Upward & Onward

Wait, wait, wait… This can’t be right. My daughter is smiling.

Sports has occupied some space in my life for as long as I can remember. Unfortunately, I can’t say all my athletic experiences have been positive. Through my own insistence on perfection, demeaning and cruel coaches, and a body that would just never quite do what I wanted it to, participating in sports probably did as much damage to my psyche as it did good. I never gave up watching sports live and on television or reading about them in the newspaper or listening to them on the radio, but even today I can’t do any of those without feeling the sting of those awful years I went through.

The prospect of any of my children wanting to seriously pursue sports today absolutely terrifies me. If I heard a coach address any of my children in the manner some of my coaches did me, I’d tell them to quit on the spot. No “hang in there, it will build your character, blah, blah, blah” speech from this dad. The price of my children’s dignity and self-respect is worth more than whatever some coach might want out of them will ever be.

When my wife and I had two girls first, I thought we might be able to avoid sports altogether. That may have been stereotyping on my part, but I seem to notice more girls who never pay much attention to sports than I do boys. Of course, my hopes were dashed when both girls wanted to play soccer as soon as they were old enough. We’ve done a little tee ball and a little more soccer since then, with my oldest son getting into things.

So far, there hasn’t been anything negative to report. In fact, everyone seems to be having quite a bit of fun. I still have this uneasy feeling, though, that things will change as they start to get older. Practices will become more frequent. Coaches will be more demanding. Pressure will be put on us to travel every weekend. This could all be ridiculous speculation on my part … or it could be the way we’re headed. Only time will tell, I guess.

For now, though, I have been most pleasantly surprised this year by my 10-year-old daughter’s first experience with Upward Sports. Upward Sports LogoShe wanted to play basketball last year, but we felt like we had too much going on. Plus, the logistics of getting her to and from practice weren’t really going to work out, so we waited until this year to let her play. Even knowing that Upward is a Christian-oriented, non-competitive organization, I still worried that basketball could turn my happy child into a brooding competitor or snarling perfectionist.

I’m happy to report, with one game left in the season, she hasn’t become either one of those things. She does have one problem – giggling. She smiles and giggles all the time. In practice and during games. To the credit of Upward and its coaches, no one seems to have a problem with this. She’s actually enjoying herself. I can honestly say I don’t remember what that ever felt like. I don’t want the season to end because I’m having so much fun watching her have fun.

If we have it figured right, she has one more year she can play Upward basketball. The thought of anything beyond that causes the same old fears to rise up in me, because I know coaches at “the next level” tend to frown upon giggling when their players are on the court. Whether she wants to go farther will depend on a number of factors, mainly whether or not she wants to continue playing. At any rate, I’m glad she’s getting to know what it’s like to enjoy sports. And I’m glad I’m getting to remember.

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