I Love to Watch You Play

By John Kessel | Nov. 19, 2011, 1 a.m. (ET)

As my last child winds her way through that last year of high school, somehow juggling five AP classes, two varsity sports with captains practices and road trips, peer counseling, friendships that have endured 3/4th her life on this remarkable planet….I keep thinking on how much I am going to miss watching her play. That has always been my line to the kids after their competitions. I love to watch you play, for it is true, and because it stops the coach in me from coaching, and gives them the chance to talk about what they might want to discuss about that contest, and even practice, if anything.

Play…Sword battles in the living room, sidewalk races in front of the house, bunk bed string and pulley communication devices, foam noodle helicopters, cutting down our Christmas tree together, Chutes and Ladders and every other game on the planet earth…volleyball and lacrosse since 4th grade, skiing in the trees, bike ride races, camping and card games, we have played and played and played….

How did I get so lucky to have a daughter like I have, many have asked. One that gets along and who is very close with her brother? I remember a mom at a lunch during a qualifier, watching Mac and Cody interact, asking….”Do they always get along like this?”….I did not need to answer, they just laughed, said yes and went back to goofing off together.

Looking back, I believe it was a combination of pushing curiosity, rewarding effort over outcome, traveling, sports, good music, friends, and trying things… I also think that my training in biology helped let the risks and randomness of life take place without my constant intervention or worrying. I firmly believe that the explosion of antibacterial products is going to backfire soon, with superbugs that use their faster evolution process to get us sick at a new level. For those new to my blog, I urge you to read www.nationofwimps.com and www.freerangekids.com to know where I am coming from….

Curiosity, as a single parent, kids fighting, or both crying can overwhelm your capacities….I became VERY good at saying “Wow, would you look at that!” and then asking question about whatever I had redirected their tears towards…It could be anything, the airplane vent or seat table, an ant crawling on a wall, or just a picture never seen before….throw in questions or crazy off the wall stories about said “that” and I generally avoided the tantrums and meltdowns that seemed to plague some of those around me….

Rewarding effort over outcome, was reaffirmed strongly when I read Carol Dweck’s Mindset, a book I have mentioned before but why not again…my story there harkens back to elementary school, where Cody and Mac both had team projects due on a Thursday, and when they checked with their other 3 teammates they discovered that no one else had done their part….So with the help of hot cocoa and just being up with them, but not doing any of the project for them, my kids each finished the whole team project by themselves. That meant a 2 and 3 am finish, and one short night of sleep.

On arrival at school, I waited till the kids had gone into their classes, and went in to speak to the principal, a dear friend Nancy Saltzman (just a Milliken National Principal of the Year award winner, and fellow CC classmate), to ask for her help in getting the kids ‘homework for the next day, without alerting the kids. That night, after the kids went to bed a bit earlier than usual, I pack our winter clothes and ski gear into the back of my Yukon. The next morning, we headed to school as usual, only to “miss” the exit, and then….a story from dad on how proud I was of the hard work they had done 2 nights ago, and that we were skipping school and headed skiing together, homework in hand for the weekend of course, and without any care about the grade, yet unknown, their projects might receive.

That triggered one of my US Paralympic cohorts, Cindy to story tell about the time she went outside her comfort zone as a parent. With her 16 year old son, she headed to three weeks in Europe, using the words “ YOU PLAN, I PAY, WE PLAY . Her son’s “planning” was mostly looking at a train station departure board, and, thanks to Euro rail passes, adventuring to a new city and country, without a hotel or real plans at the next stop. I reminded me of one of my favorite Olympic stories…where Cody, Mac and I were watching the 2002 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremonies, and I said “Wouldn’t that be fun, to go to the Olympics together someday…” Cody then solemnly said, holding my face and looking at me intently…”Dad, that would be the single most exciting thing in my life…” Sigh. A phone call to the Richards family in Provo (who were going to be in Las Vegas for the President’s Day Tourney and without tickets, but with a place to stay at no charge, we adventured to Utah, missing just two days of school. Driving in, we saw a sign to the Olympic hockey venue, and just went to look at it, only to find out a double header was just about to start….we waited till the end of the first period, made a more than half price offer to a Swede with tickets in hand he was trying to sell (it goes better when kids come up looking plaintively with cash in hand), and caught two great games at well below ticket face value cost… Bought tickets off the street for cross country skiing and got lucky again, catching two events for the price of one, as a day’s event were rescheduled to that same day and ticket. So here are my kids with the 50K team relay guy from Japan, whose ski pole snapped at the start, and who skied the whole first lap with just one pole…and still almost made the medals….That was yet another story about effort over outcome that sport told my kids without me having to say a word…

