By Jay D. Prince
You know what I really love about watching kids play—whether sports or just on the playground—particularly those under the age of 16? It is the fact that most of them are out there having a blast! Sure, when they start competing in organized events they can get quite serious about it. But have you ever just stepped back to watch while they scramble onto any available court—sometimes as many as 10 at once—and play three-quarter court with smiles on their faces from ear to ear? It is really cool. And it is something many of us lose sight of as we get older.
Okay, we enjoy playing squash, many of us five days a week (health permitting, by now a well-known sore subject with me in recent years!). But how many of us are feeling downright giddy while we hammer the ball up and down the wall trying to beat our opponents into submission? Chris Burrows is one that I know well, and he’s right here in Seattle. True, those of you who know him also know you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone more competitive. But underneath his tough, scowling exterior is the real person loving every minute of it.
Some would say he is very much in touch with his “inner child.” You know, the part of him that can have as much fun as an adult as one might have expected him to have as a child. Those of you who also have a great relationship with your inner child can probably relate to this. I, however, have to admit that I haven’t known my childlike self for decades. Huh?
Oh sure, I have fun playing squash, going to ballgames, riding my bike and having people over to our house for wine tasting parties. But, for example, I have always been pretty uncomfortable in crowds (larger social gatherings), and I have spent an awful lot of time worrying about what other people think about me—whether it is things I write or how well I stroke the ball. You get the drift.
This summer I took some time off just to regroup; to recharge my batteries if you will. And in the process I learned a lot about my own inner child. More specifically, I discovered that I actually have one. I know, sounds a bit strange. But it has truly been an eye-opening summer. I now find myself much more relaxed in general. I am rediscovering what it feels like to be smiling and laughing from deep within, and I can really see what my kids are feeling when they are just being kids and having fun. It is a very cool thing.
So what, you ask, does all of this have to do with squash? Well, the obvious thing I encourage all of you to not lose sight of is how fun this game really is. More importantly, however, is to put as much energy as you can into helping your kids to never stop having fun playing this great sport. They started playing because it was fun. And they probably do have fun playing today. But that spark can start to grow dim over time if we are overbearing, too critical, hovering, harsh when they lose or too excited when they win.
When your kids lose, try to be understanding if they need some time to process it and learn to move on from it. When they win, be happy for them, but remember it is their win, not yours. Your kids should be playing for themselves, not for you. And what better way for them to build their own sense of self-esteem, self-confidence and individuality? Those are things that will benefit them in all aspects of life.
I try very hard to take this approach with my kids, and sometimes it is hard. But I learned a lot this summer about some of the things that I wish had been a bit different when I was growing up. And now I’m starting to understand that 44 years on the planet doesn’t mean it’s too late. I met some very cool people this summer that call themselves Rainbow Riders, and this is dedicated to them.