Monday, April 30, 2012

Youth Sports=Crazy Land

It was cold.   My fingers were too cold to type updates to Tim (who was at home with the other kids) or distract myself by being hilarious on Twitter. But not too cold to cross them and I did.

When he stepped up to bat, my stomach tensed up and like a naive child, I crossed my damn fingers.  Hoping that my 10-year-old kid got a hit at his baseball game.  A hit that he felt good about. A hit that would make other parents believe he was worthy of being on the team.  

He did get a hit.  He did some killer base running and stole home.  I let out the breath that I had been holding and unlaced my fingers.  Until the next at bat, or anytime a ball headed his way in the field.

Youth sports parents are f-ing crazy.  And I'm one of them now.  I've crossed over into f-ing crazy land.

I have yet to reconcile my belief in the benefits of competition, being part of a team, and being active and healthy with my belief in the benefits of having fun, being flexible with time and compassionate to different skill levels.

Peyton used to play in a what I thought was a very relaxed flag football league.  The kids were in first grade.  Some of the parents (especially on a particular team that would "vs. us" as the kids would say) were beyond a little intense.  You know the type, yelling and screaming, veins popping out of their necks.  And that was just a few of the moms, the dads were so much worse.

I stood on the sideline quietly judging with disgust.  "They are insane," I said in my head.  "They are borderline abusive," I judged in my head.  But when Peyton's team scored I was doing a touchdown, rub-it-in-your-face dance, in my head of course.

It is all so confusing to me.  Is this fun?  I want the games to mean something, just not everything.  I want to win, but not at any cost.  We have yet to find a team, in any sport, where either  some parents didn't give a shit or some parents were far too invested, as if their kid's college scholarship depended on the season.

Talk to most people that played sports at the collegiate level and they will tell you they weren't that intense at 10.  They didn't practice every night, have a personal trainer, special diet, etc.  (Note: we don't have this and hope to god we never do until maybe high school.)  Some of the guys that I do know that had a lot of pressure burned out, peeked early, resented the sport or the people that put all the pressure in the first place.

There was a documentary on ESPN a few months ago that offered a cautionary was about Todd Marinovich and his father Marv.  Spoiler alert, although it's a true story and if you know sports you might know this story, Todd is pushed by his dad to play football. He makes it to the NFL, but ends up being a massive drug addict.  There are so many sad parts of the story.  

I absolutely love ESPN films.  No joke.  First of all I am fascinated with good (and sometimes bad) filmmaking in general.  But secondly, they are really f-ing good.  You don't like sports?  Doesn't matter.  Sports are about life--relationships, overcoming obstacles, beating the odds and sometimes not beating the odds.  And these movies capture all of it, whether it is about boxing or football, hockey or track and field.

Every now and then, when Tim or I are getting a little too intense we ask the Marv question, i.e. "what would Marv do?" And we do the opposite of course.

We joke about Marv, but Tim and I are in serious need of role models right now.  And I just may have found them.

I was mesmerized by the best story in baseball last week--the foul ball Rangers fans.  Heard of them?  

Their three-year-old didn't get the foul ball that was tossed in the stands.  The overly perky couple sitting next to them grabbed the ball, proceeded to take pictures with the ball and laugh and high five.  All while the little three-year-old cried his eyes out.  So what did the young parents do?  Throw a fit? Demand the ball to get their child to stop crying?  Sue the perky couple? the Rangers organization?  Did they go on Access Hollywood and claim their five minutes of fame with tears of how unfair it was?

No.  They appeared on The Today Show the next morning and demonstrated compassion, grace, calmness and thoughtfulness.  They wished the other couple well and hoped people "weren't too hard on them."  They were glad their son didn't get the ball because they turned it into a life lesson--you can't always get what you want.  

Grabbing onto those learning lessons, teaching coping skills as children, better preparing them for adulthood and to be a caring citizen of the world.  That's the parent I want to be.

But it is so damn hard when you just want to stick it to some of the shitty, pushy parents.  When you think you are defending your kid, but it really becomes more about you and your issues.  Not about your opportunity to teach and parent with grace.  Bad news is I have a long way to go.  Good news is I have a big family and maybe by the fourth kid I'll have it down a little better.

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