One of Marianne Werdel’s top priorities for her three boys and their sports is to avoid the pitfalls she saw too many young athletes around her fall prey to over the years. Werdel grew up playing a variety of sports. She ran cross country, played volleyball, basketball, did ballet and tennis through 8th grade, but her main sport was always tennis. She won 19 national junior titles, an NCAA team championship at Stanford and spent 11 years on the WTA Tour with a career high ranking of #21. Along the way she saw many challenging parent-child relationships that she says were heartbreaking. She now works as a tennis coach and consultant working with the families of junior tennis players to avoid the pitfalls along the journey. She also writes about it on her own website.
Her boy’s father, Ron Witmeyer, played high school basketball and baseball, won two College World Series at Stanford and played in the Oakland A’s organization for 6 years with one year in the majors.
“I think it is tough for our boys being the children of two Stanford professional athletes, ” says Marianne. “They had a lot of expectations on them, academically and athletically, even when we didn’t put pressure on them.”
Marianne tells ILTWYP more about her family and her three boys, Luke (20) Clay (18) and Tommy (14) Witmeyer and their sports.
What age did your kids start playing sports and what sports?
Luke, our oldest started in utero. I was still playing on the WTA Tour when I found out I was pregnant. So, I guess Luke started with tennis from conception. The boys dad, Ron Witmeyer, was the hitting coach at Cal Berkeley when they were young, so the boys were crawling on the baseball field and in the cages at a young age.
Luke’s main sport was always baseball. He loved it from when he was a baby and carried around a plastic baseball bat. At 5 or 6 years old he would hit in the cages until his hands would be blistered and never played t-ball because he wanted someone to pitch.
Baseball – He started with Little League and high-level travel club baseball from 1st -7th grade and then quit from burnout. He did what we called “going to the dark side” and switched from baseball to lacrosse in 8th grade.
Lacrosse – He played school and club lacrosse through his junior year of high school.
Basketball – He played recreational basketball 1st to 6th grade, club basketball 4th – 7th grade and the middle school basketball team.
Football – He played freshman football in high school.
Clay (pictured above) is our child who hasn’t met a sport he didn’t like (except for soccer). High school 3 sport (football, basketball and baseball) athlete for 2 years and 2 sports (football and baseball) for the last 2 years.
Tennis – started in pre-school clinics and loved it until he held his first golf club when he was 9 and hasn’t played tennis since.
Golf – Played competitive golf from 4th through 8th grade (ages 10-14). For those years golf was his main sport and his goal was to play golf at Stanford.
Baseball – He played t-ball and Little League baseball but never travel ball. He is now in his 4th varsity season of high school baseball.
Basketball – He played recreational basketball from 1st grade, club basketball from 4th grade to 8th grade, middle school basketball and two years of JV basketball in high school.
Football – In 9th grade he started high school football and loved it more than any other sport, He just finished his senior season for football playing left tackle and defensive end and will continue D3 football (and possibly baseball) in college at Wash U in St. Louis.
Tommy (above with Ron and playing basketball and baseball) loves all the sports but is not as driven as his older brothers. He plays high school basketball and baseball.
Baseball – He started in t-ball, then Little League and travel baseball from 3rd to 7th grade, middle school baseball, now plays high school baseball.
Basketball – He played rec basketball from 1st grade, travel basketball 3rd-8th grade, middle school and now high school.
Football – Middle school flag football and now he is talking about playing football starting in 10th grade.
Approximately how many hours per week do they spend doing their sport?
Once they are in high school the hours are easier – all the sports are 3:30-6 during the week and for 2-3 hours on Saturdays. One of the beauties of team sport is the schedule and hours have become much easier in high school. We always try to give them Sundays or one day a week OFF.
What are their goals for their sport?
Clay had always wanted to play golf at Stanford and then that switched to football once he got into high school. Clay will play D3 football at Wash U St. Louis this fall and possibly baseball as well. Tommy enjoys high school basketball and baseball and wants to play through high school. At this point in time, he does not want to play in college.
How do you help them achieve their goals?
First, you have to know their goals. Then, help them build a plan to get there. It was key for us to listen to the boys along the way because the older two changed their goals and sports dramatically.
Another key component was finding the right fit for high school. I think parents can make the mistake of thinking the kids have to go to the power house school for their child’s sport. Our boys chose a different route and went to a smaller school where the students can play multiple sports and get more play time. It has been life changing for them and now they have opportunities that they would not have had with less play time or sitting on a bench.
How do you maintain balance in their lives?
Ha – Balance? What balance? Again, for us, it was in the high school choice. The boys were encouraged to play multiple sports at their high school. They were able to finish football in December and start basketball the next week and then the same finishing basketball in March and starting baseball the next week. We have also stressed that academics always come first and if the grades drop, then they had to miss practice to meet with teachers. I think the imbalance comes when the sports are more important than their education or family. That is a recipe for disaster.
What is your overall philosophy with their sports?
Have fun, try your best and be a good sport. Those are the big three to me. We made a point to never push the boys, but always support them in what they wanted to do. I like the boys to stay active. Playing sports keeps them off the video games and less time to get into things they shouldn’t be doing. I am a believer that sports teach them life lessons that can’t be learned in a classroom. They will take these experiences and peer/team relationships with them for life. That is worth more than any trophy or championship.
What are some of your secret weapons or unique ways you have found to help the kids either excel or stay balanced?
- Give them days off.
- Don’t talk about the sport of the season all day and night.
- Find the right team and coach for their level of play.
- Find the right fit for them athletically and academically for high school.
- Stop talking and listen! (I tend to talk too much.)
What’s the most difficult thing about raising three athletes in today’s super competitive sports world?
My boys are all happier and better off playing multiple sports. Our oldest was predominately baseball and loved every minute of it when he was younger. He burned out in the end of 7th grade and chose a different sport, at a challenging time for our family. We tried to give the younger boys more balance and it has been a much better path for them.
What is your ultimate dream or desire for them and or your family in regard to their sports?
I hope they have the same positive experience we had with our sports. I hope they are able to use all the skills on the field in their everyday adult lives, that it gives them a healthy lifestyle and friends for life and that they enjoy the sports with their children the same way we do with them and our parents did with us.