By Jay D. Prince
There’s little doubt that all of us have heard the notion that poor behavior by juniors, regardless of their chosen sport— basketball, soccer, tennis, squash to name a few—is a reflection of their parents and how they’ve handled it. Needless to say, kids who pitch fits on the playing field or court probably haven’t suffered sufficient consequences for their actions to make them stop.
The counter to that, however, is when we can learn something from our kids by really watching them compete. It’s easy to spot the kids who give it everything they have in the games they play. They are usually the ones who are really intense, don’t quit running after a player who has blown by them on the court or field, and continually chase balls down that are seemingly out of reach.
My daughter would be one of those. As a soccer player, though admittedly not playing at the “premier” level, in part because competitive cheer is her chosen sport, she is a relentless defender. This past season she was given the opportunity to play midfield for the first time and flourished, doing things with the ball I didn’t know she could, and developing a depth of understanding of the game that was fun to watch.
In cheer, my daughter never stops practicing. Whether tumbling (she takes private lessons whenever possible), dance, jumps, or stunts, she works on it almost 24/7. YouTube has become a tool for not only watching what other athletes and teams are doing, but to improve her own skills as well.
This winter she’s jumped back into gymnastics just because she loves to tumble and it’s a high school sport. The quality and difficulty level is far from what we are accustomed to seeing in the Olympics, but it is still an avenue to tumble and represent her high school.
All of this is great, and I love watching and rooting her on. And for those of you who have seen me with camera in hand at squash tournaments, you can imagine how many pictures I took at soccer games this fall. What stood out to me were not the athletic moves being made all over the field by every player. No, what I couldn’t help notice was how much fun my daughter was having. Her smile is infectious, and all the more so in a competitive atmosphere like soccer and gymnastics (I leave out cheer because, well, it’s kinda mandatory for the girls and boys to smile all the time).
Don’t get me wrong. My daughter plays soccer with an intense desire to do her best and make life miserable for the forwards and midfielders trying to outplay her. She does the same in cheer, training hard and competing through aches and pains. But she plays that way because she loves it.
When she steals a ball and passes it up field, she smiles afterward. When she gets knocked to the ground, it’s normal to see her do a backward roll out of it, almost laughing, and get herself right back into the mix without missing a beat.
It’s a constant reminder of why we play the games. They are fun, plain and simple. Yes, squash provides an awesome workout. And Yes, I love to compete. But behind those benefits is the fun factor.
A friend once said to me, after I asked him how he was doing: “Any day that I play squash is a great day!” Perhaps I was too young to appreciate that statement (I was in my 30’s) or just didn’t quite grasp his point, but he was absolutely right.
So while I’ve suggested in the past that we check in with our kids to make sure they’re playing the games they play because they want to and enjoy them, sometimes we can just watch them and realize there’s no need to ask.
Can we say the same about ourselves? I know I can.