This was a weekend full of sports in my family. My 12 year old had a basketball game and my 7 year old had a soccer game and swim meet. As Rachel Macy Stafford says, I love to watch my children play. I have grown so much from the days when my 12 year old was just getting into sports – when my ego came roaring out to the field, the court, the pool – and I wanted him to excel at all costs. Regardless of his reasons for joining a team or for playing a sport (uh, maybe because he enjoyed playing?), he was a big kid and I wanted him to dominate. As you can imagine, this lead to many, many negative, disconnecting interactions between him and me. I cringe at the thought of them, but I am also aware enough to give myself some slack and appreciate how much I have grown and as a result, how awesome our relationship is now.
Now, three kids later, I am a wholly different parent watching my kids play their various sports. On Saturday, my 7 year old played in his indoor soccer game. He is reluctant to try new things and he had never played indoor before this season, so it was already a huge accomplishment just getting him onto the court and willing to play the very first game. He is not the shining star on the team by a long shot. In fact, in four years of playing soccer, he had never scored a goal.
Until this weekend.
The past few weeks, Brady has been getting more and more into playing in the games. At the beginning of the season, his coach would try to put him in the game and he would respectfully decline. Knowing him the way I do, I know he is slow to warm up in situations with which he is unfamiliar. It took intentionality and awareness on my part not to push him according to my own agenda. Being fully aware of not letting my ego do the talking, from time to time I would gently wonder out loud if games would be more enjoyable for him if he decided to play when his coach wanted to put him in. Slowly, he began first agreeing to play when asked and then actually asking to be put in.
In this weekend’s game, he was the most into it I have ever seen him. He was going after the ball and even took a few shots on goal, missing each time. One time, he took a shot that barely skimmed by the edge of the goal – the closest he has ever come. He turned around and for a split second I saw this confident smile spread across his face and disappear just as quickly. It was in that instant that I knew this would be the game he would score his first goal. I literally saw the spark of confidence as his young brain made the connection. It was only about five minutes later when he took his next shot and scored! As the team parents on the bleachers erupted into frenzied applause for my little guy, Brady quietly and confidently walked back to mid court to start the next play; a player who was out there just doing his job. I was filled with gratitude for the growth I saw in him before my eyes.
Several of the parents from the team came up to me during and after the game to comment on how well Brady had played. I appreciated their noticing his improvement that day, but I was very mindful not to let their supportive and enthusiastic comments get to my own head and bring my ego roaring
back to the sidelines. This was about Brady’s growth after all, not about my egoic agenda.
Sports are such a golden opportunity for us to build connection with our children, to support them in gaining confidence and discovering and becoming who they are meant to be, in their own time frame. But too often we come to our children’s sports fully enshrouded in our egos and our own agendas, and that golden opportunity we have before us is wasted, slipping through our fingers like grains of sand.
My little guy may never be a star soccer player, but you know what? It does not matter, not one little bit. I have no expectations of him getting a soccer scholarship or playing in the pros. All I want is for him to play the game for as long as he is interested in playing at whatever level he is capable of, to always put forth his best effort, to walk off the field feeling good about how he played, and to learn more about himself along the way. See how much different that is than when my own egoic agenda lead the way with my older son? I had a lot of repair work to do on my relationship with my older son, but as with most of us parents, I have grown as much if not more than my children, and I am a different, more conscious parent these days. As I support my children to grow up, they in turn help me to grow up.