Quite a long time ago, thirty-five years by my reckoning, my mother decided that my sister and I should learn how to type and so she enrolled us in summer school. Three times a week she would drop us off for an hour at Clear Creek Intermediate and we would clatter away at those beastly old devices making a mess of sheet after sheet of otherwise unblemished paper.
Unfortunately, the first class fell on the same day and nearly the same time as the last minor little league -8-9 year old machine pitch- practice before the championship game. It was decided by my mom that I would be late for practice. That season I played first base and led the league in batting average, steals and runs scored. When I got to practice, I was informed that I would be playing left field and batting ninth as a consequence of being late. The coach’s son would play first and lead off.
I don’t remember being mad at either my coach or my mother. They were both trying to teach me a lesson. I think I was a little ticked at the kid that was now playing my position, mainly because he kept missing the ball. But I kind of liked left field. There was plenty of space, I could look up at the trees, I had grass under my feet instead of dirt and the chances of catching a line drive to the face were much diminished.
My father, however, was not happy. That’s a bit of an understatement. He was pissed and threatened all manner of fireworks if the coach persisted in being an idiot. (I’m substituting ‘idiot’ for what my dad really called the guy on account of this being a family paper and all.) Nor was he alone in his feelings as was evident during the game the next day when as one ball after another got by his kid and the runs piled up our coach was subjected to a fairly colorful barrage of inquiries as to what I was doing out in left field and just what the (heck) was he thinking.
Eventually we lost the game. We shook hands with the other team and started to head towards the concession stand to get our free snowcones. Win or lose, we got free snowcones after every game. But the adults weren’t done with us. The coach wanted to give us a rousing end of the season speech about how hard we played and how well we did and how much we learned. My father and several other parents wanted to give our coach a sound beating.
While he did not punch my coach, my dad did drag me out of the dugout towards our car. He was outraged and we were going home. I began to cry and yell and tried to run away. Not because we lost, not because I felt bad about being in left field but because going home in a huff meant I wouldn’t get my snowcone.
That was my worst night as a youth in youth sports and I try to remember that night when dealing with my own children as they struggle to stand up on two thin blades or hit a round ball with a round bat square. I try to remember its about playing a game and having fun and snowcones and not about me or teaching some life lesson they’re only vaguely aware of.
But there I was last November, smashing my youngest son’s hockey stick on the ice because he wouldn’t join the drills and kept saying he was cold and all he wanted to do was lay down on the ice and stick snow in his mouth. I had tried to point out that skating around would warm him up whereas laying down and eating snow was probably why he was cold but he wouldn’t listen. He whined and cried and refused to do anything. We got off the ice, got our gear off and went to the car, cold fury seeping through me. I didn’t break down until the car ride home. I yelled and slapped the steering wheel. I had sacrificed so many hours and gone through all the training and modules to be a coach and spent so much money on gear and fees and there was all this other crap that had nothing to do with him and why wasn’t he having any fun!
Augi was four. And the truth was that he was tired and cold and he just wanted to go home and have dinner. And the truth was that after a season of coaching little kids soccer and teaching bigger kids composition, I was burnt out. So I suspended myself for two weeks. I brought the boys to their practices and then I sat in the stands and watched.
I saw little kids out there having fun. Some were skating, some were sitting in tires and some were making stacks out of cones and there’s no way to tell which ones will go on to be pros and which ones will just enjoy the one season before they get moved to Texas. I saw kids having a great time because I wasn’t out there heaping pressure on them.
When I got back on the ice helping out with Learn-to-Skate and Assistant Coaching a Mites-Major team it was better. I was in a position to help and not harm. It was still cold but at least it was fun again.
Later that season I had the best moment as an adult helping out in youth sports. My older son, Zane, was in goal for the last game of the end of the year tournament. We had won the day before with Zane in net but on this day, there was this one kid that could put the puck over Zane’s shoulder. If you’ve ever seen an eight year-old in a regulation net, there’s a lot of room over the shoulders and that kid did it again and again. After the second period Zane thought he was the worst goalie in the world. But it wasn’t me that convinced him he was doing his best, that his defense needed to try harder to get the puck away from that kid before he could shoot…it was his teammates. It was Alex and Collin and Josh going up to him and tapping helmets together like they saw the Black Bears and the Bruins do. Zane went back out there and did his best. He stopped a few, a few more got in. It didn’t matter. We’d all be splashing around the pool in an hour.
I will be writing this blog for parents and coaches and the people who sacrifice time and money so our kids can learn how to tumble and twirl and skate and slide and swim and shoot. I will be writing this because our kids are trying their best and they deserve our support not our frustration. I will also be writing this because my mom sent me to typing class that one summer and it’s taken me further than my first baseman skills ever did.
My sons play hockey, soccer, baseball and track in an organized fashion and I’ll be covering how to survive a six-hour track meet, what to do when your son won’t swing and the horrors of being the parent of a goalie. They also swim, bike, ski, play tennis, do yoga and chase each other around with gobs of mud and I’ll tackle those topics too. And, if your child participates in a sport you think we ought to try, or a story you think needs to be told, let me know. Thanks to a few students I’m learning a lot about field hockey (they have green cards and whistles that don’t stop the play!) and I’d be happy to learn more.
I now limit myself to coaching hockey with the Maine Junior Black Bears, though I show up for everything else with a water bottle and a treat for afterwards because I did, in the end, get my snowcone. I believe it was grape.