Shortly after we were married, my ex-husband came home from work frustrated. In his job as a youth and adult sports league coordinator, frustration started as soon as sign-ups ended.
"We had an incident," he said with a sigh. "I had to expel a parent."
"What happened?" I asked.
"He got mad at a call the ref made, came down the bleachers, and walked onto the court, pushing the ref and getting in his face," my ex said. "The poor kid was scared to death."
Apparently, the ref was a middle school student. The game he was calling was for third graders. The parent, however, embodied the reason I didn't want my kids playing youth sports.
Everyone I've ever met has told me horror stories of overly involved parents who believe, with all their hearts, their child is the Next Big Sports Star. I've written about it before, this feeling that perhaps I'm not meant to be around such competitive parents. Which is why, when my son Joseph decided he wanted to play Little League Baseball, I faced it with false smiles and no little amount of dread. It didn't help that new League age rules put him in the Minors where he's the youngest player on his team.
I imagined being surrounded by those competitive sports parents. I pictured the irritation when Joseph struck out. I envisioned the team not welcoming him.
In other words, I projected my own childhood issues of being the last picked for every game.
Now, half a season in, something somewhat humbling has happened. Instead of being competitive, the other players and parents are supportive. Instead of teasing Joseph for striking out or not getting the ball fast enough, they pat him on the back and tell him, "good try". Instead of sitting him on the bench, he's put in the field. And when my little lefty batter had a hard time finding his spot in the batting box that first game, the other team's coach helped him out.
I haven't seen the sports team cliques I expected; the other parents are social and welcoming. My daughter Elizabeth plays with the little sisters and brothers of the team. Joseph's grandparents sit with other grandparents. His dad and I sign up for snack duty — being told not to worry about making it too fancy, an apple and water are fine — and field prep.
Do we know the score? Of course. Do we know the kids' stats? Absolutely. Do we care? Not really.
I find myself sitting on the sidelines, my Mariners hat firmly in place. I cheer, "Good eye!" as the batter lets a high ball go by. I chat with the mom to my left about maybe bringing a trash bag because there doesn't seem to be one at the field. I sit back in my chair and think perhaps kids' sports aren't always that bad.
If you have kids who play sports, what has your experience been?