30 September 2011

A Sporting Attitude

I went to see Three play soccer last night. I was secretly praying it would be cancelled due to inclement weather (lately, the only kind we have ), but the rain slowed to a drizzle, leaving the fields playable. I drove over for the second half, which is the maximum amount of time I can commit to any game. I joined the more dedicated parents on the sideline, watching the mist drift and swirl above the field as my boy's team got its ass solidly kicked. But Three had a grand time, playing with athleticism and whimsy. They lost by many points, but he assisted on their one goal, which prompted much whooping and hollering.

Three's best friends are on his team, which makes the experience bearable. They all have a similar attitude. They know the team may never win a game this season, so they just want to score. They talked about how exciting it would be if each of them got a goal; how they would tear off their shirts and run around the field screaming. This (d)evolved into wearing sports bras under their jerseys, in homage to Brandi Chastain. By the end of the car ride they had decided that scoring wasn't guaranteed, so they would just wear the bras during the last game, and rip off their shirts at the end. I agreed to lend Three a sports bra, in his choice of white or black, but he was concerned it wouldn't fit.

"Mom, I don't have boobs."

"Trust me, your thirteen year-old boy chest will fit in my bra just fine." We are similarly endowed.

I'm all for the silly bra hijinks, because most of our team sports experiences with Three have been excruciating. He's a talented athlete, but he's often been crippled by anxiety. This would manifest itself as phantom injuries which would prevent him from practicing, or participating fully in games. We fought a lot about practice, especially during football season. But once we realized the underlying cause, we eased up. Unfortunately, his reputation as a slacker was firmly established at that point.

One night he came back from football practice and told me his head coach had mocked him to one of his teammates. The coach was driving the boy home after practice and in the course of conversation, he derided Three's work ethic, and laughed about all the excuses he made to avoid practice.

Now, to be fair, the Captain and I spent years having the same discussion. But finally, something clicked, and we decided we weren't going to force Three to play anymore. He had to want to do it  in order to be successful, so we left it up to him. In short, we realized he was playing YOUTH SPORTS. He wasn't a catcher for the MLB, or a lineman for the NFL, and he certainly had not been drafted by the NBA. He wasn't violating any contract, or losing wages, if he missed practice or a hit.

Through the years, the Captain and I had lost sight of this distinction. We'd become heavily involved in the township recreation leagues. The Captain was Three's coach for most of his baseball and basketball teams. We were huge supporters of the football program. I was the team mom, and the Captain attended board meetings regularly to plan fundraisers. We weren't just parents; we were part of the team.

When I found out what the head coach had said, I told Three I would talk to him. I explained how the coach might draw that conclusion based on Three's behavior, but that it was absolutely wrong of him to share his thoughts with Three's teammate. Then I explained my "Fuck You" rule. If Three really wanted to stick it to his coach, he should show up, play hard, and prove him wrong. I didn't want the coach screwing with Three's self-confidence. He managed that well enough on his own.

The Captain decided I should be the one to talk to the coach, because he was afraid he might physically harm him.  So, the next night at practice, I asked the coach to meet me at the equipment shed. Three told him he wasn't going to miss any more practice, and the coach said he wanted him to be an important member of the team. I sent Three to the field, and I asked the coach to wait. Then I ended our relationship. I let him know how I felt about his behavior, and I never spoke to him again.

Small town sports are microcosms of our society. They bring out the best and worst behavior in athletes and parents. Mostly parents. There are stars, crazy egos and power trips. I was never happier than in that moment with the coach, when everything fell back into perspective. I no longer push my boys to play. I savor the sight of them having fun, even if I have to stand in the mud to witness it. Life is hard. Sports shouldn't be.


  1. Oh. My. Lord. I do believe I would have had to join the Captain on the sidelines, because I would have lost my shit.

    Good for you (and for Four).

  2. @Delia: Thank you for being my inadvertant proof-reader! Sometime in the middle of the post, I switched kids/numbers. THREE is the teacher of all these lessons. He's the reason we have FOUR in Challenger League soccer this year, which is for kids with special needs. It exists solely for support and fun. Ah, if all youth sports could be that way...

  3. Is it a New Jersey thing or does youth sports insanity rule elsewhere as well? The recreation leagues weren't too bad, they were more for fun and learning the sport, but the traveling leagues are just unbelievable. The amount of time and effort involved - all year round, camps, fundraisers, on and on. I'm so glad Boy child wasn't invited back for travel soccer. We're now on cross country in HS for girl child, which is intense but seasonal and a great team and cross country in middle school for boy child which is not very intense and also a great team of kids. I want the kids to be active and involved and learning teamwork and sportsmanship, but I don't want them convinced that the end of the world is nigh if they don't give their sport 1000% all the damn time.

  4. @Karen: I actually think it's worse in some states, especially with football, but we do start very young here. In my house, "travel" is a forbidden word. By my rule, not the Captain's, who still plays hockey, and believes in personal excellence. I always just look at how much of my time it will take!

  5. The sports insanity exists here in Illinois. In a grand and nasty fashion. A friend just posted the other day about how she's been forced to switch seats at high school football games to get away from the ugliness.

    I'll never understand how adults think that belittling a child or young adult is a motivational tool. So many lose all perspective and all civility.

    Grr. It makes me crazy.

  6. Sean did travel soccer when he was young (once upon a time in NJ). Listening to his mother talk about all the time and money spent makes me a little crazy every time it comes up.

    And to polish off the steps to my soapbox, it's difficult to find any leadership or role model qualities in a coach that chooses to "motivate" through belittling a player. If Three can't perfect the Fuck You rule in this instance, there are a couple of middle fingers being turned up in coach's direction from me.

  7. Adults Say the Dumbest Things. That'll be our next tv show.

    I believe very few people are "lazy" so when I see someone avoiding something, not working at something, I look for the real cause rather than slapping a label on them.


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