There are five minutes left in the game when the ref blows his whistle again. This time, instead of fishing the yellow card from his breast pocket, out comes the red. Parents on the sideline explode with rage. The player shown the card erupts with a string of profanities. His teammates join in. The ref blows the whistle again and gestures to the center of the field. Gave over.
Another wave of shouting, and now the parents are rushing on to the field, surrounding the ref, some offering mock applause, others berating him. The coach, ejected earlier in the game, joins the fray. Officials from nearby fields rush over. The police are called.
My son’s team had won.
Against a team they had no business even competing with, but the spectacle that followed was so ugly that the victory was irrelevant. Now I needed to help my 13-year-old son sort out why a bunch of grown ups would lose their minds over kids playing soccer.
“Have fun,” I’d told him as he trotted off to go warm up. It’s my pre-game Dad-ism — the mantra that I repeat to all three of my kids before every one of their games. It now seemed a little inadequate. How is “have fun” supposed to prepare my kids for an experience that might be stressful, out of control, even potentially violent?
But on second thought, I decided I liked “have fun.” It says, “my stakes are low here, this is just a game, sports are also about pure joy, my primary interest in all this is your happiness, and I have a blast just watching you.” It’s a lot for two words to accomplish.
I try to unpack my philosophy of “have fun” for my son as best I can in the car on the way to Jimmy John’s for lunch.
I also want to explain to him that I sense in a lot of sports parents a panicky conviction that opportunity for a good outcome is a shrinking resource. That their kids must win soon and often to have a chance at success. And that a kid’s accomplishments in outward and public and visible undertakings are personal validations that today’s parents desperately crave.
And that all that leads to anxiety. Which can lead to yelling at refs.
Instead, I let him do the talking, ask a few questions. He’s come to expect that kind of behavior from adults, which makes me a little sad. But he’s also able to brush it off. It’s not stopping him from having fun. Credit my dad-ism?
In the end, I still believe in the good that organized sports can do for kids. Not every kid. And not at the expense of all free play and family meals. But we make significant sacrifices in terms of time and money for our kids to play sports, and I still feel good about that investment despite the wacky sideline behavior I witness weekend in and weekend out. They can’t stop me from trying hard to practice what I preach. In just two words.
So do you have a “Dad-ism?”
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Whether it’s something your Dad said to you growing up, or something you catch yourself saying to your kids now, submit your “Dad-ism” – the funny, wise, inspirational or silly words of wisdom that fathers are known for .
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