How is adoption like football? Families need coaches, trainers, and others to encourage and help them through whatever trick plays come up.

How Is Adoption Like Football?

When the novel COVID-19 created a pandemic storm across the world, one of the most impactful losses to the entertainment industries was the halt of professional sports. With the lack of games due to their adherence to safety standards, professional players, supporting team members, and fans alike were feeling the lack of competition. Now that teams and industries have picked back up practices and games (with limited attendance), fans are starting to get excited about the upcoming sports events that will be available to watch from the safety of their homes. After a long year of sports quarantine, fans are ready to get back in the game! At this point, you might be wondering: how is adoption going to link back to football?

With the Superbowl on the horizon, it’s simple, especially for those in the midst of their own adoption process right now, to envision a correlation between football and their own adoption story. Although two very different experiences, the game of football and the process of adding a child to your family via adoption have more parallels than one may realize. With the children acting as players and the parents as coaches in your own game of life, football isn’t as far of a stretch as you may think.

1. The game of life is a team effort!

Adoption can not be done alone. That’s a near-impossible dream. From the first application you sign when choosing an agency, to finding a therapist for your child when they are home, and truly everything in between, none of it can be done alone. You will need, want, and interact with a variety of people along your journey, both to your child and once home. From government officials, grant organizations, agency representatives, and non-government organizations, to birth family members, therapists, counselors, teachers, trauma-informed peers, and respite providers, you are not alone.

You will have and need support throughout your entire process, and without each and every person fulfilling their role, you and your child may suffer. Each person you use along the way is an integral part of your story and should be celebrated. Much like football, the quarterback doesn’t go out on the field to face a team on his own. Without his teammates supporting him both on and off the field, not one of those players would be able to accomplish his goal. An adoption story is riddled with important players, all of which are needed to help you not only bring your child home but to help them thrive once they’re there.

2. Nutrition and hydration are KEY for good results.

Sports professionals cannot slack off on their water intake or their food regime. If so, their standard of play dips drastically, and they most likely won’t have the energy they need to win the game. The same goes for your family team at home. If water and food aren’t readily available and utilized at critical moments, your family dynamic could crash in an instant. I know, for my family at least, if someone gets “hangry” (angry because of hunger), all rationality and logic go out the window. Energy is next to nothing, mindpower is impeded, and the ability to win the game has been destroyed. Especially since many of our children come home with past traumas relating to food or water, this can even be more crucial in those instances.

For my own team at home, water was an issue when we brought my son home from eastern Europe. In his orphanage, the less than 5 ounces of water they were given at mealtimes signified that no more food would be available until the next time they were sat at that table. Once our son was in our arms, that associating with water meaning “no more food” didn’t disappear. In fact, it took over 6 months for him to trust that we would still feed him after he took a sip of water. A healthy food-and-water relationship can be difficult and slow to heal. But it can be an integral part of your bonding and attachment with your child. So, as in football, don’t forget to drink (and eat) up.

3. You will need lots of training and need to be ready to adjust that training based on the players on the field.

When you sign up with an adoption agency (or even if you are handling your adoption privately), you will/should have a decent amount of training that goes into your mental prep work prior to bringing your child home. Trauma-informed parenting is key to how you will navigate parenthood with your new addition, and reading books (like those written by Karyn Purvis), speaking to adoptees, and learning coping strategies will be critical to your ability to remain calm and collected in a potentially hostile and difficult environment.

As with football, training is inevitable and crucial, but knowing when to alter what you’ve learned based on the needs and skills of the players on the field can be an even more important coaching decision. If your child doesn’t respond or work well with some of the techniques you learned in training (i.e. if your training taught you to keep a box of healthy snack options in your child’s room to help with hoarding, but instead it leads to binge eating), adapting your skills to fit your child will be unbelievably important as you navigate your path to helping them be a strong and flourishing part of the family. Strategies, tactics, and coping mechanisms are not “one size fits all,” whether it is children or football players. So, your job as coach is to learn and then adapt to help everyone grow.

4. Having a calm coach during stressful situations is gold.

Although we’ve all seen the infamous football coach overreactions, I think most of us would agree that that is not the best way to handle difficult moments out on the field. Overreactions and unpredictable emotions are often too heavy-handed in the moment, not leading to a successful outcome, but instead to more chaos and unpredictability. A calm coach can often lead the team to a successful play when a coach struggling to find a level head can easily make the wrong call. As with football, your family team behaves the same. If you, as coach, quickly become overwhelmed, angry, and reactionary, you will often be met with abrasiveness, fight or flight, or anger from your child.

