How Learning To Speak 'Athlete' Changed My Relationship With My Teen

by Ashley Johnson
Once I Learned To Speak 'Athlete,' Communication With My Teen Got So Much Easier: mother and son pos...
Courtesy of Ashley Johnson

I had some time this morning as I waited on my son to try out for the high school soccer team. But instead of catching up on Season 3 of my friends’ latest exploits on Facebook, I got out of my car and took a walk.

Oddly enough, I gained some serious life perspective while getting in my steps.

You see, my son is 14 right now and about to begin high school. Our ability to communicate is tough on a good day and completely non-existent on a bad day. But today, somewhere between band practice and the soccer field, I think I figured out the root of our problem – we don’t speak the same language. I am fluent in “nerd” and he’s well-versed in “athlete.” Let me explain.

When I attended this same high school, I focused on foreign language, reading books, arts and humanities, and music – specifically band. (I played the French horn.) I attended sporting events but my primary purpose revolved around playing the school fight song. So, it seemed appropriate that as I began my climb to the top of the school parking lot, I encountered members of the marching band. They chatted and honked their horns, quite literally, on their way to the practice field. And by practice field I mean a dedicated parking lot striped with white paint to resemble a football field.

I tried not to stare at those kids as the band director explained how to move backward with quick, tiny steps while simultaneously supporting the tone and quality of their notes and remembering their music. Marching band is hard. It takes a lot of focus and concentration to do so many things at once. Interesting… my brain thrived in that environment. I knew where to go and what notes to play, all while keeping an eye on the conductor and the person in front of me. It seemed natural.

As I rounded the edge of the faux practice field, the shrill of whistles and thuds of contact football interrupted my journey down memory lane. What an abrupt shift. Instead of young men and women moving in unison, playing delightful music, tons of guys clad in helmets and maroon shorts ran, zig-zagged, then tackled a bright blue padded cylinder. The coaches yelled instructions across the actual football practice field and the athletes did what they were told.

Courtesy of Ashley Johnson

*Light bulb over my head*

No wonder my son and I have a hard time communicating. We’re coming at it from two totally different perspectives – languages, if you will. I am explaining all the parts of a situation in great detail and reminding him how the pieces fit together into one harmonious melody. I want to engage him in critical thinking and have deep conversations about the nature of things. He’s programmed to reply with, “uh-huh.”

It dawned on me, in the grassy no-man’s land between the football and soccer fields, that my son and I needed to meet in the middle of this language canyon if we were going to make it through high school with our relationship intact. I still had a few minutes before try outs ended, so what better time to learn the basics of speaking “athlete?”

I stood at the edge of the soccer field and listened to how the coaches communicated with the team. (Don’t worry, my son couldn’t see me. OMG that would be so embarrassing!)

Here are a few key phrases I wrote down for future use:

“Come see me” – What you tell the kid during practice or an activity. It means the coach wants to talk to you once you’re finished with your task.

“This is what I need from you” – Follow the statement with specific instructions and/or actions.

“You’re not at your best today. What’s up?” – Coach language for “I can tell something is wrong with you. Here’s your chance to talk about it.”

I started incorporating these sports phrases into our home life and discovered my son opened up a little bit more when prompted by familiar words. It makes total sense. This is what he’s used to hearing at every practice and game. I can’t believe it took me so long to figure it out.

Now, could someone add a foreign language credit to my school record, please? I earned it!