Wake Up Call

It’s 3 a.m. on a Wednesday – make that Thursday morning and I’m staring at the street-lamp outside our window worrying about the defensive line pairings for our next game…which is on Saturday.

If I was Red Gedron or Claude Julian I might be excused for being up at 3 a.m. worried about my d-line parings because millions of dollars have been spent on it’s construction and my future employment could very well be determined by the success or failure of my choices.

But I’m an assistant coach of a 9-10 Tier IV Squirt Team.  Get some perspective, Travis!

Now it’s 4 a.m. and I’m much calmer about the d-lines.  Now I’m worried about our goalie, who happens to be my son, sleeping soundly down the hall.  Even though he’s looked good in practice he has a tendency to fall forward when he goes into a butterfly instead of keeping his chest, butt and glove up.  I’m worried the team we’re playing on Saturday is going to light him up and he’ll want to quit.

Deep down, I’m hoping he suddenly turns into Jimmy Howard, stands on his head and gets a shut-out. Given the size of the net and the size of the goalie, however, this ain’t likely to happen.

It occurs to me that we parents and coaches occasionally have outsized expectations of our children and the games they play.  But how can we help ourselves? We love our kids and we want them to do well and we want to help however we can.  We want them to succed even where we view ourselves as having failed.  We want them to have the best.  We want them to be the best.  But what’s best?

I was given a book, Ancient Futures by Helena Norberg-Hodge, to teach my comp class at Husson University this fall.  The book focuses on the Ladakhi people who live in a remote Himalayan valley near Tibet.  Roughly half the population practice Buddhism and have a saying about getting upset, “Chi Choen,” they say.  “What’s the point?” What’s the point in getting upset when we all have to live together and get along to survive.

It should be noted that the Ladakhi have very little in the way of natural resources.  And they don’t play hockey.

Still, I try to remember this during games and I try to remind myself of this at 3 in the morning…definitely by 5.

The whole point of youth sports and the games is to have fun and execute those skills that have been worked on in practice.  As much as we would like to hook up our kids to an X-box controller and guide them around the ice, or field, or beam, or track the only control we have is what we’ve tried to instill in them in the days, weeks, months and years leading up to that moment.  And hope for the best.

98% of the time that’s what our kids are giving of themselves out there, the very best they can do at that moment under those circumstances.  They really are trying and if they aren’t trying it’s usually because they’ve lost any belief in themselves and their abilities.  They’ve taken a different interpretation of “What’s the point?”  As in, “What’s the point of trying, I suck.”

Yelling at our kids during games doesn’t help.  Cheering does.  How can you tell the difference?  If you look around during a game and find that every other parent and specator in the building is giving you a fifty foot buffer zone…you’re yelling.  Stop it.  If you’re out pacing your kid in the 100 meter dash…Breathe.  If you find yourself in the huddle trying to call a play…Relax.

As difficult as it might be we, the parents and coaches, must remain positive.  We must cheer our players growth and effort even if the scoreboard results are less than joyous.  Because it’s not about the score at this age.  It’s about the kid.  Raising confident, healthy, happy kids.  Your kid.  My kid.  Sid the Kid.  Even the other teams kids.  We all have to play together.  Otherwise, Chi Choen.

Travis Baker

About Travis Baker

Travis Baker grew up playing baseball, basketball, football and soccer. There was a brief stint with karate and a briefer one with fencing but he would not return to the glory days of youth sport until he moved to Maine and had a couple of boys, Zane (11) and August (7), of his own. Inspired by his lads, he learned to play hockey at the age of 35 and now plays every Monday night in Brewer. Thanks to a number of former students, he’s learned a wee bit about lacrosse, field hockey and track and field. When not helping out in his kid’s activities, is the award-winning playwright of One Blue Tarp and Hair Frenzy, both of which premiered at the Penobscot Theatre Company in Bangor. Travis is the author of Night and the Texas Sky, and numerous short stories and essays. He is married to the founder of Maine Yoga Adventures, Holly Twining. Currently, he coaches hockey, baseball and serves on the board of the Maine Junior Black Bears as the PR Director.