Competitive Sports: A Brave New World
Jack was a perfect baby. He was sweet and reserved, gentle and loving to everyone. I still say that he is the reason we kept having more children… He’s a joy and a love through and through. Over his short seven years, he has retained those traits-his sensitivity to others and their feelings brings me pause daily. Of course, like most people, he has his moments at home that he specifically reserves for us. I’m able to see him deal with things in a much more raw way, sometimes I can help… Other times I’m completely disarmed.
When he was about a year old, Jack would sit and put together the wooden puzzles that Justin and I had used as babies as well. Over and over, he’d try to fit the pieces into their spaces until he figured them out and moved on (some of these I still can’t do all that well). He moved onto floor puzzles and eventually the amazing Ravensburger ones that, again, even I found challenging. He was a whiz and has shown the same determination in most tasks he approaches in his every day life to this day.
Socially, Jack is less aggressive. He is shy, especially in new situations but this past year has proven to be incredibly monumental in terms of establishing his place in his classes, teams, and peer groups. His confidence is growing, and his determination to complete a task is intense. For months he spent every afternoon shooting baskets out on our hoop by the curb until he could make them regularly, and he made sure to apply that vigilance during the games on his first basketball team. The same went for his skills in baseball and swimming.
These are parent-led team sports in which every child received a trophy at the end of the season. All children were recognized with participation awards regardless of performance or how hard they tried. The kid that spent practice and games sitting in the dirt picking grass or rough-housing and distracting got the same acknowledgement as the child that made an incredible personal effort as well as being supportive of his team mates.
Regardless of that, the point is to have fun and encourage these kids to try their very best, and that involves learning how to treat each other in a positive manner so that it benefits everyone.
For the past two weeks, Jack has been participating in a Junior Lifeguard program in our area. Every morning, Monday through Friday, for four weeks he is on the beach at 9 AM doing drills with a bunch of other children- his first competitive co-ed sport involvement. While I don’t think they’re actively competing against each other daily, there is definitely a lot of physical activity involved-running, swimming, boogie boarding-he’s learning the basics of being a Lifeguard. Earlier this week the league held their summer competitions where the kids were participating in drills in hopes of gaining placement. The first game, Surf Ball, had 20 kids lined up in the sand to race into the water, grab a tennis ball and race back. The quickest to do so would place and get a ribbon, those who didn’t… Didn’t. My mom and I stood at the ropes watching, cameras rolling, yelling and whooping for our boy who clearly had the intensity in his eyes and demeanor to win. The call was given and he ran his heart out into the water, only to retreat back slowly without a tennis ball, his face stuffed into the rim of his shirt, clearly sobbing and trying to conceal his defeat and embarrassment from his peers and onlookers.
I just stood there, stunned. I shut the camera off, threw on my dark sunglasses and began discreetly wiping tears of my own. YiaYia was on the other side doing the same. I felt like a failure too, crying like a baby when I was supposed to be his strength and support…the one reminding him that this is just for fun that he did really, really well no matter what. I know the taste of self-defeat and disappointment, as I held it in my mouth through much of my youth. The thought of him experiencing that is more than I can bear. He’s stronger than that though, and he’ll rise above. In fact, not twenty minutes later he earned a third place ribbon in a team boogie boarding competition.
He wasn’t happy though. By the end of the day, he was drained emotionally and physically and lacked the sense of pride that, as his parent, I practically live and breathe on. It was a lesson that perhaps I wasn’t prepared to learn that day, and one that was inevitable to come for him as a young, competitive, sports loving child heading into second grade. He tasted defeat and it will make him stronger… he got up, tried his hardest, and he won.
Parenthood is so much less about actual parenting as it is learning and guiding.
I keep relating this experience to how it affected me as his mother because I’m learning these lessons all over again, too. As the oldest of nearly four children, Jack is truly guiding us all along this path in the best way possible. I just hope I have the ability (ok, lets be honest, I hope I have the balls) to make it through next decade being a supportive and positive influence in his life as a sports mom.