I once spent two months shooting hoops daily just so I could (barely) beat my girlfriend at one-on-one. I’m not a bad athlete, but suffice to say basketball is not my sport.
So far, the same holds true for Eli.
I took Eli to his first official basketball game over the weekend. To my shock, some of his teammates on this 5 and 6-year-old squad were so good I’d have to revisit my personal training camp to beat ‘em. They could dribble, do layups and hit nuthin’ but net. And then there was Eli, alternately looking lost and bored, coming to life only when he decided to turn covering a girl on the other team into a pseudo dance competition.
To be fair, she didn’t sink any baskets, either.
I watched fathers all around me cheer on their sons, offer advice and applaud every basket. I sat there alternately wrestling with my two year old who wanted to be anywhere but the gym and hoping some of my wife’s genes would make an appearance on the court.
I saw my parental sports future laid out before me. Getting annoyed by fellow dads screaming directions at their kids. Wincing as my son gets outmaneuvered by his competition. Figuring out what to say after the game and whether Eli would be flustered or simply happy to be there.
My wife reminds me the best thing to tell Eli after a game is that we’re proud of his hustle. “You tried your best, son,” is the approved mantra, and it’s exactly what I told him after the game. My pride was still in shock, and I wasn’t proud to admit it.
We live vicariously through our children, for better and worse. Watching Eli’s less than stellar performance sprinkled salt on my old athletic wounds. Getting picked second to last – just once, but once was more than enough. I never embarrassed myself in gym class or on the baseball diamond, but I also rarely heard the cheers every boy pines to hear.
Later that day I manually reset my parental compass, but not without some effort. I refocused on Eli and his sports future. I don’t want him to be the worst on his team for long. That’s not a spot any child wants, and I can drill him past it with a combination of elbow grease and parental nudging. From there, I don’t care what happens next. He’ll blaze his own trail, make his own two-point shots (fingers crossed) and maybe even get picked second once in a while when it’s time to choose teams in gym class. Playing sports teaches sharing, teamwork, perseverance and good character. I”ll be darned if I’m gonna cheat Eli out of all of that due to my bruised ego.
I deserve to be benched if I get in Eli’s way.
Have you faced a similar situation and have some wisdom to help other fathers? Please share how you dealt with your child’s sports issues below.