Basketball Was My Son’s First Love But It Broke My Heart

My son fell hard and fast for basketball. Two years later I was the one with the broken heart.

For two exhilarating years, my son ate, drank and slept basketball. I was his number one fan, and I loved it. There was nothing more exciting than being a basketball mom. Jumping up and down on the bleachers. Cheering at the top of my lungs when my son scored. Watching him gain new skills and confidence. Of course, it wasn’t all fun and games. I was also his designated driver, which meant I spent a lot of time rushing to and from practices and games. And, then there was the cost, which was almost impossible to squeeze into the already-tight budget of a family of 8.

My son, unlike most kids in the U.S. who begin organized sports by age 6, was a late bloomer. He didn’t start until age 11, but he jumped right in and quickly made up for it by immersing himself in the sport. I affectionately referred to him as “Basketball Ben.” And he truly lived up to the name. He was driven by an intense desire to first make the middle school basketball team and then play pro ball with the NBA. His determination led him to participate in a total of four teams—the first being a neighborhood rec team and the others being competitive AAU teams with local travel and tournament play.

Courtesy of Julie Raeburn

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The last team was my favorite. The coach was positive and motivating and he insisted that the players treat each other with respect. I’ll admit it was sometimes boring to watch so many hours of basketball, but the moms I met were kind and I quickly made friends. Also, since the practices were longer, I often had time to go shopping or take my other kids on a walk or to a scenic park.

What I didn’t know when I agreed to let my son play competitive ball is that most kids (about 70 percent) who play organized sports in the U.S. quit before they turn age 13. I never saw it coming, but that’s precisely what happened with my son. He was 12 when he announced that he was done with basketball. He said he had been thinking about it for a while but was afraid to tell me.

At first, he said he may want to play recreational basketball. A few days later, he said he had no desire to play basketball. At all. Ever. Not even the school basketball tryouts that had motivated him to pursue basketball so passionately in the first place. This was especially crushing for me as I was dreaming of the day he’d make the team and erase that sad, heartbreaking day the year before when he finished in the top four of all sixth graders but didn’t get one of the two spots on the team.

“Why are you quitting so close to the goal? Please tell me!” I demanded. His answer surprised me. “Basketball is just not fun anymore.” I pondered that answer for a long time, months in fact. Some days I still couldn’t believe he had given up basketball for good. I would ask him if he would reconsider joining recreational basketball in a year or two or maybe as an adult. He expressed no interest.

I didn’t expect to be so sad after my son gave up basketball. I mean it wasn’t my goal or my future. Why did it bother me so much? At the time I felt like I was the only woman in the U.S. grieving the loss of my son’s dream. A dream that had somehow—through all the sacrifice, miles driven, cheers, and pep talks—become mine as well. The time we spent in the car driving to practice and games was precious. Even the talks we had after a loss or bad game somehow bonded my son and me in a special way.

Courtesy of Julie Raeburn

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One of the hardest parts of life without basketball was seeing a friend or relative post a video of her son playing basketball on Facebook. I would feel sick to my stomach just seeing the image and couldn’t bring myself to actually watch it. I felt jealous of my friend and ached for what I no longer had.

Also, life without basketball wasn’t as fun or exciting. I missed cheering for my son. Talking with the other basketball moms. Getting out of housework on Saturdays to attend tournaments and games. It was definitely an adjustment. I had to figure out who I was without basketball. I had to start living for me.

With my free time, I have started writing and exercising more. Since I don’t need to pick up fast food as much, I’m also cooking healthier meals at home and have lost 20 pounds. Some nights I even get more sleep because I’m not driving myself crazy trying to get to all those practices and games. Most importantly, I have learned to let my son be who he is in all his uniqueness, and I’m giving him freedom to try out new things.

His most recent love is studying Latin and the Classics, and that led him to join an academic team where he competes for honors in Roman history, Greek history and Latin literature. In his first competition, he won seven awards, including several trophies and medals. Although there is no jumping or passing involved, he does get points for buzzing lightning fast and spitting out the right answer faster than the competition.

And, just in case you were wondering, I did catch Ben with his hands on a basketball the other day. Much to my surprise he was coaching his younger brother who is two years younger and dreams of making the middle school basketball team next week. So it’s possible that basketball may or may not be in my future. But I’ve given up trying to predict the future and am instead enjoying each of my children for who they are today.

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