Being the father of an athlete is a challenging yet rewarding role. Last year, MomsTEAM designated the entire month as National Sports Dads Month and invited some veteran sports dads to share their wisdom by responding to a series of questions (the same ones we asked sports moms in May).
One of the dads we heard from was Richard Verlander, father of Detroit Tiger superstar pitcher, former Cy Young winner and American League Most Valuable Player, Justin Verlander.
With Justin and the Tigers battling the Red Sox for the pennant in the American League Championship Series, we thought MomsTEAM readers might like to see what Richard had to say about being Justin's dad, so we are reprising his interview:
MomsTEAM: Were you an athlete and what sports did you play as a youth (under 19)
Verlander: I was not an athlete, at least in the sense that I never played "organized" sports. I was, however, very active, always playing some kind of sport with my friends in the neighborhood. The days were full from dawn to dusk and almost always spent outside. As a teenager I was into playing guitar and was part of a rock and roll band. My heroes were the Beatles, Hendrix, and the Stones. Go figure.
MomsTEAM: What is the most rewarding aspect of being a sports dad?
Verlander: For me, watching our boys grow and develop as young men and to witness them embrace the life lessons that team sports can provide when observed and taught in the proper atmosphere has been very rewarding.
Things like leaning how to overcome adversity, self sacrifice, commitment and humility. In the case of our oldest son, Justin, the most rewarding aspect has been what he has done with his gifts and how he has handled success. Accolades such as a Cy Young Award and the American Leagues Most Valuable Player award are huge honors . From a parent's standpoint they offer an affirmation of the years of hard work and determination required to make the most of his God-given talent and reach the top of his craft.
The MOST rewarding aspect for Kathy (my wife) and I are the "off the field" efforts for the families of injured veterans, the surprise visit to a little girl with Cystic Fibrosis, and the time spent helping those less fortunate. To those who much is given much should be expected and it is Justin's work as an ambassador of good will for the Tigers and The City of Detroit, along with being a positive role model that makes us proudest.
MomsTEAM: What lesson has your sports active child taught you
Verlander: We have witnessed through our experience with youth sports and raising two great young men just how important parental involvement is as it equates to our youngsters' success. We have seen the vital role, which all too often goes unnoticed, that key educators, coaches, and other adult mentors play in their development. We also have come to understand that the most precious gift we have to offer our children is our time.
MomsTEAM: What is the most important lesson your child is learning from his/her sport?
Verlander: That everyone brings something of value to a team, and that collectively we are all greater than the sum of our parts.
MomsTEAM: If you could "flip a switch" and change one thing about the culture of youth sports what would it be?
Verlander: I really wish that parents could flip a switch that would take them to a time in the future, a time when their children are grown up and gone, so that they could realize and reflect on how great those early years were, and how special the days spent as a family, running back and forth to sporting events, traveling together, cheering and crying together and loving one another really are. Once those days are gone you can never get them back.
It seems that many youngsters today are always being pushed to perform at a level that is just beyond their grasp. Most youngsters who are involved in a team activity will never reach the pinnacle of the sport, but, as the father of an MLB superstar, I can tell you that my fondest memories of all are the summer days with me and my boys on the Little League diamonds.
The future will come soon enough. Don't get so caught up in tomorrow that you lose sight of today.
MomsTEAM: Brag a little: what have you done to make sports better for kids? Please share.
Verlander: My wife and I have served as volunteers for youth sports activities since the t-ball days. Coaching, team mom, concession duty, car pools and laundry detail for the better part of 25 years. We now volunteer our time speaking to schools, youth groups, and parents.
After retiring from the telecommunications industry in 2011, I have, along with my wife Kathy, enjoyed sharing our story about lessons learned raising our sons with audiences both young and old. The rewards from the audience are that, while many come to hear anecdotes about stardom, the big leagues, and "what's it like stories", they leave feeling that the session was about much more than that. As one told me recently, "I thought I was coming to hear about baseball and left feeling inspired, thinking this was actually about life...."
It has been rewarding to know that our message resonates with any group that embraces values emphasizing teamwork, sacrifice, and reaching for the best within all of us.
Verlander is the father of MLB Star and 2011 American League MVP Justin
Verlander. He is an author and speaker, and consults with parents on
the challenges and rewards of raising successful young adults in a
highly competitive world, sharing with parents, coaches, teachers, and
youth groups his thoughts about the
vital role they play in helping young people to follow their dreams, a
vision born from his belief that the gift of each child to be nurtured
his passion. Richard's recently published book, Rocks Across The Pond, chronicles his family's incredible journey from its rural Virginia roots to Detroit, MLB, and superstardom.
When they are not speaking, writing, or following their boys' careers, the Verlanders enjoy hiking, reading, and spending time at home with the family dogs. Richard is a car enthusiast and enjoys competitive driving. Both of the Verlanders also perform volunteer work in their small town in Virginia and still enjoy watching Little League baseball.