Athleticism in my family stopped with my father. My grandfather was a featherweight boxer in the army and both his sons followed in his footsteps. A baseball player through high school, Dad wanted desperately for one of the three of us kids to inherit the genes of a ball player. His preference was softball for his two girls or baseball for my brother, but by the time we were in grade school, I think he’d have settled for any type of ball to stick. The three of us were mediocre at best.
He offered to coach a softball team in our miniscule home town when I was seven. I signed up to play because it meant spending quality time with Dad. In a family of five, you take whatever individual time you can get. Even if means having other girls chunk softballs at your head, you still roll out of bed. For a man who traveled 275 days a year, Friday night practices and weekend tournaments were heaven on earth to me. None of my reasons of joining the team had anything to do with my desire to play the game.
Early Saturday morning games meant breakfast at McDonald’s and late night tournaments away from home meant eating pizza or tacos out. Living in a small town twenty minutes from the closest restaurant, every meal not served by my mother was a gift. Even though my siblings and mom were usually tagging along, warm up and practices were just extra Daddy time for me. Sticky Oklahoma summer days on a red dirt laden ball field and the smell of a leather glove and sweaty ball cap makes me smile. It was some of the best days of my childhood.
I continued to play until high school because Dad continued to coach. Our mascot for our recreational and our high school team was the Lady Warriors. Learning to play softball was always secondary to teaching us girls how to be ladies. Every practice ended with some sort of life lesson, bit of wisdom about relationships and sometimes an analogy with the game of softball to the game of life. Dad worried more about us being good people and more importantly proper ladies than he ever did about our batting averages.
Sportsmanship, friendship and learning how to love one another were all part of his curriculum. As long as we were playing our best and with good attitudes, Dad believed we would never truly lose. At his graveside service welcoming him into Heaven, a girl I hadn’t seen since high school sobbed as she wrapped her arms around me. “I will never forget your Dad’s concern for coaching us to be ladies. He was always more worried with that than whether we won or lost a softball game. It has stayed with me for my entire life.” She said.
Being a mom to two tween super athletes (they are adopted and have none of my genes), I am surrounded by parents who want to see their children do well. More often than not, the passion for the game and their child displays itself in the most ugly of ways on the field. I want to grab each one of them by the shoulders and shake them while screaming “what do you want them to remember about this day? Surely it is not their parent screaming at them, the coach or the other team.”
Like Dad, I care more about who my children become as people than ball players. Whether you coach your kids or support them from the sidelines, please remember to ask yourself a few things before and after the game. What is it we want our kids to remember about us in those moments? Do we care more about the win than learning the lessons of playing a sport? Games are exciting, especially when you know one or more of the players, but focus more on who your child is becoming and less about keeping score.