When I lived in the suburbs of Chicago, it was understood that you started signing your kids up for sports teams by age four. From then on life was lived largely on a field of some sort with a folding chair. (God bless the inventor of the current model with shade, foot rest, and the all important cup holder.) Snack parents and coffee parents were assigned at the beginning of the season and life was now mapped out for the duration. A date with your husband? Why the awards banquets of course.
I’m not complaining. We have tons of video and photos. There is the sweet moment of my daughter and her friend Bess doing the macarena and hugging as the ball dribbled into the goal at soccer. My husband would take the twins out into the back yard with the giant plastic bat and ball and play a variation of baseball. In this version, he would not tag them out. Rather, he would get the ball and chase them around the “bases” yelling, “I’M GONNA GET YOU!”
Not knowing any different, both boys applied this principle to getting the opponent out in T-ball. That’s another I have on video.
But, as any parent discovers, the level of competition moves glacially from the sweet to the intense. The barometer is cranked up on expectations. It is rather insidious, I think. Suddenly, at eight years old, it is a tragedy if your child is not invited to try out for and consequently make a travel team. (They’ll never make the high school team if this doesn’t occur.) Really, EIGHT?
Many people find themselves with three kids in three different sports in three different states on any given weekend throughout the year. When my daughter expressed an interest in Irish dancing, I discovered I/we would be expected to spend thousands of dollars on costumes and compete in feis in St. Louis over the Thanksgiving weekend. Otherwise, your daughter would never have a chance. As with everything else in life, there were “better” clubs and “lesser” clubs. Okay, take that off the list.
It’s not that I didn’t support or encourage my childrens’ interests. We emphasized fun. Everything in life would be ramped up soon enough. We found sports teams in less competitive suburbs, since the Olympics were not our goal. Our daughter and twin sons were happy with this decision. After all, we strongly advocated the ancient Greek philosophy of a balance between body, mind and spiritus. They enjoyed the teams and sports of which they partook. My husband and I also got our weekly date, an integral part of the dynamic of our marriage. We retained the integrity of the family we had worked so hard to build.
We vetoed hockey because the five year olds could only have the 5:30 a.m. time slot. This was before a Chicago father encouraged his young child to check a kid so hard he ended up paralyzed and another father was stabbed in a fight in the stands. Hockey is a tough sport. But felonious assault by the spectators?
Chicago area soccer clubs were beginning to speak of advocating “silent Sundays”. Even positive comments (which were legion in our area with a couple of exceptions) were to be banned. Parents were to stand in silence on the sidelines.
That was just another grain of sand in the hourglass of our decision to leave. From the sublime of the macarena and a hug to the silence of “support” for team spirit.
When we moved out here to the wild west, I was warned that this was a tough town. I smugly laughed. I had lived with the pros for all my life. This was bush league.
Or maybe not. I had not anticipated small town infrastructure.
One of the first jokes I heard here was “Why doesn’t South Dakota have a professional team?”
Answer: “Because then Minnesota would want one.” (Sorry neighbor.)
But when you live in one of those states that doesn’t have a pro team or has “only” a semi-pro team, the focus of competition becomes primarily high school or collegiate. There exists a “Hoosiers” mentality. EVERYONE in town shows up to the high school games for football, soccer, basketball and American Legion baseball. People who no longer have kids on teams still follow them and attend the games. The retirees are a fixture.
My one-minute older son plays basketball. Last year, right at the beginning of the season, he sprained his shoulder at the local ski hill and spent the greatest part of the season riding the bike in practice. When he finally was medically cleared, he spent the season warming a chair and being supportive of his team. This year, when he wanted to go out for the team again, we revoked his ski pass. He was completely okay with that decision.
He made every practice and came home tired. I knew he was working hard. The coach, at the beginning of the season, held a parent meeting where he stated very clearly that he would happily meet with any parent to discuss anything EXCEPT play time.
I can completely understand that policy, having experienced helicopter parents on steroids. But after game five of driving all over western South Dakota, only to see my son’s buns in a chair for the duration, I began to empathize with those whirlybirds back “east river”.
But I honored the policy. Rather I encouraged my son, a man of few words (usually seven or ten a day – at least toward his folks) to go to the coach and ask what he needed to work on or what he needed to do to get play time.
“Keep working.” was the reply.
I could feel my son’s pain and frustration as the season progressed. There were a couple of other kids in the same situation. We watched these kids continue to warm the chairs and support the rest of the team.
It turns out that there were two basketball camps last summer.
Cultural aside: When we moved here, everyone assumed that you knew where everything was located, what events were impending, at what practice venue and who needed to be there. No flyers, e-mails, or phone trees are ever utilized.
My son missed the first basketball camp because he was on a two week, sixty mile hike with the boy scouts that had been planned for sixteen months. Apparently, carrying around a sixty pound pack for fourteen days doesn’t count as conditioning.
It turns out the coach was only playing the kids who had managed to make the camps.
Last night was the last game of the season. We were playing a team from Rapid City that is known for their basketball team. We were getting trounced. But Mom and Dad were on their stadium chairs courtside being supportive.
Last two minutes of the game. IT HAPPENS!!! My son got to play.
In two minutes time: a block, a rebound, a steal and a basket.
I can guarantee that my son heard us in the bleachers. Take that coach.
I’ll dine on this for months. And I thank my son for “allowing” me (sort of) to hug and kiss him in the high school gym.
Aaaaaah. Sometimes standing on your tongue and letting your child handle the situation yields really GREAT moments.