Lately, I need to put myself in check. I’m becoming “that” parent. Something I swore I’d never become, a dreaded “bleacher coach.”
When my 10-year-old son Dexter steps into the batter box, something comes over me. I become agitated and mutter things under my breath.
“Why does he look like a wet noodle?”
As one whips past him into the catcher’s mitt, and he strikes out watching, I let out an audible, exasperated sigh.
Switch gears to basketball.
“Why isn’t he leaving his feet when he rebounds?”
“He’s shooting with two hands again? Don’t force the pass!”
Let’s head over to the lacrosse field, where my daughter, Vivien, 8, is playing.
“Why won’t she go for the ball? Why is she just standing there? What is she doing?”
As the ball gets scooped up by an opposing player, I shake my head.
My better half, Jason, encourages me not to use my “old-man-deaf-whisper” and share every thought I have when my kids are playing sports — that other parents sometimes turn and stare at me in disbelief.
“You aren’t as quiet as you think,” he advises.
I know, many reading this must think I’m some sort of horrible parent who puts tons of pressure on her kids and is trying to live vicariously through them in order to relive her own athletic career.
There might be a small nugget of truth to that, but not for the reasons one might think.
Sports to me were my safe place, a place where I could escape, a place where I could get lost in the competition and let out my frustrations in a healthy manner. My anger transformed into aggression, the one thing coaches love in a player but can’t teach.
I thrived on getting “yelled” at by coaches. It fueled me to do better.
Sports and competition are what I know. I want my children to experience the joy I did when I played. I want them to have their hearts broken when they fall short in the playoffs, to get in a jumping-hug-huddle when they pull off an improbable 20-point comeback and win it all in basketball. I want them to have lifelong friendships that are formed on the field.
The athletic fields are where I learned about life. I learned how to lose graciously, how to take a hit, how to get up when knocked over. I learned that dedication to something does pay off, that you have to learn how to get along with others, even if you don’t like them, in order to find success.
I discovered if you want something bad enough, it takes hours of practice filled with blood, sweat, and tears — not time spent on an electronic device or in front of the TV.
My best friends in this life are former teammates. My greatest mentors are coaches who guided me. I always had the security of knowing I belonged somewhere when I suited up. Because of all of this, it’s a struggle for me to sit on my hands and zip it. But I need to.
Being a sports parent has proven to be a challenge, but is teaching me the practice of being patient.
I shouldn’t be comparing my athletic journey to my offspring. Just as I wouldn’t expect them to read, write or solve math problems at my level, I have to accept their athletic abilities, too.
Whether that means they emerge as superstars or are pine riders enjoying the view from the sidelines; whatever their journeys, I need to embrace it.
Maybe they will find the same thrills I did playing sports, maybe they won’t. Perhaps their paths will take them to different places than my own and all of that is exciting.
It’s difficult to cut those apron strings or, in this case, cleat shoelaces. Even though my athletic career is long over, I am still learning from the sidelines. Sometimes I need to put the whistle away, sit back and enjoy the show without making a peep.