Being a Sports Parent: There Is No Right Way, with Marcus & Aiysha Spears

By Josh Cupp

If you’ve picked up this magazine or are checking it out online, chances are you’re a sports parent. Between hours driving around to competitions and practices, wrapping ankles, and trying to coordinate your entire family’s schedules, it’s not always easy. Perfecting time management, understanding different coaching styles, handling injuries, and consoling our kids after less than stellar performances can be beyond arduous. 

I’m the parent of a 10-year-old sports crazed boy who would rather take extra batting practice than drop in a Fortnight session. My son, Francisco, plays organized baseball, tennis, basketball, and with his “hobby” sport of skiing, he regularly dominates black diamonds from Killington to Vail. You plant corn you get corn. I was an AJGA Rolex All American high school golfer. I followed with All Conference honors as a student athlete at Old Dominion University. My athletics career culminated with some professional success bouncing around mini-tours with a cup of coffee on the PGA Tour in 2000. I also coached NCAA DI golf for seven years at American University and the University of San Francisco.

With my background at all levels of sports, it must be easy to have all the answers when assisting Francisco with his athletic endeavors, right? Wrong. I know athletics, and I know my kid so that’s a great start. Certainly, I don’t inherently know all the right buttons to push, so I thought it might be a worthwhile venture to sit down virtually with two successful former professional athletes that are also currently navigating youth sports with their children.

I know athletics, and I know my kid so that’s a great start. Certainly, I don’t inherently know all the right buttons to push, so I thought it might be a worthwhile venture to sit down virtually with two successful former professional athletes that are also currently navigating youth sports with their children.

MVP Parent put me in touch with Aiysha and Marcus Spears. Aiysha is from Detroit, Michigan, and her collegiate basketball career began at St. John’s University in Queens, New York, and she finished at Louisiana State University (LSU). She went on to be selected 7th overall in the 2003 Women’s National Basketball Association Draft by the Washington Mystics. Marcus hails from Baton Rouge, and was an All American defensive end at LSU. The Tigers won a national championship in 2003, and Marcus went 20th overall to the Dallas Cowboys in the 2005 National Football League (NFL) Draft. Marcus now regularly graces ESPN’s Get Up!, and First Take, dishing out his perspectives on the largely unreported bits of the NFL, also known as the interesting takes that only a former player would be able to translate. Aiysha has started MomAgent, a business born out of using her immense experience with parenting athletic children aimed at helping others guide their children more effectively. More importantly, Aiysha and Marcus are parents to three gifted athletic children: Macaria, Marcus Jr., and Miko.

Our conversation took place via Zoom in mid-January. I think we spent 5 of our 40 minutes belly laughing about our kids’ quirks, and happily sharing stories about how we try to impart wisdom on our offspring and how it is sometimes well received and other times completely ignored. It was one of the most respectful, informative and just plain fun and entertaining chats I’ve had in ages. I’ve attempted to keep the interview Q and As on point with the topic of raising athletic children in this piece, but please, for the love of athletics and wanting to have a good chuckle, please check out the interview in its entirety on MVP Parent’s YouTube channel.

MVP:  Having both been so active in highly competitive athletics at such young ages and both being so successful in athletic endeavors, do you think it was a foregone conclusion that your children would participate in sports as well?

AS:   Yes and no. We knew the kids would have interest, but we didn’t know necessarily which sports would keep their interest. I thought the probability would be high, let’s say that. We knew if there was interest, we would be into it with them.

MS:  For me, sports, – especially team sports – is about life.  Very few people work alone. Sports are a terrific introduction to life in that there are several people working together toward a common goal. I mean, finding success, a college scholarship, that’s great, but I always wanted them to get into athletics for the life skills aspect of it.

MVP: Is there temptation to coach your kids’ teams? Have either of you succumbed to that temptation?

MS: (after a solid minute of co-giggles with Aiysha) I have. Sometimes it’s hard to not be that parent that knows everything, but knowing you’re a parent that knows a lot. My daughter is a strong volleyball player, and I know little about that, but I am learning as I go. I played for Nick Saban, that’s as tough as it gets. I just don’t want them to get out there and act surprised when coaches get after you, you know; coaches get upset and coaches can curse. The early stages maybe I was too involved, but I have since backed off. Less coaching and more intently watching from the sideline. I just want them to be prepared for different coaching styles.

AS: The foundational skills, life skills portion of the coaching we feel like we always want to have a hand in.

MVP: Marcus, you’ve been coached by all time greats Nick Saban and Bill Parcells and have played successfully at the game’s highest level. How do you handle a difference in opinion with your son’s football coaches?

MS: I give his coaches lots of credit, they know plenty about the game. I look at it really as, are the coaches willing to accept input? I try to make myself available if anyone wants my take. Bad practice habits I’ll step in on and that’s why originally I helped with coaching early on.

AS:  We also scout coaches and kind of check out how they handle their teams – especially how they handle coaching in a game atmosphere. Parents talk and we do our homework and vet out who we think may be a good fit.

MVP: Assuming Marcus being listed at a svelte 315 lbs that you’ve not played an extensive amount of volleyball, do you both find it more fun watching your daughter, Macaria, excel at a sport with which you’re less familiar?

AS:  She wanted to start playing at age 5, and I never played volleyball formally because my coaches always knew my first love was basketball. I am learning so much from her coaches now because she plays at the top club in Texas. We’ve all learned the game together. Volleyball is an amazing sport.

