I’ve never been someone who cares much about sports. I do cheer for the Philadelphia Eagles, but just in my head and not in front of the television, and only because my husband is all grumpy if they lose. Unless someone I know and love is on the field, my interest is pretty minimal. Zilch. Zip. It is just a game. Right?
But my oldest loves sports. LOVES them. Last summer he made the All-Star team for baseball, so I found myself carting him to practice multiple nights each week. Driving to all-day tournaments on the weekends. Staying in hotels for travel tournaments. Traveling an hour away five days in a row for games. I even drove a sick kid to a game hoping he’d feel better and be ready to play when we got there. (He didn’t. We went home.)
Zip has begged since kindergarten to play tackle football and last August, when midget football started, we finally let him play – in spite of what I believe intellectually about the downsides and dangers of an aggressive sport. He practiced five nights/week in the August heat and played at least one game in cold, pouring rain. (This, for some crazy reason, is his favorite sport.)
Then a couple of weeks ago I found myself at his end-of-season basketball tournament, my heart beating out of my chest as I whooped and hollered and cheered like…well…like my husband does when the Eagles play.
You would think my kid is 15, but no…all of this for my third grader. My nine-year-old.
A couple of years ago I would have thought it all just plain ridiculous. Kids in elementary school don’t need to spend that much of their time in sports. Families don’t need to spend that much of their precious time on one kid’s activity. We don’t need to get so darn worked up over a youth basketball game; it’s about fun, not winning for Pete’s sake. Save it for their teenage years, or middle-school at least.
But here we are.
Actually being a parent means doing lots of things you were certain you would never do before you were a parent and maybe gaining a new perspective along the way. And like a lot of things, the competition of youth sports isn’t at all what I imagined.
Sure, we spent the first month of summer running around to games, eating far too many concession-stand hamburgers and French fries (as the scale quickly informed me). But you know what? It was fun. Like, really, really FUN. We probably spent more time together as a family than we would have otherwise – driving to games, watching together, eating that greasy food for our family meal.
With each team he has been on, Zip has played with great kids with awesome parents. I love the way his being a part of a team knits us more tightly into our community, the way we are making new friends and new connections. I love cheering alongside other moms and dads and grandparents, taking over the pizza joint for a post-game meal, chattering about how the kids played and what their chances are against the next team. I love that those sideline relationships have morphed into friendships in their own right.
I love watching the grins that light up the kids’ faces when someone makes a great play and the way they cheer for each other from the dugout or the bench. I love watching friendships develop, eventually moving from the sports field into living rooms and front yards.
I love that my boy, for whom so much comes so easily, is not the best kid on the team. He’s learning a priceless lesson – that sometimes we have to work for what we want and, even then, there will probably be others who are more talented or work harder. Not everyone gets to be number one at everything, no matter how they badly they want it.
After a particularly tough loss last summer, Zip’s baseball team lined up for a photo, heads hanging, tears in their eyes. My heart ached for them and I felt myself tearing up too, until another mom commented, “It’s good for them to lose sometimes,” and I remembered that, as hard as it was to see our kids disappointed, yes, it is good for them to realize things don’t always work out the way we hope. You win some, you lose some, and those darn participation medals aren’t much consolation when you’ve just lost a play-off game. My kiddo is learning this – really learning this.
And he is learning how to bounce back, too – how to have a “short memory,” as his coach told the boys, and to keep his chin up when the going gets rough. He is learning that the team that hangs in there, takes a deep breath and doesn’t stop believing they can succeed gets much farther. We are encouraging him to be a leader, to be the one who cheers his teammates on when they feel ready to give up.
What might have seemed over-the-top to me a few years ago – the hectic schedules of practices and games, the competition, the emotions – looks very different from the inside. What I see now is a child who loves to play and is learning valuable life lessons in the process, and two parents who are happy to support him along the way, cheering his victories and offering hugs and perspective after defeat.
So here we are, getting ready for another round. Baseball starts in a couple of weeks, then on to football, and probably basketball again. As long as my kids want to play, I don’t mind being that sideline-cheering, carpool-driving sports mom at all. Maybe one of these days you’ll even find me cheering – really cheering – for the Eagles.