Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Confessions of a sports parent

And so it began.

A swarm of parents and their five-year-olds milled about at the elementary school play field on a Thursday evening in April, anxiously anticipating the outset of their kids' inaugural, organized sport—T-ball. The children mostly appeared the same, wearing their Christmas ornament-sized baseball gloves, their hats balanced askew on downy, little noggins. Most of the adults, especially the dads, looked far more intent than their offspring, and I should have known, upon spotting that one kid wearing a full Seattle Mariner uniform, that her dad was ready for some serious vicarious livin'.

That was ten years ago; ten years since my daughter and I reported for her first practice. During that time, my teenager has involved herself with (and I'm sure I'm missing a few here) thirteen basketball, two softball, three baseball, four volleyball and six soccer squads. We've tried to keep everything low key, to give her opportunities to play a sport without dedicating her life to it. I'd be willing to wager that the five-year-old in the full Mariner costume continued on into "select" or "premier" team situations, where the financial outlay and time commitment are similar to Harvard Law.

I've had to consciously attempt to not be the stereotypical sports dad, and it's really been a challenge for me to abstain from imparting wisdom from my own stellar high school athletic career upon her. Bruce Springsteen sings about an ex-jock constantly reliving his high school sports exploits in Glory Days. Well, that's me if I don't check myself or my wife doesn't shoot me an electric-cattle-prod stare. On occasion, I've had conversations with my young scholar-athlete which go something like:

Me: "Zoe, did I ever tell you about the game where I had two interceptions?"

Zoe: "Yeah."

Me (ignoring her): "Well, it was the fourth quarter and our team desperately need a turnover and..."

Zoe: "Dad. You've told me this story fifty times. What's for dinner?"

Me: "Let me just tell you, Zoe, the lesson here is that when you get knocked over, you get back up..."

She's now left the room.

I attended her first high school game last week, and my emotions bounced around the gym like a worn racquetball. I was proud. I was nervous. I became furious at the kid behind me who said the team sucked. I flashed back to all of those Saturday afternoons watching a swarm of seven-year-old chasing a ball around like a cat in a dog park.

My eyes welled up a little when Zoe stepped onto the court. It came out of nowhere, a throbbing throat lump, followed by a slightly quivering lower lip. As I watched her sprint up and down the court, an overwhelming truth emitted from her and burrowed its way into her father's oft-inflexible gray matter: she's having fun.

And that's when I finally relaxed.

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