Music and travel – While they often went hand in hand, again it has been an eclectic mix they have experienced together – over 30 states, including driving and camping way north of the Arctic Circle on the Alaskan Pipeline. They play volleyball up there, based in Coldfoot, Alaska, where the principal stunned me by noting their one school district is 62,000 square miles… They have played volleyball and gone to schools in Mexico, Canada, Egypt and Fiji – hanging out with the locals so much they would say they did not feel like tourists, but as if they lived there. Most of these trips, east to west coast, have been by car (CLICK HERE for my collection of team travel games that came from these journeys), and thus music is also woven in to those thousands of hours on the road. I have over 100 music DVDs, as I wanted the kids to SEE the performers I liked and listened to, when possible. Throw in the change in technology and some iPods, and you have a lot of song lyrics and musicians my kids know well.

And friends? There is where they have made good choices, with a bit of parental guidance along the way. Looking back, I think my taking my lunch break to do school recess, so the teachers could meet over lunch, was a fortunate but impactful part of friendship counseling and guidance. It also was a pretty good workout, keeping 10 different swingers flying high, as once you did the tenth, swings number one and two were chanting “Mr. Kessel, Mr. Kessel” just to make sure they got reflown into the skies. I recently learned a good teaching idea on bullying/mean friends that I want to share. Tell the kids to take a nice clean sheet of paper, and to be mean to it…bully it…crumple it up….and then tell them to flatten the paper back to “new”…. I will miss the kids’ friends coming over to the house for after school snacks, homework sessions and sleepovers, and hope that my kids can keep their friendships alive as long as I have been able to with my schoolmates…

So if you have young kids in your family now, a strong suggestion is simply to hold your kid’s hand as often as possible, as there will come a time they don’t want to… I still am lucky enough to hold my daughters hand or arm as the case may be as her homecoming court escort. Still, those days of walking to and from the school yard with your childinhand (yes, a subtle reminder to visit www.childinhand.org and help our volley outreaches there…) are memories that last a lifetime. And…to Mac, in advance of this final run to a championship, I just sent her one of my very favorite Paul Simon songs, that even made the Rolling Stone ‘s Top 500 songs of all-time list… Go listen to “Father and Daughter” and you might make it a favorite too…

The story of Mac’s high school final season ends well…They ran into crosstown rival Coronado again in pool play and in the finals, along with some good teams like Silver Creek, Durango, and Windsor along the way….and defeated them all 3-0. Seeing her play with her friends and teammates one last time and win it all en route to a 31-0 season was wonderful. Seeing them doing the first match of the morning all division Chicken Dance was almost as good as watching the dogpile on captain Janae at the end. Coach Dave Barkley noted in the newspaper how much the kids just love to play and compete. So true. They love to play. MaxPreps ranks them in the top 100 in the nation, and that is fitting – she and her teammates worked hard and long for their fourth straight title…and now the adventure at the collegiate level begins...I am missing the school assembly honoring the team, as I am in Little Rock Arkansas, speaking at the state ArkAHPERD convention, and doing a clinic for the Delta Region, which is so capably and creatively run by Joe and Joanie Williams. Such is life as the sole provider, but then again, I had already seen her play…and i loved it...

John Kessel Blog


The following comments were made on our previous web platform and have been transferred here to maintain the historical record.

On November 22, 2011 Kenny Gass wrote

Your thoughts are right on the mark....and it goes by so fast. I've had the pleasure of watching my two daughters play since the 6th grade...they just finished their junior and sophomore seasons in college (fortunately at the same school). One more year for my oldest, two more and we're done...it's hard to wrap my mind around that. Thank you for your time in Little Rock...I took some great ideas home from the Delta Region clinic! Kenny Gass Delta Force Volleyball

On November 22, 2011 Lissa wrote

My oldest daughter just finished as a Grad Assistant coach at the college were she was an all american middle blocker for three years. Both of my girls played college-and it's over! All too fast. I am filling my volleyball addiction by coaching 13's in USA club ball. John summed up the feelings I have gone through as my daughters progressed to the next level of volleyball. I LOVED WATCHING THEM PLAY. I know I will love watching my 13's team, too. Volleyball truly is a life long sport.