Keeping calm in moments of heightened emotion will pay you in dividends. Not only will you be able to make appropriate and healthy relational calls, but you will be able to maintain a healthy response. Those responses of calm will not only show your child an appropriate way to respond to challenges, but it will also strengthen your attachment by showing that their heavy reactions do not impact your love for them. Your child will have trauma in their past even if they are adopted as an infant, so handling their big emotions with collectedness will be an important way to connect, regroup, and help you stay calm.

This is also important when dealing with the adoption process before you bring your child home. Challenges and difficulties will not only arise once you are home as a family; challenges with agencies, governments, medical professionals, orphanages, foster homes, birth families, etc. can and will arise at any point throughout your process. If your doctor won’t sign off on simple paperwork, if your file gets held up in lockbox, if there is an issue with your home study, if you have to redo your fingerprints three times… those are all difficulties that could easily lead to an inability to stay calm. Anger in those moments may cause more delays, more aggression, or a simple “no” from people and organizations you need a “yes” from. Keeping a calm and level head will help you make the right calls at the right times, helping your team perform at its best.

5. A coach needs a qualified coaching staff.

The football coach isn’t the only one impacting and directing the team to success. Behind every good coach is a qualified coaching staff that helps with individual needs on and off the field. From the sports trainer to the quarterback coach and everyone in between, the team would not be able to reach their fullest potential without the entire coaching staff working with, supporting, and encouraging them along the way. The individual needs need to be met before the team can work together to take a win.

Similarly to your family unit, you, as coach, cannot help your children reach their fullest potential without your qualified coaching staff behind you, supporting you along the journey. Your partner may be your biggest supporter as well as your co-coach who will need the same support you do. Your qualified coaching staff may include your family, therapists (a personal shout-out of thanks to all the physical, occupational, and speech therapists that have helped my son along the way), pediatric and medical specialists, counselors, trauma-informed friends, respite care providers, agency resources, adoptees, and other adoptive parents. These individuals are key components to the success of your team and how you successfully function as a family unit. Helping your child fulfill his or her greatest potential will require a team of qualified individuals behind them, rooting for them every step of the way.

6. Always prepare to expect the unexpected.

Many parents go into adoption with somewhat romanticized views about how the process, their child, or their life will look like. And, although sometimes certain things do come to fruition, most of the time, the unexpected is what we should have been expecting all along. Even something as simple as a medical file attached to your child’s intake folder may give you the illusion that those things are to be expected, but in reality, many of those medical files are inaccurate, mistyped, or just plain wrong. Expecting the unexpected can save you a lot of headaches in the future. As in football, expecting the unexpected can also teach you how to navigate on the fly, adapt and change as needed, and come into a situation without being let down; all of which can be so crucial in the games of football and of life.

Football and your adoption story, whether you’re just a beginner or a seasoned pro, aren’t that different. There are numerous parallels, helping sports fans better understand the trenches that can exist when adopting a child. Surrounding yourself with integral members of your team will not only allow you to succeed, but it will help your child reach their fullest potential, too. Isn’t that what we want as parents? To be able to provide stability, love, and consistent teachings to help them grow at whatever pace is appropriate for them.

Without your team, a level head, and adequate nutrition, you may just lose the game. But even if you do lose the game, it doesn’t mean that the Superbowl is out of reach. For adoptive parents, that ultimate goal of love and commitment is never gone, no matter how much we mess up or how many mistakes we make. Even if we are consistently losing games, we can continue to stack our deck to help us make it to the big playoffs.

Even if we have a rough day, rough month, or rough few years, we can always continue to fight for our family. We can overcome the paperwork, overcome the behaviors, and overcome the trials that may continue to resurface throughout our parenting journey. We can always strive to make sure our team knows they are loved, cherished, and chosen and that we wouldn’t trade them to another team even if it would be easier to win.

A good coach doesn’t give up on themselves or their team. I’m wearing your team jersey, have already bought season tickets, and cheer when you get up to play. I’m rooting for you.

To dive deeper where football meets adoption, check out these awesome football players who are also adoptees!

Kristina Frazier

I'm Kristi—Mama of four, adoption advocate, and wife to my high school sweetheart. I'm just here surviving off of sweet tea and sarcasm, sharing all the feels of life with some honesty, a little bit of humor, and a whole lot of Jesus.