This Might Hurt a Lot

Author: Maraya Steadman '89, '90MBA

According to a flyer in my inbox, I can send my teenage athlete to a facility that provides training and recovery services for professional athletes. The recovery services include a Canadian physical therapist (not sure why the nationality is a plus), infrared sauna (I had to look it up) and a Power Plate. I know what a Power Plate is because I saw one advertised at the mall. It’s a vibrating disc that costs more than my first car.


The equation I’ve come up with from reading the flyer is training + competition = injury = recovery services. That’s not much of an equation because it has too many equal signs in it, but I don’t know how to write it so it makes more sense. I did solve the “how much does this guy charge” equation. For $2,200 per month, my son can stand on a machine shaking the 12-year-old molars out of his skull while hoping he gets to see Patrick Kane, who has won three Stanley Cups with the Chicago Blackhawks.


My teenage athlete plays lacrosse a few months out of the year, but mostly he plays hockey. Both are contact sports. A friend recently asked me, “Don’t you worry?”


I am not comfortable talking about my fears. I don’t mention the physical reaction I have when my son gets slammed into the boards, elbowed in the head or cross-checked in the face. I don’t mention the prayers during games or the candles lit during tournaments, candles in six countries on two continents, candles at the Grotto: “Keep him safe.” I don’t tell my friend how I felt when the doctor told him that, based on the CT scan, his season was over.


I don’t talk about it. I just answer the question.


“Yes. I worry.”


Then she asks, “Why do you let him play?”


I don’t answer.


My son has been seeing a trainer to help him recover from his injury. The trainer tells me that when it comes to acute injuries, there’s nothing you can do. A bad hit, a twisted knee, it happens, it’s all part of the game. More than 3.5 million kids under age 14 receive medical treatment for sports injuries each year. Two million high school athletes get hurt annually. Your only option is to tell your kid they can’t play sports — contact or non-contact, doesn’t matter. But other professionals say it does matter. Professionals like the well-publicized Dr. Bennet Omalu, featured in the film, Concussion, who say letting your child play contact sports is child abuse. These professionals feel I should tell him he can’t play hockey.


He tells me, “Mom, I love hockey. All I want to do is play hockey. All day. Every day. I don’t want to do anything else. I just want to play hockey.”


“Good for you. Now get up and go to school.”


After school, I will drive you to hockey.


I have watched teammates go into convulsions after a bad hit. I know families whose children have missed entire years of school. I have witnessed children leaving the ice on a stretcher. I know kids who have suffered life-altering injuries. And yet, I let him play.


My son’s trainer isn’t fussy about letting kids play contact sports. But he does tell me that he feels the “chronic stuff” is preventable. My son’s injury is chronic, an overuse injury. I never considered myself to be “one of those parents,” the kind whose kid would get an overuse injury. When he was younger, my son played multiple sports. He still spends hours shooting baskets and riding his bike around the neighborhood with friends. But for the past five years, he’s also played hockey year-round. A sign in his room reads, “There is no off-season.” Maybe that makes me “one of those parents.” Maybe my son being sidelined is my fault. I’m the one who bought the sign.


I know he takes his bike helmet off as soon as he is out of the driveway. I still let him ride his bike. I will let him drive a car, even though I know he will take risks with flashing red lights and train crossings. I know risky behavior is part of being a kid, being a teenager, growing up. Sports equal injuries, and contact sports increase the risk of serious injuries. That’s an equation I can understand. But I also feel that adversity is a part of life. Life leaves scars, the kind that come from taking risks. I want my son to live his life, find his “happy” and take some bad hits. But not too bad.


“Why do you let him play?”


I don’t believe in raising children in a world without flashing red lights. I let my son play contact sports and engage in risky behavior because it makes him happy. That’s as good an answer as I can come up with. It’s also a good definition of bad parenting.


Keep him safe. Let him be happy, but keep him safe.


Maraya Steadman, who lives in a Chicago suburb, is a stay-at-home mother of three.