Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Football Dad Follies

My 12 year old son plays on a youth football team and I care way too much about how well he and his team do. I know in my heart of hearts that it's no big deal if they win or lose (and I especially repeat this to myself over and over when they lose). Still, I am very happy for him when they are victorious.

This past weekend his team, the "Vikings" won their season opener 21 - 0. With apologies to Browning's "The Year's At the Spring":

God's in his Heaven
All's right with the world!
I played a little ball when I was growing up, during the generation where a parent who attended every game was more an exception than the rule. Fathers went to a championship game, if that, and often didn't know what position their son played. I would no more miss a game than I would skip dinner "because I had something better to do." I just asked my office colleagues to re-schedule an office brunch we are going to host in November to a different Saturday in order not to conflict with a possible playoff game.

Am I too invested in his football experience? Probably, but not as much as some other dads I know. I have a friend who told his son that if he didn't make the first-string squad that the dad would transport him to and from games but not stay to watch. I don't think he meant it, but I'm not sure. I've heard dads say "play hard or walk home" and I'm not nearly at that level.

During his games I try to make sure I'm not the parent doing the most cheering, and I don't call out encouragement or advice to him personally. I do, however, have a Vikings flag I wave at touchdowns, but I don't shove it in anyone's face and I put it down afterward. I constantly evaluate the attitude and performance of his coaches and am quick to pick up on favoritism. This is the last year that he will have a coach with a son on the team -- after this he will only be on school athletic teams without "coaches' kids".

In part my attitude of wanting him to be on a winning team derives from the fact that he has spent the last three years playing on middling to poor teams. He has worked very hard through the off-season on conditioning his body and making good nutritional choices, and I want him to experience "the thrill of victory" a little more and "the agony of defeat" a little less.

I GET it that ultimately sports is about more than winning. He has gotten those messages of:
fair play,
honest effort,
team spirit,
love of the game,
doing your best,
holding your head up,
being a good sport,
setting a good example,
encouraging your teammates,
demonstrating leadership,
developing your skill,
being a good loser and
keeping it in perspective.
But there is a place for seeking victory over your opponent, and that place is on the field. After the game is over I expect him to be what he is: fair to a fault, moral, compassionate and deferential to the feelings of others. On the field I want him to let it loose and show no mercy while playing by the rules. He warmed my heart before this first game last weekend when I asked his goal for the game and he replied: "to have fun and make somebody throw up."

A couple of weeks ago his team had a practice in the rain. A few of the kids weren't there and my assumption is that their parents didn't want them to get wet. I love the fact that these boys get an opportunity to hit each other and roll in the mud, get back up and discover at a visceral level that they don't either hurt or melt.

One of the other teams has a girl on the roster. I haven't seen her play but I'm looking forward to it. I hope she plays smashmouth football. I've watched the girls who participate in the cheerleading program at the park, some as young as 6 or 7 years old, and I'm so grateful we've kept my daughter away from this noxious supporting role of cheering on the boys on the field. If at least one boy participated on the cheerleading squad I'd feel better much about the whole business, although I don't expect this to happen anytime soon. The gender-based division of was is seen as acceptable behavior for boys and girls is just too strong.

So......this is one of those posts that's gone on a lot longer than I expected. In the end, there's only one thing to say:

Go Vikings!

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