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Parenting An Athlete, As A Non-Sports Fan

Our motherhood editor learns and shares an important lesson on letting our kids love what they love, even if it's not what we would have chosen or expected.
Original artwork by Rosie Bowker

Original artwork by Rosie Bowker

I am not a big advocate of organized team sports.

It may just be my lack of personal interest in them. It may be because where I grew up in Canada, people weren’t quite as passionate about Little League as they are here in the United States. Or perhaps my people just weren’t. I remember having some friends who played hockey obsessively, of course, but only one who took it so seriously that he played in a league and worked at it furiously throughout high school and got a scholarship that carried him…to the U.S., naturally. The rest of them just played sports for fun. No coaches, no playoffs, no real competition. Just pick-up basketball games in the park on warm summer evenings, plus random hockey meetups all winter long on the ice rinks they made themselves with nothing but determination, a strong hose or two and prayers for freezing temps. 

Just for fun.

When I became a mom, nothing changed in the way I viewed team sports. I looked around at the sports-obsessed parent culture I suddenly found myself surrounded by at our new home in southern California and wanted none of it, for myself or my kids – the overzealous parents bellowing at their children. The coaches who greeted you with a smile and instantly sized up your kid based on their capability to bring them a win. The talk about draft picks and all-star favorites that left kids looking defeated and sullen. The moms shuttling around from field to field in a manic fury all weekend long, losing all of their rights to rest and relaxation for a trophy and (hopefully) some bragging rights. And the kids who were fiercely competitive, picking their friends and foes based on what happened on the field and in the playoffs.

I also saw stories in the media of aggressive professional sports figures, entitled college athletes and life-threatening sports-related injuries. And I just couldn’t see past them. A small part of me felt guilty for not pushing sports on my kids (especially my son) the way society wanted me to, but the other bigger part of me simply didn’t. I just didn’t get the allure; I didn’t want any of it. He would be an artist, a reader, a science nerd, I smirked silently to myself, shunning the status quo – and all of its physical and emotional drawbacks – on his behalf. When friends brought up try-outs or game schedules or cleats, I took pride in bowing out of the conversation, content to leave it all to everyone else. 

And then my son discovered baseball. 

It all started during the 2017 World Series – he was almost seven at the time – when some friends innocently came by for dinner and asked us to turn on the game. Something just sparked that night. Out of nowhere. Suddenly, baseball was everything. He started swinging at tennis balls with water guns right then and there, because we didn’t own one piece of proper equipment. Our friend laughed and told us to “buy the kid a bat, for god’s sake.” He asked Santa for a bat and a glove and three balls. Three, specifically. Early weekend mornings were spent throwing himself pop flies and trying to catch them. Cool winter evenings were for batting practice with his dad and any neighborhood kid who walked by and showed some interest. He saved six dollars from chores to buy himself some bases on Amazon. And he pulled them out every single day to practice running them. We watched The Sandlot. Over and over. And over once more. He was analyzing the plays before the story, missing the moral of the story but fawning over the different positions and which he would want to play the most. 

When the time came for little league registration, we made our way through the process with a lot of questions, advice from friends and checking in with our son. Was he sure he wanted to do it? Was he willing to commit to the schedule and the practice? Was he okay with being a few years behind most of the others in terms of experience? 

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Yes to everything. A million times yes. He wanted all of it. 

This boy had found his passion on that TV screen that night. He had found it in his first pop fly catch. He had found it when he finally made a hit. He found it in months of practicing, watching and practicing again. 

And somewhere along the way, I found it, too. 

It may have been the look in his determined little eye as he spent hour after hour practicing and teaching himself. It may have been the first encounter with the coach who promised a season of fun, encouragement and yes, hopefully a win or two (but just hopefully). It might have been the first practice when I saw how focused and determined and engaged he was. Or the third, when the enthusiasm had not waned one bit. When I realized this team sport is beautiful because it’s so individual at the same time. Each player getting their turn to shine and grow and evolve. 

Yes, there are definitely still some overzealous dads in the stands. There are still overtired moms running in late and dropping off in a hurried hustle who could probably use the day off instead. Yes, there are sure to be tough losses ahead of us and all-star kids who say the wrong thing and days when that bat just won’t get a hit. 

But at the center of it there is a pair of big brown eyes that are shining brighter than they have with any other thing we’ve tried. That light up with every catch and every hit. That listen and focus and look to learn. And who go back again the next day and do it all over again.

And I am a huge advocate of that. All of it.

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