” Watching something is nothing like doing it.”–Paul Newman
“Just throw strikes!” “Catch it with your hands!” “Run faster!” “Defense…Defense…Defense!” When I am watching my favorite teams, I get caught up in the armchair quarterback conundrum. The more I care about the outcome of a competition, the more personally I react. It was never more true than when my own children were participating.
To watch a little league game with the same intensity that you would a college game demonstrates a battle for self control. Wanting to advantage your child or her team, you make lots of noise on the sidelines or in the stands. The fun begins to diminish in favor of the desire to win, win, win! Even with experience and maturity, it feels like the game is only thing that matters at the time. But after the game, you see more clearly, and you regret letting your emotions get the best of you.
That’s the allure of sports for those of us who are competitive by nature. It just feels so good when you win. And many of us hate to lose even more. But what are we communicating to young athletes? None of my own children went to my alma mater in college. We had taken them to numerous games, clad in full collegiate gear, fully indoctrinated to support our team…we thought. And in retrospect, I see the possible why’s.
Whenever our team would play on Saturdays, notice was served that Mom and Dad would be busy for the four hours it took for the broadcast. If the quarterback was intercepted, I would let out a “whoop” that scared the dog, and the kids were no where to be found. When the defensive line caved, negativity spewed. The intensity was thick enough to cut with a knife. Although I have mellowed some, it is still a struggle to watch certain games. I comment on every play that is not perfect; I coach from the comforts of my living room. I bemoan the administrators who hired the feckless coach. Who recruited these players?And, by the way, none of our offspring played my sport of basketball for very long either. Probably for some of the same reasons.
With the great advantage of hindsight, I can tell you without reservation, “It is just a game.” I don’t remember much about games the children or my favorite teams played. There were good plays and bad plays, good calls and bad calls, big wins and bad losses. It’s easier to remember the good plays, the rare championships. What I have learned is that the sum total of the value of those experiences is in the joy we had being together, watching players play, and acknowledging how the sports experiences were mini-lessons in life…for me, too.
Each child, each athlete’s story is unique. Watch with amazement as your son or daughter’s story unfolds. At times you will feel they are overlooked, at other times you will wonder how such good fortune could come his way. Make every effort to restrain the negative emotions within the earshot of the young athlete. When they have moved on from sports, may you share memories of all the good times, find humor in missteps, and allow the memories of disappointment to fade.
- Cherish the present opportunities to enjoy watching your children play sports, knowing that it ends for every athlete at some point.
- Restrain negativity to preserve memories of the joys in the youth sports journey, which will be a great reward that outlasts the experience.