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I’m So Proud of My Daughter for Opting Out of Basketball

There is no better feeling as a parent than watching your child pursue their passion. Nathan, our reserved 16-year-old, morphs into an affable, focused, wide-eyed player on the soccer field. Our daughter Maddie routinely harnesses all the energy in the room and unleashes it on the basketball court. Every last-second goal, successful free throw, intercepted pass, and inventive assist is etched in my mind and I am so proud of my daughter and son for their efforts.

I will never forget the moment when 8-year-old Nathan walked off the soccer field and put his arm around a frustrated teammate, coaxing him to return to the pitch. Or when middle school Maddie made her first three-pointer. These public displays of compassion, commitment, and effort fill us with parental pride.

But this winter, it was Maddie’s off-the-court decision that made me prouder than anything she’d done during competition.

COVID-19 made 2020 the year of impossible parenting decisions. Do we allow our children to hang out with friends? If so, inside or outside? In our home or at the friend’s house? Is it okay for them to play school sports? We were comfortable with Nathan and Maddie playing soccer because it was outdoors. But, what about transportation to and from competitions? Would it be safe for them to be on the bus? Every dilemma turned into an hour-long discussion. And things only got worse as we approached 2021.

Maddie’s primary sport and outlet is basketball. She had a wonderful experience playing in middle school and was looking forward to her 9th grade year. As parents, we were hesitant to let her return to the court, to say the least. We were quietly hoping that the state or district would cancel the season. It’s so much more difficult to bow out when the rest of the team will play on.

We understood that masks would be required during practice, so we allowed Maddie to start the season with her team. She came home from practice, excited about the coach and her teammates, though she did comment on how difficult it was to do sprints while wearing a mask. Still, basketball practices were providing a break from all the screen time and isolation of remote learning. We felt okay with our decision, hoping that if community spread worsened, basketball would be put on hold.

As we moved into 2021, it became apparent that the team would likely be traveling and competing with other schools. This led to several days of conversation with the whole family.

We were back and forth in our thinking.

The team hadn’t had any positive student cases, and all of the players were taking the safety plan seriously. Spread among children isn’t as likely as it is among adults. But, we are heading into winter, and more people will be inside, which will likely lead to greater community spread.

On and on it went. We included Maddie in our decision-making process, asking her what she thought. Initially, it was clear she just wanted to play, but as we crept closer to competition time, she started to waver.

Teens Making Tough Decisions

On our way home from practice one day, I asked her again, “Have you thought any more about the upcoming season? Mom and I are still torn.

Maddie took a deep breath. “I really want to play. It’s hard to think about not playing while all my teammates compete,” she said. “But I keep thinking about how the hospitals are struggling and filling up with COVID patients, and it doesn’t feel right to be playing a contact sport right now. I don’t want to be part of the spread in our community.”

I was overwhelmed. I was so proud of my daughter. Still, I felt her loss, knowing that she wouldn’t be playing basketball during her freshman year. I would have to wait a while to see her hustle and scrap for loose balls, pat her teammates on the back, and smile after making a layup. But that would have to be okay.

I don’t know if we are making the right decision. Maddie’s team may go on to play without any positive COVID cases. I certainly hope that’s the case. Regardless of the outcome, I’m so proud of my daughter for making the choice for herself. And I’m thankful for her reminder that it’s not about me or her, it’s about all of us.

David Rockower is a teacher and freelance writer. He has published articles in The Washington Post, Education Week, Your Teen for Parents, and is a regular columnist for State College Magazine. His book is titled The Power of Teaching Vulnerably: How Risk-Taking Transforms Student Engagement.

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