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The Best Way To Be A “Sports Parent”

by Bradley Matthews

Youth sports are a major part of many kids lives — and a major touchstone of American parenting, from soccer moms to dads that coach. Sometimes, however, sports can be a pressure on kids, many of whom end up associating victory on the field with parental support off of it.

This conundrum prompted Alan Williams, father to two young kids, to write Little Teammate, a guide on how to be the best sports parent you can be. Read our interview below to learn more!

What inspired you to write this book? Why did you choose the sport of baseball?

In a conversation with my wife one day, we were thinking about what we wanted our kids to know before they ever played their first games in sports – we had 2 kids under 5 at the time.

In doing so, I thought about the constant pressure that I sensed during my work with high school athletic programs – teenagers that seemed worn down from feeling like that their parents love was predicated on their performance. Perhaps a lot of this pressure started not in high school, but when these kids were really young – miscommunications, broken expectations, intense conversations. Then I thought about how my own dad and how he encouraged me in my sports journey.

So the main idea behind this story is for the first child-parent conversation in sports to be all about love – not about a kid’s performance, but about their being – as a son or daughter. The Little Teammate – through a home run and strikeout – learns that he is unconditionally loved by his father. I chose baseball because I believe it is a young athlete’s first real opportunity to experience exposure in sports – you can’t hide in the corner – you’re at the plate with your bat and you’ve got to figure it out – there is no gray area – you either hit the ball or you miss the ball. Life lessons abound.

Describe your process of writing a children’s book. What are the things you think about, and what is the process you use.

Well, one afternoon I opened up a word document on my Mac and started writing. My process is more about immersing myself in what I’m working on. There is a certain sense of singular focus that is required I believe to write any book. Given the season of life that I’m in, with kids and running a food manufacturing business, I’m thankful that this book was shorter than my first book by 220 pages – thankfully, I was able to find enough pockets of time to make meaningful progress and finish it.

When I speak or write, I use a thought block system – key words or phrases trigger certain points or stories. These “trigger words” end up serving as my outline and how I usually begin my process. To me, much more important than any sort of process is just a stick-to-it-ness to have an idea – and then to execute on that idea to completion. A skill I’ve learned along the way is to be able to flex – to recognize when something isn’t working – to not be married to what I thought it was supposed to look like – knowing when to plow through, but also when to go down a new path – this is paramount in writing or business. The biggest lie in writing is that you have to have all of your ducks in a row before you begin. I think you just have to go for it.

The most fun part of this project was working closely with the illustrator of the book – Stephen Marchesi — to bring the Little Teammate to life. As an award winning illustrator, Stephen had specific process of developing the main character, story boarding, developing detailed pen drawings, and then finally painting. My challenge to him from the beginning was to create an old school, timeless, over-achieving little kid using vibrant colors for the uniform and backgrounds. He nailed it for sure and given that he was a former Little League baseball coach, it made for a most meaningful collaboration.

A constant theme throughout the book is the idea of parental unconditional love. Do you believe our society fosters this type of love with our children?

No. But I don’t think any parent would ever say that they don’t unconditionally love their children…we live in a broken world full of sinners whose actions often speak louder than words. Perhaps there is an undercurrent in our communication sometimes that says to a child – you need to be more, you’re not there yet, why can’t you just get it right? Because the culture screams that acceptance comes from achievement – not a bad thing in many areas of our lives, but not the dynamic we’re looking for from our parents. As a son, I just wanted my parents to love me where I was, not where they wanted me to be.

For that reason, the Little Teammate story is countercultural – a story that says give everything that you have: Be ready, do your best, and have some fun…but at the end of the day, know that you are loved – in a world where you always have to prove, “you have nothing to prove with me”. This is freedom – not freedom to slack off or give half-hearted effort, but freedom to go for it and try to be the very best version of yourself—confidence to play to win.

What would you like readers to take away after reading your book?

I think I’d love the kid to experience the same sort of surprise / joy that the Little Teammate feels when he finds out that how much his Dad loves him whether he hits the ball or misses the ball.

As for the parent, I think it would be pretty cool if the story makes them think about their own narrative – experiences with their mom and dad… for better or worse. And moving forward, I’d hope that the story makes them thoughtful about the way they approach sports with their kid. Ultimately, my prayer would be that this book might even connect on a deeper level – that the story of the gather and son would serve as a reflection of how we are loved in Christ.

Favorite Movie: Hoosiers

Favorite TV Show: Shark Tank; Tonight Show w/ Jimmy Fallon, and SNL

Favorite Band: Brooks & Dunn, Pat Green – my wife and I closely follow all country music.

Favorite Food / Drink: Mexican food (Carne Asada) /Margarita (in Texas), Moscow Mule, Dr. Pepper

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