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Family or Sports…What Comes First?



Earlier this week, New York radio talk show hosts Mike Francesa and Boomer Esiason separately commented on the news that New York Mets second baseman, Daniel Murphy, had missed the first two games of the season to be with his wife for the birth of their first child. Both criticized Murphy for leaving the Mets, with Francesa even stating that Murphy could have hired a nurse to help take care of his wife. Major League baseball allows players a three day paternity leave and Murphy only took two days. The fact that these talk show hosts would comment so negatively about this brings up a bigger issue for me. How important should sports really be?

Over the 33 years I have worked as a sport psychologist, I have heard many interesting opinions about the role sports has in our society. Let’s face it, sports has made athletes, coaches, agents and many other associated with it millionaires. Money and sports now are joined at the hip not just at the professional level but all the way down to youth sports. But, should sport be more important than family? I emphatically say NO. However, many others don’t agree.


When my sons were 11 and 13, they were both playing on elite soccer teams. Over Mother’s Day weekend, both of their teams had scheduled to play a tournament an hour away. The coaches of both teams stated that it was important to play in this tournament and emphasized that players who did not participate would be penalized in terms of their playing time in future tournaments. I did not agree with this philosophy and decided that my sons would not play on these teams in the future. It is almost a national tradition to have NFL games on Thanksgiving. The NBA highly promotes key match-ups on Christmas day. Athletic events are held almost every day of the year and athletes are expected to be there. However, several have protested over the years. Sandy Koufax refused to pitch for the LA Dodgers in the first game of the 1965 World Series because it fell on the Jewish holiday, Yom Kippur. Other athletes have done the same.


Several years ago an 8th grader tried out for and made her high school cheerleading team. The try outs were in April. After making the team, the coach informed that the girls that they were not allowed to miss any practices or games, unless they were in the hospital. Illness or family events were not valid excuses to miss a practice or game. After making the team in the spring, the girl’s parents notified the coach that their daughter would be going with the family on a cruise over the Christmas holiday to celebrate the grandparents 50th wedding anniversary. The coach told the parents the girl had to choose cruise or cheerleading team. She refused to budge and the girl ended up transferring to a different school, where she made the team. The new coach told her she should go on the cruise and not worry about her spot on the team.


In today’s sports world we talk so much about commitments, dedication, sacrifices, working hard to achieve goals of success and championships. But in the end, what really matters. To me it is family. Murphy should have been with his wife to experience the birth of his son. The 8th grader should have been with her grandparents on the cruise. There will always be another practice, game or team. The time to experience a meaningful family event may never happen again.

Your thoughts…

2 thoughts on "Family or Sports…What Comes First?"

Kiki says:

Dr. Jacobs,
I definitely feel that family and personal choices should come before sports. I was reminded of this recently as my son missed out on a really cool vacation due to his track practice. During Spring Break, my son had track practice scheduled every day. If students missed even one practice, they would not have enough practice hours to participate in the first track meet of the season. I discussed it with my son and he told me, without hesitation, that he couldn’t miss practice because he didn’t want to miss his first track meet. I was proud of him for being so dedicated. So we stayed home and didn’t join other family members at Spring Training in Arizona. Ouch! Fast forward to the first track meet … it was rescheduled due to weather. The coach went on to say that the rescheduling also took into consideration that a lot of students wouldn’t be able to participate due to missing practice during Spring Break! I was heart broken for my son. No one cared (or knew) that he made a huge sacrifice for the sport. He missed out on going on a family vacation and we may not have that opportunity again. Definitely not worth making those type of sacrifices especially during high school years.. My time with my son is precious as he’ll graduate next year so I chalk this up to a lesson learned in parenting. I have officially shifted my position and would encourage my son to not miss those meaningful opportunities for the sake of sports.

Sha Ali says:

Seems we just need to exercise a bit of common in these situations. Family should always come first and it always will with me. If it interferes with a game situation and some other player gets the start and elevates his or hers position on the team, then so be it. But, let’s not penalize the play that’s out for a family reason. We should never have a practice of penalizing athletes in these situations.

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