Tag Archives: sports

It’s a Heart Condition

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I have a relatively high aptitude for imperfection. It’s no secret that I have fumbled my way through life and managed to mess up things on a pretty routine basis. Based on my predisposition for blunders, one would think I would have a high tolerance for others acting a fool. Most of the time this is completely true; I have a high tolerance and understanding for the human condition. This weekend was not one of those times.

Nothing brings out the ridiculousness in people like youth sporting events. It’s like a convention for short-sighted delusional parents. The dads of the quick-handed 8 year olds or the off-the-growth-chart-early 12 year olds are compulsively barking from the bleachers to their obviously superior genetic offspring. The same DNA patriarchs can often be found red-faced and berating the inexcusable effort of a well-intentioned aspiring athlete. And the moms…they can be categorized into a few different groups:
1. The Maniac Mom-yells at the ref, the coach, her kid, other kids and parents. Usually she has poor grammar and is wearing ill-fitted yoga pants.
2. The Hoity-Toity Mom- Well groomed and manicured with expensive handbags and shoes. She will quickly tell you how great her child is, how much exclusive training he/she has had, and will eventually crack like an egg and yell unabashedly in frustration if the momentum shift too far in the other direction.
3. The Annoyingly Celebratory Mom-They travel in packs. They have matching team gear and loudly credit one another on the respective child’s performance: OMG, Gladys. Ashley’s shooting just like she did in that game against the Lions! That camp you sent her to is paying off—or— Beverly, what have you been feeding that boy, he has gotten every rebound. Annoyingly Celebratory Moms continue to scream and cheer, even when their team is decidedly better and up by 20 points.

Sadly, this seems to be the norm; the status quo of youth sports in these United States of America. There is an epidemic of perspective lost. I saw a Facebook post last week about a parent screaming at a 14 year old line judge at a volleyball flagtournament. Three weeks ago, my son stood up for one of my husband’s players when a coach from the other team was screaming at her and the opposing team’s parents in the stands turned into a spider monkey posse against my son. Note: My son’s response escalated into the realm of inappropriateness, at which point I was accused of being a $hitty parent by group of vigilante strangers. Evidently, losing makes them CRANKY. Two weeks ago, my husband had to call the police at the tournament our club was hosting because an unruly parent refused to leave after being ejected by the referee. Someone hand me my red flag, it’s time to wave it.

This weekend was a tough one. His team played and lost to the cranky team with a band of misguided parents backing them. After the game, one of our players was on the phone talking to her dad and was overheard saying, “We played bad. We just lost to a team we usually beat by thirty.” One of the Moms from the other team stopped and snidely said, “Yeah….but you didn’t beat them today.” Like an idiot, I piped up and said, “Way to be classy, lady,” and just as the words rolled off my tongue, I saw a little girl playing near is. She was probably seven, her eyes were bright and her smile wide. She reminded me of a place I had been and more importantly, of the person I want to be. I turned and walked outside.

Her name was Annette. I met her in a village on the outskirts of Kampala in Uganda. She was small, beautiful, and smart. She was also hungry. She was hungry for food, but she was also hungry for affection. I was fortunate to be able to annette2give her both. For an entire day, she wrapped herself in all the love and attention I could give her. She slept on my lap and I kept the flies off of her face and traced the creamy softness of her skin in the heat. I met and loved on so many children during my short time in Africa, but this one left a mark on the tender flesh of my heart. Seeing that little girl at the basketball game who so resembled Annette, caused a knot to form in my throat and a lurch of regret in my heart.

I was reminded how easy it is to lose perspective and to get sucked into the craziness of the world around me. Flexible is something I strive to be, pliable is something I resist being. I don’t think it is ironic that a poor bright-eyed child from a village 8000 miles away is helping meannette3 to strive to be a better person. I think it is powerfully purposeful. It’s a shameful part of my character that I would need to be reminded at all.

Perhaps, this post is nothing more of than an expose of my judgmental spirit. After all, it isn’t nice to generalize people at youth sporting events into categories. The truth is, there are many times when I could easily be grouped in with the ridiculous people. Sometimes it’s difficult to see when I am in the midst of the madness. It is much easier to see when the truth is reflected in the memory of the face of a hungry child. Today I remembered what is important. It isn’t about the score or which kid is bigger faster or better. It’s about being human and teaching kids the values you want them to have both on and off the court. Reaching down to help a fallen opponent is every bit as significant as reaching out to a hungry child in a village on the other side of the world.

As adults, we set the tone. We lead with our attitudes, good or bad. At times, I am annette1guilty of joining in the frenzied actions of the ridiculous people, but I am learning. For today, I listened to my heart. It’s a heart condition, of sorts. Isn’t that’s what it’s called when your heart doesn’t work the way it used to?

