The Price Of GloryPosted by Big Daddy Paul in Malcolm Stories
We promised ourselves we weren’t going to become one of “those” families. Granted, there are a lot of different “those” families that we didn’t want to become (Disney families, families that sleep in the same bed together, clean families) but there was certainly one line we didn’t want cross. We didn’t want to become the family that pushes our kid into ultra-competitive sports at an insanely early age. Whoops.
Up until now, Malcolm’s sports activities have been, essentially, a bunch of cute little golden retriever puppies stumbling about a poorly manicured field. Sometimes the puppies scored a goal or a run, and sometimes they ran off to the side to pee or chew on an old shoe. There were points in the game when a player told his teammates that they ate cake for breakfast or were going to a sleepover that night, drawing a small group of kids (from both teams) while the action was going on around them. Parents and kids all smiled a lot and the most important part of the exercise was the post-game snack.
For some reason, this was not enough. Malcolm tried out for competitive soccer and baseball teams in the past few weeks, and things look quite different than they did before. Yes, that’s right, we sent our seven year old son to tryouts, where, all of a sudden, Malcolm played in front of coaches who would determine whether he was good enough to make a team. On the Warm Fuzzy Scale (WFS), his prior leagues rank somewhere between comfy blanket and a grandparent hug. Tryouts rate squarely as Angelina Jolie.
It was really the first time in his athletic career that the concept of failure came into play. Sure, he gave up goals and struck out before, but these shortcomings were really just part of the game. Kicking the ball into his own net really didn’t matter that much because it didn’t mean that next week he would get put on a different team. The tryout was the first time in his life when Malcolm put himself in front of a ruling body for an up or down vote. It was terrifying, for all of us.
For a better or worse, Malcolm made both teams. I am proud of him, although certainly no more proud than him just putting himself out there in the first place. He will now be part of two competitive sports teams, and at every game he will play on from now til he gives it up and joins a recreational poetry club, they will keep score identifying a winner and a loser. I know that competitive systems always tend win out, capitalism beat socialism (and Angelina Jolie beat out Jennifer Aniston!) but I’m just worried whether we picked the right age to make the switch.
Things could go south quite easily. He could realistically go the entire baseball season without getting a hit and play on a soccer team that routinely gets trounced. While we want him to enjoy playing sports and appreciate the healthy aspects of competition (desire to get better, throttle the weak, etc.,) it could very easily end up with a not-unexpected result of a seven-year-old saying “Life’s too hard out there. Fuck it, I’m just gonna stay home and play with my stuffed animals.” (Your seven-year-old uses the F-word, don’t they?)
The divisions created by the competitive sports world also complicate matters. Some parents make the decision that competitive sports are a little too crazy for their kids at this age. Heartbreakingly, other kids try and do not make the team. Until now, sports have been inclusive, a way to bring friends together to run around outside. Now, grown ups decide, for one reason or another, who gets to play with who. If you ask me, it sucks. Even if you don’t ask me, it still sucks!
The switch also means that my coaching career will come to an end. In “competitive” leagues, the coaches must be “good” and not simply adepts at getting kids to not pee on the field. I will miss engaging kids in weird ways (my warm up routines usually involved interesting dance moves) and will have to figure out a good way to get away with blowing a whistle loudly in kids faces. The upside is that I get to sit on the sideline and root for my son instead of telling him all the bad shit he was doing.
I am not sure whether we are going to enjoy this new phase of sports as much this year. If our cute little puppy turns into a rabid junk yard dog, we’ll know we made a bit of a misstep. Our hope that he learns to dribble better, kick farther, hit a baseball and develop his understanding of what it means to be a good teammate. I guess I should also make sure he knows how to write poetry.