Sunday, September 12, 2010
Sparky is a jock. He is an exceptional athlete. He is obsessed with sports. Playing, watching, coaching, it doesn’t matter. He’s there. He’s been known to watch fishing and golf on TV if there are no baseball or football games on. I mean, really. Fishing? Could anything be more boring than fishing? Yep, watching fishing. But his first love is and always will be – Football.
So when we had a son, I know that Sparky’s mind just exploded with fantasies of all of the Superbowl rings and Heisman trophies his son would bring home. Unfortunately, the kid inherited my non-existent athletic talent.
Our son is a creative, artistic soul. This was evident from the time he could hold a pencil. As an only child and an only grandchild, this kid had a million dollars worth of toys before he could walk. And yet, with every toy in existence at his disposal, he was most happy with a pad of paper and a pencil. Give him tape and a stapler and he was producing figures with movable parts at age 4.
When Son O’Mine started school, much to his father’s delight, he decided he wanted to play a sport. Just one problem, he didn’t know what sport – just “A” sport. So we set out on a quest to try every sport till we found the one he liked.
In Kindergarten we signed him up for soccer. We were sadly unprepared for the suburban sport scene. Practices were pretty uneventful – parents would drop their kids off and peel out of the parking lot at the speed of light. We seemed to be the only parents who stayed. Since neither of us knew much about soccer, we made the effort to learn. We didn’t realize that everyone else saw practice as free babysitting for a couple hours.
However, Game Day was a whole other story.
The sidelines were packed with tripods and cameras. It looked like the set of a Spielberg epic. A crowd of thousands (Parents and Grandparents sipping from what I suspect were vodka-laced thermos bottles) watched and filmed as a pack of 5 year olds ran up and down the field kicking each other. An hour later it was over. Score: 0-0. That’s pretty much how the season went. At the end of the season, we asked if he wanted to continue with soccer.
“No. Too much running.”
The next spring, we tried T-ball. This we understood. Sparky was the king of softball at that time (he played on no less than 5 teams), so he was able to give the kid all kinds of tips. We made sure one of us went to every practice and Sparky tried to get the kid interested in catching in the back yard. We were interested in T-ball. The kid – not so much.
He played in the outfield. Most games would find him out there with his mitt on his head, looking for 4-leaf clovers in the grass. I can’t really blame him, there aren’t many 6 year old power hitters so it’s not as if the ball ever got out there. Although there were a few that rolled out there by accident. He just never noticed.
Sparky, being the most competitive man on the planet, could not comprehend how his son just didn’t care if his team won. It drove him nuts. He just couldn’t understand that for a 6 year old, baseball didn’t consist of hits and runs, but it meant “put on the uniform, stand in the field for a while and then we get ice cream.”
So much for T-ball.
The next fall, it was basketball. We even bought a basketball hoop for him to practice. I believe it was used a total of 6 times before we dumped it at a tag sale. The only time he ever earned any points was after a girl *gasp!* took the ball from him and scored. He was so pissed he went back in, swiped the ball and ran the length of the court to score a basket. That was the first and only basket he made. When we asked him if he liked basketball, the answer was “Way too much running.”
Next – Lacrosse. Yeah, we live in one of those towns. Lacrosse. It’s like soccer with a big fucking stick. He didn’t much like the game, never really understood it and again, hated all the running. He did, however like the stick. He carried it everywhere. Suffice it to say, every time he turned around, something crashed to the floor. In the course of one Lacrosse season, he managed to destroy every breakable thing in this house.
We were running out of sports.
And then… Sparky discovered Youth Football. But the kid was too young. He was 8 and the minimum age was 9. OH NO! But wait… read the fine print. The child had to be 9 on the 15th. The kid’s birthday was the 14th.
YES!!! (Insert Hallelujah chorus here) Sparky did the happy dance. FOOTBALL. Not only could the kid play, but the Spark man, he, himself could volunteer to coach. YIPPEE!!!
I always told Son O’Mine that we had him so his Dad would have someone to play with but he didn’t believe me – now he knows the truth.
So we signed the kid up for Youth Football and Sparky volunteered (Pick ME!! Pick ME!!) to coach. Thus began our family adventure into Suburban Football.
Now I, being female, knew absolutely nothing about football. And 12 years later, I don’t know much more than I did then. Which is as it should be. Some things should remain a secret.
The first thing to change is that I was not allowed to attend practice. “Mom, that’s just dorky!” But I was expected to be at every game. I thought this would be like the other sports where they played other teams in town. Yeah, that’s not how it works. You see, now we were in a League which meant that we had to schlep to some distant town always requiring at least an hour’s drive. Every Sunday was taken. No more sleeping in, no more lazy Sundays just hanging out. Each week it was a major production – white pants or black pants, red shirt or white shirt, cleats or sneakers, get the helmet, get the shoulder pads, water bottle, mouth guard, clean socks, jock strap, etc, etc, etc. Pile all our crap into the car and meet everyone else in the grocery store parking lot so we could caravan to the far off field.
At first, I learned the Mom Dance. Here’s how that works. Kid falls down, Mom stands up. Kid gets up, Mom sits down. That’s it.
But as the years went on, I began to find myself understanding a bit of what was going on down on that field. I don’t know how it happened, I’m thinking osmosis. Big mistake, though. Because the basic rules of football are stupid.
Don’t believe me? Try this: Find any man who is a football fan (any straight man) and tell him that a down is when the guy with the ball falls down. He will immediately say “No!” and launch into some long and complex definition that when you really listen just means a down is when the guy with the ball falls down.
But I digress.
So now that I am gaining this great understanding of Football (which seems to have unwittingly caused a shift in the universe which I believe may be responsible for all of the natural disasters of the past decade. Sorry world, I didn’t know.), I began to recognize just how really freaking stupid the Youth Football League rules were.
They managed to take one of the toughest sports there is (second only to Rugby - Rugby is #1 tough - Rugby players eat their dead), and suck all of the competition out of it.
Here are some of their rules – I refer to this as “The Dumbass guide to Noncompetitive Competitive Sports.”
• Every kid makes the team.
• Every kid gets to play at least 10 plays per game.
• At the end of the season, every kid gets a trophy.
This one is the worst: If any team wins by more than 35 points, the coach of the WINNING team is suspended for the next game. Are you freaking kidding me??
They punish them for winning! How can it possibly be beneficial to encourage children NOT to play to their full potential?
“We don’t want the other (LOSING) team to feel bad.”
They should feel bad – THEY SUCK!
All those “how to be a parent” books really fucked us up. Our job as parents isn’t to remove all obstacles from their path so they slide through life without expending any effort. Our job is to prepare them for just how crappy life can be. Life isn’t fair. It’s not supposed to be fair.
How will they ever learn to improve if they never lose? How will they ever learn to fight for what they want if they never fail?
At one game, a mother actually wanted the coach to stop the game and move the players around because the kid guarding hers was bigger than him. I scored lots of points with the Dads when I said, “Lady, it’s football, not a tea party!” I wasn’t too popular with the Moms after that.
I understand the desire to make things easier for your kids. But I think we’ve taken it too far. In our zeal to make life smooth and easy and warm and fuzzy for our kids, we have done them a huge disservice. If they never know what it feels like to fail (BAD), they will never truly appreciate how it feels to win (AWESOME).
So let them fall, slap a bandaid on it and shove them back into play. By the time they figure out that we were just winging it at this parenting thing, they’ll have kids of their own.