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.
"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.