MS: She started at such a young age and mom has guided her 100% with the volleyball. Originally, I just enjoyed watching her run around and having fun. But then to watch her develop a true love for the game, that has been great. Dad steps in with intensity and doing things the right way with stress on work ethic. Mom and Dad both try to key on the hard work angle. I’m more of the motivator, get after it type, and Mom is more of the organizational, teaching, and patience guru. Thank God for my wife.

MVP: Where do you both stand on the debate between having your kids play several different sports like we all did vs. getting single sport specific as many coaches are pushing in recent years?

AS: I feel like multiple sports is a way to teach them to do different things. With COVID right now, it has been tougher to participate in as many sports as the kids would like.

MS: I was big on multiple sports, but my daughter saw so much success early in volleyball that she just identified as a volleyball player. She does still have interest in other sports, but more casually. To identify one way or the other, we are definitely a sports family over here.

MVP: Are the kids playing sports now during the COVID-19 pandemic? How has that challenge played out with your family?

AS: A lot has been cancelled but we are set to get back on the volleyball court. Coaches and players only, so that is tough, but at least we will get back playing.  However, we know other kids and teams that have played an entire season. Baseball happened this Spring, and the kids played and wore masks on the bench.

MS: Baseball, technically, is social distancing anyway outside of running the bags. We were comfortable with that. Our son didn’t play basketball and he was ok with that. The kids have been homeschooled for three years, so the remote learning wasn’t new for them.

MVP: Slowly but surely your kids are starting to approach recruiting age for college athletics. How is that process being approached? As a follow up, how did the recruiting process play out with you both?

MS: At the time of my recruitment, all the best high school football players from Louisiana went to college in Florida (University of Florida, Florida State, University of Miami). 2001 was the first year we all decided to stick together and go to LSU. It was Nick Saban, Jimbo Fisher, Derek Dooley…then young, enthusiastic coaches that was a lot of it. We had 10-12 of the top 40 high school football player in the country that year and we got together and decided to stay home and represent our state like all the kids in Florida did. It worked out. Plus, my mom and dad were close, and I met my wife.

AS: For me it was similar to Marcus. We had a few girls from Detroit going there, to St. John’s. There were five women on the team from Detroit already, so we had a Detroit house off campus. Also, I wanted a woman coach. I loved the big city, I loved NYC, so that was a seemingly great fit.

MVP: If any of the kids have a bad game or a rough practice, who are they more likely to commiserate with afterward?

MS: (lots of laughs from both) The son’s personality is like Mom’s. My daughter’s personality is like mine. My daughter is like get it all out and then be done with it. My son is more emotive and “feel my pain,” you know? I’m more like, you just sucked today. My daughter plays a bad game and she is seeking guidance, “What did I do wrong? What do I need to do to get better?” My son we need to be more sensitive with, and we have to add bits like, “Well, you have these few positives too.”

AS: I am a straight shooter too, but I might be a bit more compassionate. I never want them to get too caught up in the moment of one particular performance in one particular game. Their journey is more than that and their temporary disappointment is just that, temporary. As long as they’re working hard, trying hard, and having fun then they’re on course.

MVP: Aiysha, being a mom of sports kids, was it an innate move on your part to start MomAgent given all the stresses and challenges you endure in that role? Tell me more about what MomAgent is all about.

AS: It was a completely natural progression. Other parents were always asking Kia and I about teaching techniques, recovery strategies, and such. So we thought, we were always answering these questions, so we decided to make a more formal business structure out of it.  We are just launching our website at themomagentbox.com. We have a presence on YouTube and Instagram and we are happy to be working with MVP Parent too. Parents of kids that play sports need to feel a community and have a way to network with each other and we are looking to facilitate that process.

Our interview lasted just over 40 minutes, but the take away is timeless.  Our kids are so different, and that is truly beautiful. Team Spears has done a great job in identifying that key bit of knowledge and they have a great time talking about and celebrating it. Being a great sports parent doesn’t carry a particular formula or approach. There really is no one right way. An approach that works for one child might be lost on another. Not unlike trying to achieve success at a job or an important personal relationship, you have to put in the work, listen, and observe. Understanding our children and what THEIR goals and challenges are should be our primary focus. I never heard Aiysha or Marcus once talk about their kids’ stats or brag about early scholarship offers. I did hear them speak about how much fun they have watching their children play sports and how they think athletics act as a metaphor for life. They have expectations for their kids and it’s not to get D1 scholarships or play sports for a lucrative living. Play hard and play for the right reasons, be good/encouraging teammates, practice and train with intent, and if you find success in a moment, act like you’ve done it before because that next moment might be trying, so remain humble.

If you find yourself as a parent of an athletic child or children wondering whether to sign up for travel soccer, deciding at Dick’s on whether to go wood or aluminum bat, or whether to mention something to one of their coaches, just know we ALL have those moments of indecision. I think we’ll look back at these moments as the good times. A little conflict and the trials and tribulations, that’s the best stuff. If it were all high fives and walk offs, that’d get old after a while. Personally, I’ll always prefer the 2004 Red Sox and Ben Hogan’s 1950 US Open victory over rooting for chalk. Talk to other parents, pick up MVP Parent, hit up themomagentbox.com, or maybe best, just sit down with your kids and talk to them. Listen up and you might find the answers are simply getting their take and coming to a decision together. Treat them like the adults they will soon become, whether we’re ready for that or not.

Josh cupp is a former NCAA D1 student athlete, head coach, and has competed at golf’s highest professional level. In addition to writing, he pitches never-ending batting practice to his best friend and son, Francisco, and peddles wine at the Thirsty Owl in Saratoga Springs, NY. He can be reached at joshuacupp@gmail.com.

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