Monday, October 20, 2014

Most sportsmanlike parent.

I've never been very athletic so even when I played sports on a regular basis, I was never what you'd call good. I did my best and had a good attitude but was never in the running for MVP or anything like that. Most sportsmanlike was more my style. Like that time our high school softball team was playing our biggest rival and the runner trying to steal third base lost her helmet. Sure, as third baseman it was my job to catch the ball and tag her out. But I couldn't do that before getting the girl her helmet! Safety first, people.

My parents could have died.

But I've always valued being nice and having fun over winning. You would think preschool soccer would be just my speed. And it is. But it's taken me a little practice to get here.

Have you ever seen three and four year olds play soccer? It's amazing. Probably the best use of the term "herding cats" I have ever seen. Each team seems to have the same makeup of players: the kids who understand that soccer is a game with clear objectives (each team has one, maybe two of these), the kids who cry a lot, the kids who never make it onto the field and the kids who run around like crazy asses until it's time for snack.


At his first practice, Finn did such a good job listening to Coach that I thought it wouldn't take long for him to go from running around like a crazy ass to playing soccer. Worst case scenario he'd be on the field not crying. World Cup here we come!

At his first game he started off strong but by end of the first quarter he was done. He was too hot. And hungry. And thirsty. He wanted to go home. He was just...done.


Rather than meet him where he was with a little compassion (and possibly a juice box), Bill and I took turns trying to shove our sweaty boy back onto the field.

"Your team needs you!"

"Playing soccer means PLAYING SOCCER!"

"We can go get ice cream after the game if you play..."

Then through gritted teeth in that angry voice that nobody likes, "NO ICE CREAM IF YOU DON'T GET OUT THERE RIGHT NOW!"

It's funny to think about now but at the time it felt like a really big deal. Like there was no way we were going to raise a quitter. First four year old soccer then what, huh Finn?! It was like suddenly this soccer game (which is not really a game so much as a mess of kids in matching shirts) was EVERYTHING.

It was ridiculous. And it didn't stop there. We talked about what we expected from him and built it up so much that by the time his next practice rolled around he didn't want to go. Of course, we took this personally too, like it was confirmation that we sucked at raising winners. He cried in the car (a first) but once we got to the field, everything was okay. He ran around with his team, playing games and acting goofy, even kicking the ball from time to time.



Liam and I sat on the sidelines watching Finn practice. "He's having so much more fun today than he did on Saturday," I said. "I wonder what changed?"

"I think it's the cone hands..."

Practice was so much fun that Finn went to his next game without any drama. But rather than starting off strong like he had before, he just plopped down on the sidelines and waited for snack.

I was really embarrassed. About the whining and laziness and mostly about how Bill and I were responding to it. I longed to be the parent who held her barefoot soccer player on her lap the entire game without even once trying to nudge her onto the field. That child (the coach's daughter, no less!) looked so peaceful and happy, like someone who would grow up knowing her parents loved her no matter what.

What would Finn grow up to say? That he got high fives and felt loved when he played soccer the right way but that when he was tired or hot his parents gave him the cold shoulder and threatened to take away his ice cream?

Not cool.

We left the game still steaming but as soon as we got in the car, I realized how awful we had been. We let the boys watch a show with headphones so we could talk and immediately decided we had to apologize to Finn and make things right. Where better to do that than the ice cream shop?

When we parked the car and Finn realized where we were, he didn't know what to think. I told him we were really sorry for being such jerks and wanted to take him to ice cream to make it up to him. A look of relief and love washed over his sweet face and he hugged our legs harder than he ever had before. I knew we were finally on the right track.

Over ice cream we came up with a few game rules to help guide the rest of the soccer season.

FINN'S RULES:

1. Have a good attitude. (NO WHINING.)



2. Cheer for the other team and give high fives (or do the parent tunnel!) after the game.



3. Sit with your team, listen to coach and watch the game if you don't want to play.


4. OPTIONAL EXTRA SUPER COOL GUY BONUS: run around and kick the ball!


OUR RULES:

1. Have a good attitude. (NO BRIBING, SHAMING, CAJOLING, THREATENING, WHINING OR MISSING THE POINT OF FOUR YEAR OLD SOCCER.)

2. Support Finn in his rules. (Sit on the bench or go on the field with him if that's what it takes.)


3. Accept that sometimes snacks are the best part of the game and THAT'S OKAY.


The rules have helped us remember what's really important. It's not winning the game (or even playing the game) that matters right now. It's meeting our kids where they are. Connecting with them unconditionally. Making sure they feel loved for who they are, not what they do.

It's so simple - unconditional love is where it's at - yet shockingly easy for me to forget. I'm glad to have found yet another good reminder.

Running off the field in the middle of the game -
look how happy and accepted he looks! Most improved fo sho.

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