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02/25/2010

How Youth Sports Taught Me a Lesson

©2010 Jenna Hatfield We gave our oldest son a choice in January: basketball or indoor soccer. He played basketball at our local YMCA last winter. It was his first experience with organized sports, though, if you've ever watched a youth sporting event, you will understand that I use the word organized lightly. He enjoyed it. He enjoyed t-ball last Spring even more. His choice for this year was soccer, brought about most likely by a love of the book Froggy Plays Soccer. (In fact, I think he'd do anything if Froggy did it.)

It's gone mostly well. We've been reinforcing the ideas that the point of the game is to learn about soccer and to have fun. He now understands that you kick the ball toward the goal in which the player has the other team's shirt color. He gets the point of the whistle. He listens to his coach. He's made a new friend or two. And he even gets back up when he's knocked down.

Which, of course, I'm having my own issues with because what Mom likes to watch her four year old son be knocked to the hardwood floor? Not this one.

Two games ago, he only hit the floor twice. I gave him the big thumbs up and he ran off after the ball. During the most recent game, he hit the floor seven times. Once or twice it was a foot tangle issue as he went after the ball with all the gusto he approaches any challenge he meets. The other five times were at the foot, shoulder, leg, other leg and hip of a child that I assume is on the upper end of the Under Six League. A Tall Drink for a young dude, he was good at what he was doing, whether it was running, kicking or knocking over my happy little son.

The first time it happened, I simply chalked it up as a soccer hardship. After all, he had just landed on top of another kid a few minutes earlier, trying to kick at the ball but losing his balance. The second time, however, I watched as Tall Drink looked back at the kid in the orange shirt that he had left on the floor behind him. And then Tall Drink laughed.

He laughed. At my son.

Again, I shrugged it off as a boy thing. I've watched my two sons knock each other over and laugh, even if one was crying. They're rough and tumble. I assumed that Tall Drink was just amused, maybe recalling his first year of soccer and how he bit the dust more than once.

Then I watched as he specifically left the track of the ball and gunned for my son. I wish I was joking.  I wish I was exaggerating. It happened three more times. Thankfully, my son never caught on to the fact that he was being singled out. That, of course, broke my heart even more. Recently, in our group of friends, he didn't realize that two of his own friends had decided to gang up on him and make fun of him. Like me, he simply believes the best of everyone. He laughed right along with the two girls making fun of him that day. And he got right up off the floor those three more times and went back for the ball.

I felt angry. The coach, trying to wrangle all of the players and keep them focused on the ball instead of on imaginary butterflies, could only do so much. My stomach churned with anger and I thought mean things about the kid's Mother. That's right. I judged. But wait a moment before you judge me.

After the game, my son still none the wiser, we went downstairs for the team pictures. I saw Tall Drink with his Mom and felt that same surge of anger, resentment and judgment. Then my son said a kind "hello" to Tall Drink and they exchanged the discussion of small boys who like soccer, pizza and milk. At that point, I felt guilty. And shamed as I realized that my four year old taught me a big lesson, not just about the Wide World of Sports but about life in general.

I had passed judgment on another Mom based on the behavior of her child. How quickly I had forgotten the prior week when my son had an emotional breakdown because he was sad that they were losing (you know, despite our attempts to convince him that it's about having fun, not winning). How quickly I had forgotten that one trip to Denny's in which we had to leave before we ordered because he was inconsolable (and two). How quickly I had forgotten that I am now the mother of a two year old who is, at his core, very much a two year old. I smiled at the Mom and she passed a smile back. I don't know if she knew that her son had pushed mine down. Repeatedly. It didn't matter. I'm supposed to be teaching my son about good sportsmanship and that lesson really needs to start with how I act, react and treat other parents.

But maybe I'm not sad that we won't be playing the Grey team any more this season. Don't judge me. Read above for reasons as to why. 

This is an original Ohio Moms Blog post.

Jenna Hatfield, aka @FireMom, writes about the family side of fire life at Stop, Drop & Blog and adoption issues at The Chronicles of Munchkin Land.

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