On November 25, 2011 Joe McCloskey wrote

Hi John.... Wonderful to hear that Max is taking the next step in her life. I agree that it is important to be family oriented and take the time to do things with the children. Some of my fondest memories are with my daughter and our car rides to Club vb practice (and tournaments)at 12-13's level. We would talk about anything and everything under the sun. I miss the talks now that she is in college in Washington, DC, however she has a new group of frinds and still talks about our stories and car rides together during our vb times. Keep the blogs and info coming for we appreciate it our here is Pennsylvania. (JMCC)

On November 28, 2011 John Kessel wrote

Linked below is a VERY important video, filmed in May, 2011, from the Aspen Institute session of a Sports and Society Roundtable with Scott Blackum, USOC CEO. It is about activity (or sadly the doubling of the lack of it), sport – Olympic, Paralympic and below, youth competition, connecting the silos, best practices, safety, the Amateur Sports Act, and more as we head into 2012. 64 views is amazingly low given the importance of this topic... check out, if your time allows, the other Sports & Society videos like Against the Grain and Virtual Secrets, but this video below is a must watch….I promise you will learn some valuable insights into the USOC and NGB world….http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Q8Sz5Hla2fs At the same time, Chuck Rey sent one of these two very interesting reads about women in the world, in response to my most recent blog on “I Love to Watch you Play…” (linked here if you missed it… http://usavolleyball.org/blogs/growing-the-game-together-blog/posts/3367-i-love-to-watch-you-play ) http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/161/louis-ck-on-female-culture http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/161/branding-for-girls-advertising-for-women At the same time, the USOC has had some articles on diversity which I have shared with my staff and felt you should be aware of as well. McKenzie will have four years of leadership development in college ahead, and it is part of her world to come, that both the articles above also tie into very well. http://www.gazette.com/sports/hoping-128796-new-change.html http://www.gazette.com/opinion/skin-129101-introduces-call.html http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1994-11-14/sports/9411140031_1_usoc-president-leroy-walker-pan-american-games-sports-minorities Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving. Thanks for the kind words Lissa, Kenny and Joe!

On November 29, 2011 ajb wrote

As usual I forward all kinds of things from your blog John, the travel games are great to have. I ordered up the Free Range Kids book awhile back. Excellent! You will get a bunch of satisfaction as your kids move on and ultimately do some coaching too....and when the team they coach, wins???wow! You are blessed with your kids for sure! Thanksgiving indeed! a

On December 03, 2011 Lily Fernandez Richardson wrote

Reading this blog brought back some many wonderful memories with my children. Thank you! Your blogs have helped me become a better parent, leader and coach keeping me focused on what really matters. Keep doing what you're doing John. Thanks for the call out for Child in Hand!

On December 05, 2011 Mo Gray wrote

Thank you for putting into words what so many of us feel but aren't as eloquent in capturing on screen. I thoroughly enjoyed your clinic and the time you took to allow us the "feeding of the minds". Thank you.

On April 02, 2012 Barry Wheeler wrote

John I could not agree with you more! I had the pleasure of coaching my 2 sons and a daughter in sports. The boys in track and my daughter in volleyball and track. The times we spent together traveling to the meets and games, all the practices an camps were some of the best times that we had together. Since coaching and teaching are such lucrative professions, most of our family time came at sporting events instead of vacations. My boys were successful in track as they were all-State. My oldest in Hurdles and youngest in the 3200m relay. My oldest went on the run hurdles at Harding University, DII, Searcy, AR and my wife and I would take trips to see him run both indoor and outdoor. What a joy to see him compete in college! Our daughter was a standout volleyballer and trackster. She did the usual volleyball stuff with club and camps and all the other stuff her coach/dad asked for her to attend. I was very fortunate to see her compete at State track meets and coach her team (she tore her ACL second match of the season) to a Class 2 State Volleyball Title. Sadly, she was in a fatal car accident just 3 weeks after winning that state title. When your child is gone...you REALLY miss watching them play and compete. We do however have many matches and track meets on video and she was a camera hog and toke many pictures, mostly of herself with friends in the frame. So when you mentioned about holding their hand when they're little or holding they're arm when you escort them, those are some very special moments. My advice is to take as many photos and videos that you can. You never when for sure your child's time will come!

On April 06, 2012 John Kessel wrote

Barry, so sorry for your loss. Both my kids have had anaphylaxis and beem saved by fast medical response (and yes both now carry epipens)so I have had the message delivered powerfully - my dad always said, take lots of pictures, and to anyone reading this, do just that! Thanks for your comments and for being such a great parent...

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