Dear Mr. Purple Hockey Dad,
We haven't actually met, but I became aware of you the other day at the championship ice hockey game at the rink. Your son's team, "Purple," was playing my son's team, "Green" for the elite Squirt Division (9- and 10-year olds) championship trophy, also known (not commonly) as the gold star trophy. No fancy Cup named after anyone in particular, but a simple gold star.
You first made your presence known when team Purple entered the rink. You cheered, loudly, dutifully, full of the pride a father feels (you know, the "that's my boy"-type) when his son is participating in a major sporting event such as this.
Heartwarming as it was, it was immediately overshadowed by your lack of restraint in letting team Green know they were completely unworthy of sharing the ice with Purple. Your subsequent scouting report on each Green player in turn as they warmed up, need not have been within earshot of so many of Green's parents and Green players themselves.
At last the puck was dropped and the game was underway. I suppose you thought your helpful hints and bleacher coaching went a long way, but alas, Purple struggled. You struggled. It seemed almost painful for you to watch the carnage as goal after goal was scored. Keep in mind, both teams were scoring and for the most part it was a rather even match.
Had I only been listening to your play-by-play, however, I would have been outraged by the audacity of the 9-year olds who "refuse to play some D!!" or who couldn't "GET that guy!! Come ON! What is wrong with you?!!" Or worse, a kid who would have to sit in the box for a tripping penalty, only because the other 9-year old "totally SOLD it!", actually falling down on purpose--not because the ice is slippery, or because he was tripped up by a stick--but to encourage the ref to make the call. "Come ON refs!!!"
Your increasing agitation visibly affected all of us who had the misfortune of having chosen our seats in the stands so unwisely. As Green surged and my son scored his second goal, I felt an urge to cheer just a little bit louder, a little bit longer and a little bit more in your direction. Luckily, I reminded myself, I am a professional. And though it is extremely difficult at times to switch between my sport psychology hat and my Mom hat, I decided to instead exercise restraint and hope to be a good example for you. Not that you were searching for one.
I turned my thoughts instead to your son. I wondered about what he feels as he plays hockey. Whether he finds it total joy, a passion, dare I say fun, or whether he struggles to please you. I wondered how things would play out at the end of the game when he exits the locker room. Will he be welcomed with a hug and a smile? Or given the cold shoulder, or chastised for not doing enough on behalf of his entire team and coaching staff to earn the gold trophy over the silver. Would he be subjected to a lecture during the long car ride home, or would he be offered a congratulatory stop for ice cream for his worthy efforts. Would he fall asleep later feeling alone and unworthy, or will he feel proud of himself, knowing he did his best, had fun, and has the full, unwavering support, love, encouragement and acceptance of his dear old Dad.
And as he moves through life, will he approach competition and sports with trepidation or with passion, confidence, security and a sense that he can accomplish whatever he puts his mind to? Will he be a good sport, a supportive teammate and leader, or will he be in the stands shouting for all to hear about what what could or should have been?
At the final buzzer, Green prevailed, the score 6-4. The kids from both teams scurried around the ice celebrating the game or just knocking their teammates down for fun like 9- and 10-year old boys will do. When the trophies were awarded, members of both teams applauded. For each other, regardless of team affiliation. The animosity was not there. It won't be there tomorrow at school when they meet on the playground to enjoy recess together, either. It was beautiful.
I don't know how moved you were by their example. You stormed down the bleachers in disgust before the lesson could reach you.
I only hope you can recognize the effect you have, and get a hold of yourself before it's too late. Deep down you have what it takes to encourage, to support, to be a good example. Please find that part of yourself and let it shine for your son and other people's sons and daughters.
The impact you have on your son, positive or negative, will last far longer than a gold trophy. Keep it positive, and the rewards will feel like you've won the Stanley Cup. Only better.
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.