Consider this Can of Worms Open

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acanofwormsThere are times when certain things get stuck in my craw and I can’t  manage to cough them up or swallow them down and so it becomes a festering burn.  The school basketball season is winding down and we are on the cusp of the traveling season.  A great deal of my time these past few months has been devoted to spectating youth basketball games and the next few months will comprise much of the same.  I love the game, I love the kids playing the game, but I despise some of the crap that comes out of the mouths of others.

I haven’t always resisted the urge to tell someone to sit down and shut the hell up (sometimes things bypass my craw altogether), but I have been working on tempering my kneejerk reactions to the ridiculousness of others.  Admittedly, I have engaged in verbal sparring with psycho parents from opposing teams.  Thus, I am, by all accounts from some opposing teams, a psycho parent.  I have made great strides in this department and am learning to be as docile as a kitten.  What I have witnessed recently, though, isn’t from the opponent’s sixth man.  The negative shots are being taken at our own team, by our fans (insert heavy sigh here).

Nobody hates to lose more than I do.  I had my Old Maid cards shredded by my parents for marking them when I was just four years old.  I have learned a lot since I was four.  I still have a lot to learn, but I know these things to be true:

  • I am not the one playing.  My child is.  I need to let her play (run, foul, lose, win….)
  • I am not the coach.  Let him/her do the job.  I wouldn’t want him/her to show up at my workplace and scream at me about what a shitty job I am doing.
  • I can see when my kid screws up.  I can see when other kids screw up.  I wouldn’t find it gratifying or necessary to verbally announce a botched play by another player.  I don’t need other spectators to recap her blunders either.
  • I am not raising a professional athlete.  I am raising a child.  It’s a game.  It would be short-sighted for me to view it any other way.
  • Encouragement cannot be an afterthought.  It must be at the center of everything I project from the stands.  Yelling, “Oh, my God, Sophi.  Get your head in the game!” cannot be cancelled out by a follow-up attempt at a platitude.
  • Coaches and referees are not perfect.  They screw up.  We all do.  If there is a coach who is unfair or incompetent (and there are coaches who are both), it is an issue that won’t  be resolved from yelling the obvious from the stands.  Just like athletes, coaches will earn the respect he/she deserves.  The cream will rise to the top.
  • My child needs to get direction from the coach during competition.  If a player is looking in the stands for direction during a game, the cohesiveness of the team is being compromised.  I can help her fine tune her fundamentals in the driveway.

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When Sophi was little, she placed third in the Elk’s Hoop Shoot contest.  She got a little trophy that I placed on her dresser.  A few weeks later, I found it buried in the bottom of her closet.  I asked why it was shoved in her closet.  She looked at me and said, “Because it was last place.”   There were only three girls in the contest.

Kids know the score.

Sophi having a rough meet at Championships

Sophi having a rough meet at Championships

As my child grows up, she will win and she will lose.  She will love and she will have her heart broken.  She will have disappointment and elation.  She will know success and she will know failure.  She will probably be betrayed by someone she trusts and she may learn to trust someone she thought she couldn’t. There will be those along her path who genuinely want to assist her in attaining success and there will be others who do not see her a worthy investment of time or effort.  I pray that she sees the value of cultivating the talents and strengths of others and always knows at the end of the day that encouraging one another in word and deed is the mark of a true champion.    I hope as the seasons of her life pass,  when she sees me on the sidelines, she will know that no matter what the scoreboard says, I will always be her biggest fan.

A Swing and a Miss

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There are very few parents capable of balancing the role of parent-coach.  In fact, I have been on a sojourn the last several years on learning how to be a supportive, positive, and less intense sports parent (I have come a long way).  My husband, Kevin, has coached my daughter’s competitive basketball team since she was in the fourth grade.  He is exceptional.  He knows the game, he knows his players and he knows how to treat our daughter, Sophi, like she is just another player on the team. Where I tend to be a little hotheaded, critical, and slightly maniacal, Kevin is patient, calm, and rational.

Over the years, he is shaped and molded his group of girls into a winning and basketball2fundamentally sound ball club and he has done so without acting a fool.  He doesn’t yell at the referees, he doesn’t throw his clipboard (although he did throw his pen ONCE), and he doesn’t engage his parents in negative banter about players, playing time or performance. He has only been issued one technical foul.  As part of my journey towards psycho sports parent transformation, I have learned to refrain from these once regular behaviors:

  • Calling or texting Kevin during a game to tell him my ideas for plays or defensive strategy.  He no longer takes my calls during games.
  • Yelling at referees when they are complete idiots.  I have developed a respect for the folks in stripes, even the blind ones with fluff where their gray matter should be.
  • Confronting offensive parents/coaches/coaches wives from the other teams.
  • I have changed my spirited cheering from Seriously?!; You have GOT to be kidding me!; If that is a walk, I can dunk;  Damn it, Sophi, Get in the Game; to the uplifting encouraging words of: Defense, ladies; Nice job; Get big defense; and Niiiiiiiiice!

