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I Fired My Mom!

Spring college sports are about to get underway for my two daughters. I marvel at their dedication to being athletes and students at D1 universities. Managing their academics with demanding training schedules, daily trips to the trainer so that nagging injuries don't cut their seasons short, and making sure they find ways to have fun outside of their daily obligations are all part of being a college athlete. They have both done well to balance those demands.

I often reflect on the journey that got them to college. Ultimately, it was their hard work and dedication, both academically and athletically, that got them there. We made sacrifices on our end to allow them to pursue their passions. Their successes became our successes, as did their failures. We experienced their joys and heartaches. And we sometimes made decisions that were difficult and hard on everyone.

My oldest daughter will begin her delayed senior season of water polo. It is bittersweet to think that it will end in just a few short months. Her aching hips and misaligned knees will not miss the arduous practices. Her shoulders will be thankful to stop the grind, and the concussions and black eyes will cease to result from an off shot. Water polo is a grueling game. Watch it some time, and you'll appreciate the intensity. In the early days, the more intense and physical the game, the bigger the grin. We sacrificed family dinners for the hour-plus drive to practices. The week she got her license, we set her free to navigate Southern California freeways because she wanted to do it herself. I got four hours of my life back!

My youngest daughter begins her third year of college tennis. That has been a ride. Junior tennis is about as intense as it comes. We were lucky, though, because she had a fantastic coach the first six years she played: my mom. And then I fired her. Sounds horrible, right? There is no part of telling your mom she can no longer coach her prodigy granddaughter that is fun. It's awful. But it had to be done.

When my daughter started her tennis journey, my mom was her coach. And she was an amazing one. They always had a special bond. She played fun games and taught her the game with balloons and mini-racquets. I would sometimes come home to couches torn apart to build a make-shift tennis court in the living room. She was only two then (following her older siblings, who my mom tried hard to make like the game too; it only stuck with number three). She made the game fun. They would giggle and laugh and be silly.

She made that little girl fall in love with the sport. She kept it enjoyable and made her laugh on the court. The bond between the two of them made my heart melt. But I had always told my mom that if the lines between her being the grandmother (Oma) and her being the coach ever got blurred, being Oma would take precedence. My daughter started winning a lot, rising in the rankings, showing true ability. And that's when the shift began. My mom saw all the potential, natural ability, the ease of coaching her. But my daughter didn't share the enthusiasm off the court.

The lines got very blurred at fourteen years old. My daughter had an innate ability to play the game. She did not overthink; she simply played smart tennis without being told how. She couldn't tell you what she did, good or bad, or how she won a match. She just knew she did. I loved that about her. If a stroke needed fine-tuning, she would fix it without hesitation. She was coachable and admired by many for her impeccable court demeanor. You never knew if she was happy or mad. She was stoic to a fault. Many considered her the poster child for how to behave on the court. (She has become more expressive in college. Mildly so, but still.) Much of the credit for her success was given to my mom. And my mom relished the chance to impart her wisdom with other parents who wondered how she did it. If we went to a tournament without her, people would start asking where she was. They adored her.

So, imagine how hard it was for me to tell her that it wasn't working anymore. Why not? It didn't work because my mom became too obsessed with the game. My daughter was happy to work hard for the two hours a day she was on the court, but she didn't care much about tennis after that. I never shared her rankings with her, and she didn't seem interested. She didn't enjoy watching the pros play on TV (and my mom called every chance she could to tell her someone was playing on the Tennis Channel). Beyond that, she began to push her a little harder, expecting her to want to do extra serves or extra off-court conditioning. She thought my daughter should be more social at tournaments. She was happy in her bubble, not one to get caught up in the junior tennis drama, content to show up, play, and then go home. She was always nice, but she wasn't the social beast that her sister was. On the other hand, my mom loved the social aspects of tennis and wanted that for my daughter too. So even then, she would sometimes push. Push here, push there. It was the perfect formula for blurring the lines. It was a difficult decision. But in the end, it was the right one.

We were lucky to find a coach within a few months that fit well with her. He was a young Englishman just a few months off the tour. He was funny and kept it light when it needed to be. On the court, he pushed her hard, and she thrived in that environment. Of course, there were some hiccups along the way. I think that's expected with most teenagers.

In the end, as painful as the decision was, it was the right one to fire her. The two of them are still very close. However, if my mom watches a match, she has a hard time not making comments about her game or her strokes or questions what the coaches are working on. She is a bit of a tennis icon locally and has more gold, silver, and bronze balls from national championships than my daughter ever will. I will forever be grateful for her unwavering dedication and commitment to my daughter's tennis. It has sometimes strained my relationship with my mom as I find myself constantly mediating and buffering, although I don't mind. My daughter ended up at a fantastic university, forming friendships and bonds with her teammates that she never had as a junior player. She works hard on the court, in the gym, and plays for the team. She loves her college coaches and looks forward to hitting with her junior coach when she's home. She will even still go out and hit with my mom when she asks. My mom relishes that time together when they can laugh and giggle like in the very early days. It feels like it's full circle in those moments. I know neither of them would trade that time together, even if the years in between were sometimes difficult.

That's what we do as parents. We make difficult decisions that can be hard for everyone. We think (or wish) that when they get to college, all the complex parts will be over because they made it that far. But they aren't. They just look different. But we have all been there on this journey to college sports in some way, shape, or form. I am glad I survived! Ultimately, I am proud of my daughters and the two incredible young women they have evolved into through this lifetime sports journey. Here's to a great season!


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