I loathe these god-awful “sports visits” at the fancy school. By third grade, all boys are separated into two teams and compete in scored events that count toward some school wide, brag-worthy end. This is all in good fun, promotes sportsmanship and team camaraderie, and teaches the kiddos to swim and skate and run and catch and kick. But the avid athleticism worshipped by the school (and greater society, I suppose) necessitates these wretched “visits” so parents can witness their children compete at three different sports per quarter. For me, this amounts to roughly 32 opportunities to watch my boys trip, fall, miss, finish last, and lose. On Monday, I oscillated between the basketball court and the pool to observe my kids’ athletic suck-ery. After eleven turnovers aided by my elder son, I excused myself to watch the younger trail every other kid by a half-length of pool.
“Did you see me come in last?” asked blue-lipped, holding-back-tears Teddy.
Ugh. I wanted to line them all up for times table, state capital, and animal factoid quizzing. I know it’s important for small children to understand, and even celebrate, their differing strengths. But the “sport visit” is such a public display of comparative failings that, in spite of the never-ending winter in these parts, I’m sort of praying for a weather cancellation. After the visit, I aired my grievances about these events on social media, likening them to emotional dodge ball for parents like me. I think my boys are actually fine with occasional demonstrations that they’re not as coordinated as their friends, but I’d rather be spared my trembling, tearful Teddy losing every event.
I know a lovely skating coach. She has all of patience and faith of Job in her dealings with small children of the picked-last ilk. Her maxim for anxious parents of the athletically challenged is Peer Relevance. Our kids may never be Tom Brady… but we can support them to develop enough skills to keep up with the benchwarmers. To protect their self-esteem, children need only be a middling sort of good. Of course, the parenthetical message here is though it’s ok to suck, just don’t suck the hardest.
But someone has to come in last. Not everyone is going to make the team. And although this is brutal for me as a parent who just wants to wrap Teddy in a warm towel and remind him of how funny and great he is, this is an important life lesson. Wise and lovely Katryna pointed out the joy of the struggle: watching kids persevere despite innate deficiencies is kind of awesome. It’s also Life, and probably all of us could benefit from a class or two on How to Suck Gracefully.
Last night, my pajammied boys–all three of them–were engaged in the Nerf Olympics of basketball trick shots. I found them in fits of giggles trying to sink testicle-grazing, between-the-legs shots (‘tweiners?). As the hour got later, and mean mommy insisted on teeth brushing and calmer bedtime activities, Brodie casually mentioned he’d be trying out for travel basketball again next year.
Ugh. Bernie and I traded nervous did-you-hear-that? glances. But then I remembered what Katryna wrote:
When you have a kid for whom lots of stuff comes easily– like all schoolwork, as I guess it is for your kids– I always think it rocks if they are willing to do things that don’t come easily.
Brodie is willing. He’s willing in spite of previous attempts and failures. He’s willing to try again, to flirt with failure, to try to improve. Ultimately, Brodie is Willing to Suck. Even if that doesn’t lead to team placement, it certainly builds character. And if this dogged determination to exceed “peer relevance” stems from unflappable self-confidence then…well… that rocks, indeed.