him as a product. Try not to focus on their team, but instead focus on the academic part of this process. I assume graduation is the end game here, so make the emphasis on that. Instead of being blown away at the stellar weight and training facilities, be blown away by the state of the art study hall. Do they offer tutors and how accessible are they to student athletes? If a professor comes to talk to you, you’ll know this program purdy much puts its weight on academics. Tour the classrooms with great interest. Keep a steady stance and your cards close to your vest. It is all so much fun and so flattering that they are after your son, but you’ve got to play it cool. 

Stay tuned, more columns coming on this subject.