The final moments of the eight-game, third-grade season are winding down. While the blue team is comfortably ahead, there is one player who still has not scored this season. The coach calls a time-out and devises a play to pass the ball to him. It’s executed beautifully; the cheerful blond boy is wide-open when he gets the ball and shoots from the key. Splash! The entire team erupts in celebration—the boy grins from ear to ear in delight—there is a feeling of sheer joy in that middle-school gymnasium. As the boys walk off the court for the last time, the mood is exuberant. It is a storybook finish to the season. While it has been an exciting victory, there is more elation around the fact that the team shared in their friend’s accomplishment. They’re his biggest supporters, encouragers and cheerleaders. We leave smiling and proud—that’s what youth sports are all about, right? That’s what we do as
parents, too, isn’t it?
Or is it?
Just support, encourage and cheerlead?
Or are we losing our marbles?
Aren’t we the ones who grumble and gripe as we shake our heads in complete and utter disbelief at that third strike, because we ascertained—with our superior vision—that the pitch was low and outside? Or collectively gasp, jump to our feet, throw our hands in the air and offer a few choice words when the guy behind the plate suffers a split-second lapse in judgment and calls our own flesh and blood out—OUT!?—on a slide.
What is it about youth sports that’s making us lose our marbles? Is it the public display of our child’s athletic prowess that evokes such passion? After all, we don’t react the same way when, say, they’re doing their homework. In fact, that Common Core math has us all so confused that we gladly take a step back and let their teachers teach. We shrug our shoulders defeatedly and say, “I’m sorry. I don’t know how to help you. When we were kids we just memorized stuff.”
So what exactly is bringing out our crazy?
Coaching experts tell us that on the drive home after the game, we’re simply supposed to gaze warmly upon our kids and say, “I love watching you play.”
Is that true?
I’ve watched as my son painfully balked in a run. I’ve seen him kick up more dirt than Pig-Pen, almost disappearing in a cloud of dust that swirled up and around him on the mound, while he desperately spun around trying to determine which base to throw to for an out. I’ve witnessed him leaning so far into pitches in the batter’s box that he nearly toppled himself over, like a tipsy Weeble.
“Love” was not what came to mind.
More like “get me out of here” as I eyed the sweltering Honey Bucket—frequented by a slew of man-boys playing in a doubleheader—as my only escape.
Losing my marbles.
We’re not just spectators at their games anymore, either. We’ve become experts in every facet of the sport. It would be such a shame to waste all that knowledge we’ve gleaned from MLB Network, SportsCenter and the NFL Combine, so we generously help out our coaches—without them even having to ask—by calling out two-word instructional tips and reminders that are sure to help our kids feel relaxed and confident out there in the
“Load earlier,” “Box out,” “Choke up,” “Head in,” “Sneak through,” “Hands up,” and on and on.
Even our encouraging words sometimes seem to contain veiled meanings. “Nice hustle,” code for “How come he’s not doing that in the timed mile?” “Not your pitch,” means “Don’t just stand there, swing the bat, for crying out loud.” “Get the rebound!” short for “I guess somebody needs to work on his lay-ups.”
And if we’re not critiquing or offering helpful advice from the stands, we’re discussing our kids like we’re sports-talk radio analysts, unpacking every plate appearance, stat, missed opportunity and our athlete’s dietary keys to success: the weekly intake of Taco Bell Beefy Five-Layer Burritos, a bagful of Takis and Sour Patch Watermelon Slurpees.
We can even find a way to complain about the officiating after a win.
Losing our marbles.
Whatever happened to just cheering for our kids?
Maybe some old-fashioned clapping along with an enthusiastic “Way to go!”?
My son will be fifteen this summer. Those car rides home with us will soon be a thing of the past. I want him to feel (and remember) that I truly did love watching him play. I want to make sure that I’m authentic with my words, tone and actions, so that even my body language is telling him that truth, and that seeking out a Honey Bucket for refuge—or the urge to bite my nails in my stadium chair—doesn’t enter my mind. That when I say “I love watching you play” it means just that, not “I love watching you play, but that third inning was a doozy.”
Another parental window is coming to an all-too-quick close.
I say we just clap, cheer and celebrate like a bunch of giddy, victorious third graders—and simply gaze warmly upon our kids on that car ride home—while we still have the chance.