Balancing act

Combination of youth sports and social media tends to create a disconnect from the real world

Messenger photo by Britt Kudla A player dives for a ball during a 12U youth softball tournament at Rogers Park last season.

While doing a typical Sunday night social-media scroll through pictures of youth teams winning tournaments and precocious individuals slowly but surely conquering the sports world, one particular post caught my attention because it wasn’t about either.

Andy Jepson, a former standout athlete at Manson Northwest Webster and Iowa Central Hall of Famer, admitted this on his Facebook page: “I usually post when one or both of my kids’ teams have a great weekend in one sport or another, but this weekend was a combined 0-6 on the baseball and softball diamonds. Both of their teams competed hard and very likely learned more today than other more successful weekends — even if the learning was that winning is way more fun. I’m proud of both of their teams either way.”

Andy is a good friend of mine, dating back 20 years. I still, to this day, know very few people who could reach his level in all facets of life. Jepson accomplished great things on the field, on the court and in the classroom at MNW and Iowa Central, earned a scholarship to play quarterback at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, spent some time in the Arena Football League, and currently coaches quarterbacks under ex-Fort Dodge Dodger Mike Woodley at Grand View University in his “spare” time. The valedictorian of his 1996 MNW class and an academic All-American at the collegiate level, Jepson is now a senior vice president of default servicing for Wells Fargo Home Mortgage in Des Moines.

Long story short, Jepson knows what it takes to succeed — and win.

But Jepson isn’t perfect. None of us are. And when he realized he had only been posting on Facebook when things were going well for his kids’ travel teams, Jepson took a step back and astutely reassessed. I really admired his sense of perspective — and vulnerability — in that moment.

Youth sports and social media are an interesting confluence of modern-day norms; we often rush to Facebook or Twitter and share what’s going on our own back yard. Of course, we’re proud of our kids and their accomplishments. Of course, when a family spends the kind of time and money many do on youth travel teams, programs and tournaments, we want to publicly congratulate them on a job well done.

It’s important — or even imperative — to remember, though, that no one should truly be keeping score in life outside of our own camp. Happiness isn’t about trying to impress others by selectively cherry-picking the wins or achievements of our children while leaving out the details of their losses or failures. Happiness is making sure our kids are happy and healthy themselves while growing and learning from their experiences — good or bad.

As adults, we might be able to understand, dismiss or even rationalize a dysfunctional environment at a given tournament, whether it’s parents berating other parents, coaches yelling at other coaches, or winning being demanded at unhealthy levels. Kids don’t always have the intellectual capacity or maturity to ignore such boorish behavior. And they shouldn’t be expected to, either. It’s up to us to emphasize the intangibles and set an example of sportsmanship — not the other way around.

Look, I love sports and winning as much as anyone. It’s my job to inform our readers when things go well in our community. With that being said, there is so much more to being on a team than the trophy in tow — especially at the youth levels. Many of the real stories and valuable lessons come from the struggles of adversity. Don’t shy away from that as a parent or coach, and don’t answer a loss on the field with impulsive reactions afterward. That only makes matters worse.

I don’t have everything figured out, and I’m trying my best daily to understand what’s best not just for my kids, but our Messengerland kids when it comes to athletics. We’re all learning as we go; the popularity of both youth travel teams and social media is still very, very new to all of us.

We can be competitive, yet civil. Demanding, yet respectful. Driven, yet appreciative. Serious, yet entertaining. None of these traits are mutually exclusive unless we allow that separation to occur.

And we don’t have to prove anything to anyone while keeping up false public personas on Facebook. We’re human beings, not social media profiles. No one has to sell an aura of invincibility, on-line or otherwise. It’s an undue burden to place on yourself and, more importantly, your kids.

Winning is entertaining, but not always sustainable. Perseverance matters more. Andy is passing that message along to his kids. We should, too.

Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached afternoons and evenings at 1-800-622-6613, or by e-mail at