Playing for fun — not for runs

Last week, Cooper spent an early weekend morning trying out for a summer baseball league. Depending on his performance that day, he would be drafted to play either the local team (“sandlot”) or the travel team (“self-explanatory”). My Cooper loves him some baseball — but, mostly, he loves to play ball with his friends. He didn’t seem to care where he ended up, so long as his buddies were by his side.

Come to find out, he was picked for the competitive travel team, but most of his friends got into the Sandlot league. So Ray and I gave him the choice — it’s summer, after all. He’s nine years old. The point of playing is to have fun. Did he want weeks of on-the-road playing-to-win competition? Or in-town games? If he wanted the challenge, we were on board. If he  wanted casual games with local friends, well, that was awesome too. We left it entirely up to him. After a few hours of consideration, brows furrowed in serious thought about what he wanted — to play to win, to play to laugh — he let us know. “I want to be with my friends,” he said. “I just want to have fun.” Sandlot it was.

Secretly, I’m glad. I know that my kid has a natural athleticism and affinity for sports, and while I recognize that he’s not a nine-year-old phenom, I’m not surprised that he often gets picked toward the top. It makes me proud to see him perform effortlessly, and a little part of me wants to encourage him to challenge himself, to be better, to excel, to tap into that inherent potential I see buzzing through his entire body.  But, at the end of the day, I don’t care about that. Because for me, sports is about fun, not competition. Yes, I understand that at some point you play to win, but, being me, a sort of granola-munching, Kumbaya-singing Mom, I just want everyone to play. Play. As in, be joyful. Smile. Cheer. Whoop-holla-woot!

Whatever the score.

That’s why I am so glad that Ray coaches. Even though sometimes I get a little nuts watching, I know his heart is always — and first — with the boys. Both he and our team’s other coach each take his role seriously enough to help the team improve their skills and understand the game, but always, always, playing is about having a good time. And even though it seems that, around here, draft season is a big deal for a lot of coaches, when Ray picked the team, he not only chose boys with strong skills, he also chose boys who were friends. Kids who would enjoy playing together. Boys who hung out with each other in their free time — even if their abilities are not on the same level as some of the others.

I think he chose very, very well.

We’re nearing the end of baseball season. Last night our little purple-wearing team played a great game — their opponents were a fairly even match for us, and all the kids did well, even if, in the end, our team lost by one run.  I could see the improvement from a couple of months ago, the solid hits and the well-executed fielding, the way that all the boys are starting to remember where the play is without being reminded, and working together to get the job done. Best of all was seeing the giant grins on the faces of boys who, for the first time this season, got a few RBIs or remembered to throw to the cutoff man or touched home plate.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to win, and nothing wrong with being exuberant and proud when you do. But those smiles, that pride, that unabashed joy — that is what sports ought to be about, not the scores or standings. There’s a reason it’s called “a game.”

If only we could figure out how to help kids to hang on to that feeling.

Coaches?

Sports parents — it’s just a game. Really.

Spring sports season is only a week or so underway, and I’m already a wreck.

I don’t think I’m cut out to be a Sports Mom.

This year, Cooper is playing in a level of his baseball league that is a step up from last year. It’s all kid-pitched, with more strict following of the rules of baseball, and everything is taken more seriously — not by the adults, but by the boys themselves, all of whom are suddenly viewing themselves as the Red Sox (or Yankees, if you are my son).

This year, too, Cooper is pitching. I understand he’s pretty good, though I haven’t seen it myself because I missed those games due to conflict with other sports my kids play.

I’m sort of glad. I couldn’t stand the pressure. But I guess I’ll have to learn how to be a Sports Mom, because the season is so long.

Being a sports parent is a tricky thing. You have to hold your breath and watch your child struggle and rise and struggle and fail, your heart swells with the victories and the defeats, and most of all you have to set the example of good sportsmanship, because, after all, these are still children out there on the field, not grownups.

This is an important thing for all us sports parents to remember — we are the adults. The other kids on the field, the other team? They’re children, just like ours.

I’m grateful that so far almost all of the sports parents I’ve encountered in my town seem to get this. I’m hoping that it continues in the upper levels, through high school.  Sure, some coaches are overly intense for the age level of their players, but only once did I ever hear a coach encourage his team to “crush” their opponents, or lead the girls in a victory dance worthy of a MLB playoff game. (These were 3rd graders! THIRD GRADERS!)

I don’t understand people like that. It’s just a game, after all. Sure, celebrate your wins and awesome plays — but you don’t have to cut down the other guy to do so. Especially when it’s town sports, and the opponents are your kids’ classmates, best friends, some of them. Grow up, adults.

Even while my nerves are a wreck, I’m looking forward to seeing Coop on the mound, and Mitzi too, when she has her turn pitching for her softball team. And, just as I cheer them on, I’ll also be cheering for the other kids, even those on the other team.

Because in kid sports, really, no matter what the score, there’s no reason everyone can’t walk off the field with a smile.

This One’s for Pop

After a couple of weeks away, I’ve forced myself to sit my butt in this chair and blog. We were at Mom & Dad’s last week for our annual July trip.  Had a great time, though Mom was under the weather and I did some things alone with the kids that she would normally have done with us.  She was a good sport, though — I mean, four kids under seven isn’t exactly a restful crew when you are convalescing, is it?  She was also trying to have her first full week of retirement.  I assume this week is going much better for her!

But Dad kept asking me when I was going to blog.  Since he is my steadfast reader, I am doing this one for him!  

I don’t have much to say today, or lately.  Have been busy writing, editing manuscripts, submitting here and there, or just wasting time on the SCBWI and blue boards.  I also joined the CBI Clubhouse because I need some more information, inspiration, and intentional time-suckers, since Facebook isn’t doing enough for me lately in the time-sucking category.

Back to vacation.  A wonderful week of busy fun, with enough cousin time to satisfy me, although the kids were disappointed not to have a sleepover this time around.  Gee, too bad!  (Say the weary chaperones)  My favorite part was going with all 9 (poor Aaron couldn’t come, too fidgety) to see the Bridgeport Bluefish play some other team.  We had fun seats on the first base line, the first three rows, and had plenty of room for the gang to be a little wild without bothering anyone.  The 3rd annual Cousin Olympics went well, what with the 400 water balloons I filled and with the addition of new events (3-legged race and water carry).

It is absolutely exhausting, frustrating, annoying, and wonderful getting those 10 kids together.  As they age it becomes both easier and more difficult, but when I step back and forget the stupid stuff, I remember how lucky we are to have 10 healthy, happy, joyful kids to invigorate our lives.  Every day.  

Sometimes, with my writing, I hold these kids out as my inspiration.  I hope that what I write and leave behind, what I put out into the world, can inspire kids to joy or creativity or adventure or wonder, just as these 10 do for me, without me even noticing it.

Pop, that’s for you.  You did a good job with all of us, and continue to do, with the next generation.

Tell that to the man in the mirror.