I am the least-likely athletic parent you would ever want to meet. I was the two left feet, poor eyesight, quintessential last kid picked. My playground days were spent hanging around the swing set, not swinging a bat to the skies.
It’s the ultimate irony of the universe that someone like me would give birth to two natural athletes with a will to win. I have sat sidelines since my oldest was five years old. That’s more than a decade of faithful fandom.
I’ve seen poor sportsmanship and bad attitude in the checkout line of the supermarket. Throw a punch, tackle a kid or otherwise distinguish yourself with a display of poor graces and you will make the news every time.
That’s not news. Badly behaved “hockey dads” get all the press. What also isn’t news, but should be, is how much athletics bring to the field of good sports and good grace. In truth, I have found the most amazing displays of selflessness and good sportsmanship on athletic fields over the past decade.
This summer alone I witnessed an opposing — and losing — team voluntarily admit an error and graciously turn possession of the ball back to our team. It was a scrimmage and it wouldn’t’ have “mattered” if they’d let the wrong call stand — but they quickly corrected, of their own volition. Technically they went on to lose the game, but in my eyes those athletes won.
My daughter was competing against a formidable opponent recently. She watched in horror as a key player for the opposition went down hard. She had every reason not to help that opponent. She had the advantage if she didn’t — but instead she bent down and said “Our coach has ice. Can I get you some?” Then she did. I don’t remember her score that day but I know she won with me.
Another child, an avid and accomplished runner, was heading down the finish line for yet another amazing race when she stunned the crowd by slowing way down. She held back and cheered on a classmate who needed to place in order to letter in track — an accomplishment she herself had easily met much earlier. She embodied grace as she accompanied her teammate across the finish line — and just a few steps behind.
On two other occasions I have watched an entire stadium stand and applaud the slowest runner, the literal last man standing. We applaud not the finish but the fight.
In the years before high school my children played competitive co-ed soccer. We were oblivious up in the stands, but apparently an opponent on the field became furious when our daughter scored on him to the endless teasing of his male teammates.
Furious, he targeted her with vulgarities. Without hesitation another team member, all of 12 years old, jumped in to defend her. I haven’t interacted with that young man in a few years, but I would venture to say he’s still a great kid.
Make no mistake, I do not come naturally to my Zen attitude. I am a quintessential mother bear. When my children hurt I will come after you with the malevolence normally only seen in Disney villains.
Adults jockey for attention and all too often seem to make the news for their bad reactions and behavior, but at the end of the day I truly think youth athletics are not about sports so much as sportsmanship. I like that story because I like to catch kids “doing something good” and jumping to the defense of a teammate, of any gender, is the definition of that for me.
Young athletes should be praised for their personality and choices — not performance. At end of the day, game and life, your attitude is what proves your worth far more than your athletics. Sports last the length of the game or match. Good sportsmanship lasts forever.