I come from a sports family. My sister was a softball star, my oldest brother was a basketball and track star and my other brother continues to be an amazing tennis player and coach. And then there was me.
Sports was not my thing. I liked to read, watch TV and eat peanut butter sandwiches. Gordita was one of my nicknames, and I was definitely gordita. And not too fast. And half blind. I didn’t get glasses until the 5th grade. That was years after I started playing T-ball and came home with black eyes from not seeing the balls flying toward my face.
Needless to say, I was not a popular kid and my family is not known for sensitivity. My sister described our childhood as “Lord of the Flies.” So to make up for that, I try to be very sensitive to my two boys. I encourage them to be happy just the way they are and I try not to be critical. That was, until, one of my kids started playing basketball.
He’s 6 and from the beginning I wasn’t sure that basketball would be a good fit for him. It’s a contact sport and he’s a sweet, gentle guy, not an aggressive one.
But you need a little aggression to play basketball. You need to get the ball away from the other team and clear your way to make a basket. You need to make a basket.
“You need to try harder,” I told my son after I had shown him for the gazillionth time how to dribble while running. I was one of the assistant coaches, which I volunteered to do because I thought it would be “fun.” If you would have asked my son at the time he probably would have called it “torture.”
No, I did not bounce the basketball off of his head or call him names a la “The Great Santini,” but it brought out a competitive side I didn’t know I had.
We bought a basketball hoop and played outside after school. We practiced dribbling and shooting and we played keep away. But he didn’t really want to keep it away or get it away from me. He’s just not aggressive and in your face and neither am I, but that didn’t stop me from expecting him to be Michael Jordan (see, I don’t even know the name of a current basketball star).
After several games, I noticed something. Actually, I didn’t notice something, the other parents pointed out that my son had not made a basket during a game (all of the other kids had at that point) and they assured me that it was okay. If it was okay then why was everyone pointing out to me that it was okay?
I haven’t mentioned that this basketball program is the sweetest, most non competitive program you can imagine. The teams are parent coached and no one keeps score. They are so nice that during several games near the end of the season the ref and my son’s head coach spent quite a bit of time setting him up during the game so he would make a basket. I would hold my breath when he would take each shot and then let it out when he wouldn’t make it.
But then in the second to last game, I held my breath and when I let it out it was a scream because he made a basket. I actually started to well up.
And it was in that moment that I realized what a total ass I had been. Who cares if a 6-year-old can make a basket (now that basketball season is over, he’s making them all the time). My son is amazing and smart and good at so many things. Why did I care so much? He’s 6 for god’s sake. How did I get to be that parent?
I still don’t know, but I do know that it takes a very special person to coach children’s sports. And I am not that person.