My boys like sports. Throughout the course of the school year our weekends are often filled with one game after another. I never had this experience as a child and I am grateful that they are given an opportunity to be part of a team and will learn to work together to achieve a common goal. My personal bias is that youth athletics are overly competitive and although I do not agree with all of the messages, I try my best to concentrate on the positive aspects of these programs.
As the season of baseball and soccer are coming to a close and our hectic weekends are winding down, I began to reflect back on my experiences. Unfortunately, due to Sydney’s limitations and intensive needs, I have not been able to attend all the games. I was great at dropping off and picking up, but Sydney’s inability to master the art of being a spectator at such events did not allow me to stay for very long. Over the years, I have missed out on exciting plays or the tears after a really bad game. I have had other parents come up to me and say “I saw your son at the game today and the grin he had ear to ear after he scored was so sweet, he was so proud of himself.” I know that for many large families this is common and they are often forced to split up in order to accommodate schedules but for some reason my situation feels different. I am simply unable to attend because my child would have a meltdown at the sight of such crowds. Missing these moments has left me with much guilt.
On several occasions I was fortunate enough to have a babysitter allowing me to attend some games throughout the season. I would look forward to these moments and was eager and excited to get the chance to see them play. However, leaving Sydney behind came with its own set of struggles. My mind was not always focused on the game and I often found myself distracted. One distraction was usually related to whether Sydney was having a good day without me and the other was with the families that would congregate to cheer on their child or sibling. These games brought the community together and what I noticed, in addition to the game being played on the field, was the interaction of the siblings on the side-line. The child not playing in the game would likely be throwing the ball around, playing tag, or some other activity of choice and there was always a typical little girl usually around the same age as Sydney.
My attention would drift away from the game (the very reason I was there) and I would stare at these children. To watch my son interact with younger siblings, particularly the little girls, made me think of what could have been if Sydney had all her DNA. As I would try to focus on watching my son attempt to get a base hit or score a goal, I would drift off to the sidelines and wonder if Sydney would have been like the little girl in braids kicking the soccer ball around like her big brother on the field or would she have been like the pestering little girl in a beautiful sundress following her brother around begging him to take her to the swings. Feelings of envy would often appear and I would find myself disappointed that when given the opportunity to be present for my son I allowed these emotions to control me.
The other day at one of the final games of the season I found myself in this situation. I was quite aware of what I was doing and realized that I was missing out on some important moments in both my children’s life and mine. What I realized was that I was not being a good sport about my situation. Ironically, this is exactly the lesson we are trying to teach our kids by participating in organized sports. When you are a member of a team you realize that there are always people who are more talented than you and have more skill than you and vice versa. You begin to understand your strengths and weaknesses and you play to your strength. But most importantly you learn how to be supportive of each other as a team. As parents we try to teach our children that it is not about whether you win or lose but how you play the game. We teach them not to cry over a missed goal or being struck out but instead learn from such situations and apply it to the next game.
It’s a very valuable lesson and one I have taken to heart. John Wooden, a famous basketball coach, once said “Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do”. Although I did not get the little girl I expected, I did get a unique child that will offer me gifts in other ways. If I intend for my boys to be team players then I need to learn how to be a better one myself. I need to stop looking at what everyone else has and start paying more attention to what I have.
Being a good sport can be tough at times, especially when you feel like you can’t keep up or don’t fit in. However, if you spend too much time feeling sorry for what you don’t have you will surely miss all the great things that are going on right in front of you.