Note: The inside of my mouth is often bleeding by the third quarter from biting my tongue, but I am a work in progress.

The finesse in which Kevin coaches is what makes the recent series of events blog-worthy.  basketball4Sophi had a rough game last week.  It was the school team, which means Coach Kevin was in the stands with the rest of the parents and spectators.  It was a home game and a decent size crowd for a girls’ game.  She struggled.  She managed to get a few shots off and pull down several rebounds but the rest of her game was quite messy.  She came off the court fully aware of the mistakes she had made and was probably already trying to forget the game in its entirety.  But Coach Kevin took a detour from his usual supportive route and recounted nearly every mishap.  The ride home from the game was tense.

Kevin’s recap of the game consisted of a verbal highlight reel of her blunders and bobbles.  Sophi and I rode in silence, both stunned by this critical recap from the usual docile daddy-coach.  I felt compelled to say something, but usually when I feel compelled to say something it turns out to be something inappropriate.  So, while Kevin ranted, I texted Sophi instead:

Me:      The hardest thing in the world besides losing someone you love is taking criticism. Don’t let this defeat you.  Build on it.  He is doing it because he loves you and  he believes in you.  It’s what drives him.  It’s like getting a shot when you are little. The shot hurts a little but not as bad as getting polio.

Sophi:     OK. You don’t make any sense.  What does my bad game have to do with polio?

Me:      Polio is bad.  Your game was bad.

Sophi: Wow

 A swing and a miss for Mom.basketball3

The week continued.  Sophi was quiet and withdrawn, Kevin stoic and silent.  The weather was grey and cold and as the snow accumulated, so did the snow days for the kids.  I came home one evening and inquired how Sophi’s snow day had been.  She replied, “Well, Dad did call me this morning and apologize for being so hard on me about the game.  It started out promising but his apology went off the rails.”  When I pressed her for details she complied:

Dad:    Hey, Sophi.  I just wanted to call and say I am sorry for being so     hard on you about the game the other night.

Sophi:  Ok, thanks, Dad.

Dad:      I really didn’t mean it was the worst basketball game I have ever seen you play in your entire life, I meant it was the worst one this season.

Sophi:    Okaaaaay….

Dad:       But, really, why did you have to throw the ball away???  Your passes were sloppy.  There were so many people there watching.  It was embarrassing.

Sophi:    (Thinking to herself) You have got to be kidding me???  This is his apology?

Dad:       So, anyway, I just wanted to call and say I am sorry and tell you that I love you.

A Swing and a miss for Dad.

After Sophi’s highlight reel of the apology, we were both laughing and shaking our heads.  We didn’t know exactly how to process this side of Kevin the Coach.  Sophi was laughing, but her walls were still up.  She wasn’t ready to forgive his trampling on her wounded ego.   The standoff continued.  After nearly a week of eye-rolling (Sophi) and stubborn silence (Kevin), I demanded reconciliation.  Kevin set out to make things right with his girl and according to him they had a ‘great talk’.   Considering the debacle he had made of the apology, I wasn’t exactly ready to take his word for it.  However, Sophi did confirm that he had made successful amends and was now back in his starring role of ‘Best Dad in the World’.

photo 4I wonder how much of Kevin’s deviation from his positive daddy/coach role was even about the basketball game.  His little girl is growing up.  The two of them have always been exceptionally close.  Lately, her attention has been further divided by her friends, her phone, dances, and her need to always be on the go.  Recently, a handsome young 17 year-old fellow has also emerged onto the scene (heavy sigh).  Perhaps, Kevin was consumed solely by Sophi’s less than stellar performance on the court, but it would be my wager that there was a host of other things fueling his frustration.  I am her parent too.  I feel the weight of the how fleeting these days actually are.  I, too, wonder how it is that more often I find myself left out of the huddle and forced into the stands as a spectator in her world.  I think as parents we all swing and miss sometimes.  We lose sight of what is really important.  When I take the time to reflect on all the laughter and love we have shared as parents and I look at the remarkable young lady Sophi is growing into, I have resolved myself to accept that my role is changing.  I sincerely hope Kevin recognizes his role in Sophi’s life is also changing, but is as vital as ever.  Girls never outgrow needing their daddies.  He might have an occasional ‘swing and a miss”, but when it comes to being a great dad, he hit that one out of the park!