Sunday, June 18, 2017

Pep talk

I hate sports.

Kids' sports, especially.

Sorry. I know it's not a popular sentiment, nor a particularly fair one at that.

I wish I could just walk it off.

It's not any one thing. … The time ... The expense ... The constant battle against rage and emotive outbursts from just about everyone.




I hate pep talks most of all, which is what was going through my mind as I read the coach's email, reminding parents to tell our kids “they were just as good as, if not better than, the team that defeated them” a mere moment ago.

He didn't want to hear the words “we can't win, they're too good” come out of their mouths. All they need to do was bring their “A Game.”

He explained, if we are to do well in the tournament, this was the price parents had to chip in. And then he used the word “nemesis” in describing the opposing team of 10-year-old boys, whose friendships all intertwine.

He said nothing about the dirt-kicking or trash-talking that came from our side of the field.

He remembered to say “have fun,” which I imagine most people assume will absolve them of all other impure thoughts about “playing hard.”

I have impure thoughts.

I want to snark and send back a reply, reminding him that most of the kids not having fun appeared to be coaches kids. And kids who sat on the bench. Or kids who missed a play. Or hit a handily-caught pop fly. Or otherwise messed up, only to have his team turn on him with a string of "you shouldas."

But who am I?

Even if their team won, 10-year-olds weren't going to be happy with their individual lackluster performances. Or their teammates, it seemed. Winning isn't everything, as the old saying goes. On these occasions, it seems to be the only thing.

I don't intervene.

I don't complain to the coach or other parents. I know they are holding their breath, too. We are all trying to keep ourselves from crossing the line between support and suppression. It seems wrong to cheer the play at second. Someone caught the ball. The other someone got tagged out.

I try not to make noise, or sigh too loudly, as I know my natural stress release can stress people out. I don't always succeed.

It's probably a prejudice of mine born out of sour-grapes and a lifetime of bench-sitting and sore-loser status. But I just can't shake off the notion that 10-year-olds seeking a “competitive edge” are playing with knives. It's all fun and games until someone gets cut. And someone always gets cut.

That's life,” you say as you blame me for the emergence of participation awards.

Not really,” I retaliate as I blame you for year-round travel teams and sucking the life out of recreational games.

Eventually, we must face the truth.

My kid is never going to play professional baseball. (I erased the word “probably” from that sentence to eradicate any shred of expectancy, even slight.) And neither will yours.

But my kid will meet his “nemesis” at school tomorrow on the playground. And if he's learned anything about the value of sport, he will congratulate his friend for playing a great game. 

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