For most of us, our glory days participating in sports are behind us.
Unless you are a weekend warrior whose obsession with softball or another recreational sport takes a lot of your time or a club rugby or soccer player, odds are you play a different role in the world of sport: the role of coach, team mom/dad, chauffeur, equipment manager, psychologist, and/or number one fan for a son or daughter playing said sport. This is typically just as hard in many ways as playing the sport yourself. There is, of course, the time aspect involved with shuttling them to and fro to practice and games or time spent coaching/supporting. There is the monetary aspect of paying for their participation, photos, equipment, team parties, trophies etc. But perhaps the hardest and by far the most rewarding thing we do as parents is to see them face challenges, succeed sometimes, fail sometimes, learn how to be part of a team, get bumps and bruises, develop a good attitude and above all have fun playing a game that is a time honored tradition.
Right now my daughter is playing softball. It isn’t her first season, but this year, in a coach pitch CYO league, as she is about to turn 9 years old and is donning the catcher’s gear game after game I see that she is starting to ‘get it’. She is starting to pay more attention. She is starting to realize how much she enjoys the camaraderie and the feeling of supporting and being supported by her teammates. She is starting to feel a lot of pride when she does something like catch her first foul tip (like happened last week). Some kids get this earlier than others…some never grasp it at all and decide that sports aren’t for them. Maybe they are creative and choose music or artwork instead. Some are readers. I think it is important that they experience playing on a team at least once or twice to find out if it resonates with them. We all have passions, sometimes we just need to be exposed to a variety of things to help us discover what brings us joy.
As I watch my daughter play this or any other sport, I have to smile (and sometimes be exasperated) at her independent nature. She hates it when her dad or her mom (both of us are really competitive) give her pointers when she is on the field. It is really rewarding though, when she finally accepts something we have been trying to get her to learn or do and gives us a smile and a thumbs up when she does it correctly, realizing that we may just know what we are talking about. Watching her succeed and have fun is intoxicating and watching her fail is hard but the key is to respond with encouragement no matter what the outcome. It has struck me lately that I don’t let her fail enough as a father. I try to protect my little girl as much as I can and I am worried that by doing so (other than keeping her safe and cared for of course) that I am doing her a disservice. As an adult, if we are at all self-aware, we know that failure is a part of life that has as much value as success because it teaches us what success often can’t…that there is a lesson to be learned or a different way we should approach certain situations. She will learn in time that success is wonderful, but you can find value in failure. This is a failure that I apparently need to learn from.
I close my eyes at her games sometimes and listen…I take in smells…and images of my own experiences come flooding back to me…
The smell of glove oil
The clack of cleats on the concrete of the dugout
The clink of an aluminum bat or the crack of a wood one
The feeling you get from donning a uniform
The effortless feeling of the ball hitting the sweet spot of the bat
The heart racing feeling of adrenaline as you realize that the ball has been hit to your position and you have to react
The feeling of throwing the ball as hard as you can and worrying that you ‘threw your arm out’
The feeling of losing a ball in the sun in the outfield
The pressure as a pitcher when you have people on base and you have to get the guy at the plate out
Chants or words of encouragement from teammates when you are up to bat
The pressure as the batter when you have to deliver a hit
The pride of a home run trot
The pride or dejection you feel doing the ‘good game….good game…good game’ high fives with your opponents after a game
These are what the game ends up being about. Success and winning are great and it is great to remember them when you become a spectator later in life but it strikes me that, at least for me, it is the little things…the images…the smells…the faces…the muscle memory of throwing a baseball or swinging a bat that brings back the fondest memories.
Some parents live vicariously through their kids. I try not to. Her experiences are her own and if anything…sharing them with her and telling her about my own experiences just brings us close together. It does for me…I hope it does for her too. Maybe I will ask her…but certainly not when she is on the field, I have had all the stink eyes I can handle 😉