The holidays are about family, so here is a short post that reflects how family can be instrumental in character development through sports.

When I was around 12-years old, I was invited to try out for the ’71 Central Jersey Select soccer team. Select teams weren’t common back then and I was born in ’72, so it was pretty exciting. My father drove me to Mercer County Park in Hamilton, NJ to try out on a Sunday morning.

Early into the tryout, I recognized the competition was tough. The pace of play was faster, and the players were bigger and better than expected. I wasn’t playing well, so I did what I could to turn things around. I scrapped, hustled, and fouled. As my friend/teammate Mark Szalczyk used to say, “Kill or be killed, right?”

After the tryout, the coach told the players to remain if their name was called. If not, they were free to go. I felt pretty certain my name would be called.

I was wrong. The sports world served up my first slice of humble pie.

Walking off the field, I felt dejected. “How could this happen?” I remember thinking about the friends that I’d told about (or likely bragged about) the tryout. “What would I tell them?”

As I approached my father, I didn’t know what to expect. A school principal and superintendent, my dad was far more on the disciplinarian side than the warm and fuzzy type. “Would he be mad? Was he going to criticize my tryout? Did I waste his Sunday morning?” None of those questions would be answered on the sideline. When I walked up to him, he said, “Ready to go?”

The ride was quiet. I looked out the window and sulked. He drove. About five minutes from home, he asked, “Are you hungry? We can grab a cheeseburger.” Eating out was rare for our family in those days, so I agreed. We stopped at a small diner on Main Street in Pennington.

It was only 11 a.m. and they weren’t serving lunch. My dad suggested I try an egg sandwich on toasted rye bread. I’d never had one before. “An egg sandwich? What does that even mean?”

With the order placed, my father finally broke his silence on the tryout. He told me exactly what I had just experienced. The other players were better. They were bigger and faster, and I struggled to keep pace. “You gave it your best shot,” he said. “but it just wasn’t your time. Keep working and you’ll have your time.”

I can’t speak for his intent, but his words settled me, and ultimately, motivated me.

The order came out and I tried my first-ever, egg sandwich. I couldn’t believe how good it tasted. Scrambled eggs on toasted rye bread – pure genius!

Looking back, I don’t remember any rides home from tryouts when I made a team. I don’t really recall many rides home at all. But I remember that one – clearly.

My father was a perfect parent that day. He didn’t blame the tryout format. He didn’t call the coach’s credibility into question. He didn’t cry politics or start his own select team. Instead, he bought me an egg sandwich.

And it was the best egg sandwich I’ve ever had.