Happy Father's Day! My thoughts today turn to my own Dad. He is an amazing man. (Don't we all think the same of our Dads?) I decided today to reflect on how my Dad encouraged me in my athletic pursuits. He instilled a confidence in me that served me well both on and off the field.
My dad was not exactly an athlete growing up. He was, by his own admission, a scrawny, skinny little kid. More water boy, less superstar. He likes to say of his position on the football team, he was "Left Out." He and the bench were best friends. He was much more interested and talented in the arts, acting and singing. More acting, I guess. He says of his time in Glee Club, "The director would look my direction, stop us and say something didn't sound right. We'd try again, at which time I would just move my mouth without actually singing. The director would nod enthusiastically and remark, 'Yes, that's better.'"
Dad had three kids (I'm the middle child), all of whom were involved in sports. Dad was right there every step of the way. He was a linesman for soccer games, he was our #1 fan in the stands. Dad would practice outside with us as long as we wanted. He never let any insecurities he may have had from his own sports experiences influence us or our participation and experience. We could play whatever sport we wanted. There was no pressure to be the best, just to have fun.
I recall a track meet I had in high school. Our team was sorely lacking in female long jumpers. That is to say, we had no female long jumpers. I volunteered to carry the event for this meet. I was not a standout sprinter on our team, so the coaches had little hope for my success in the long jump. They consequently gave me little assistance, but wished me luck in the meet. Looking back knowing what I know now, yes, those coaches could have used a sport psychology consultant's input! But I digress.
The track meets were held on weekdays after school. For Dad to be able to come, he would have to leave work early, not as easy to do in the pre-"flextime" world. But leave he would. Even when I explained the long jump situation, and reiterated that he most certainly did NOT need to come, he still showed. And as I sprinted down the runway, leaped like a boulder from the white line and landed rather ungracefully in the sand, he was there cheering wildly. I felt like I had set a World Record.
When I came to my senses that long jump and sprinting were not my things--my body is, to my dismay, perfectly suited to long-distance running--I switched to cross-country. 5K runs now. Dad offered help in the transition; he would practice with me. Not a natural runner, Dad had participated in a few races of his own in the past, enduring without having even trained. I still don't know why he did those. Anyway, what Dad was, is, always will be, is a Marine. He was a Marine reservist ("if you go through boot camp, you're a real Marine!") for many years. I was told from a young age that I could do anything because I am a Marine's daughter. "I can go days without food, nights without sleep." This is important to tell you so you will understand his will, his drive to never give up, to keep up with his teenage daughter, for heaven's sake, on a 3.1 mile run. So we went to a course and ran. Bless his heart, as they say in the South, he did it with me! I'm not sure I truly appreciated at the time what it took for him. But I "got it" on some level. All I needed to know was he was there. He tells me now he called on every reserve he had just to keep up. He was NOT going to quit.
We also shared an affinity for weight training (he often referred to his biceps being as big as Arnold Schwarzenegger's, and offered the tape measure to prove it), and boxing. We worked out together in gyms and in the garage. He taught me all he knew about boxing from years of watching and, as I understand it, actually participating in "smokers," unofficial amateur boxing events in his youth. Even today the "pa-pa-pa, pa-pa-pa" sound of the speed bag instantly brings me to his presence and makes me smile.
Our time together was so precious to me. It was during these workouts that I was able to really talk to him about anything and everything. The sports pursuits brought us a direct line of communication. A time of laid-back, informal conversation. He imparted his wisdom on many issues, I soaked it all up, while we sweated it out.
Now, at 71, Dad is maybe a little less active but no less a competitor. He still compares biceps, and will take anyone on in arm-wrestling. He walks and participates in square- and round-dancing. And he continues to encourage me, as well as the next generation, his grandchildren who excel in football, ice hockey, and rock climbing.
The perseverance my Dad embodied, his encouragement and unconditional acceptance of me, gave me the confidence to try, to fail miserably or excel greatly in athletics or any other pursuit, and to keep on trying. I don't feel that I have any limits to what I can accomplish if I put my mind to it. He taught me that I can do anything. Well, I am a Marine's daughter, after all.
"Even if you are on the right track, you will get run over if you just sit there."
Personal Best Sports
The sports world is filled with stories of perseverance, failure and success, personal struggles and public triumph. Each story provides insight into the mental side of sport and activity.