I Loved Watching You Play

I pulled out my favorite coffee cup this morning. It’s a picture of my son and one of his best friends. They are standing over two fallen players. Their body language says “you’re down, stay that way.” I chuckle at the memory. And I realized something — I loved watching them play.

“I Love Watching You Play.” These are the words that we are supposed to say to our kids after a game. Rob Miller (http://www.proactivecoaching.info) came to our high school three years ago and told us that those are the words we should say to our kids. We shouldn’t talk about the coaching or missed plays or bad calls. Our kids have just played the game and do not need our break down or assessment — especially not on the ride home. And so we laughingly took up this mantra — sometimes it was funny when we said it to our boys, sometimes it was necessary and sometimes it was downright annoying. I’m pretty sure the latter was true most of the time for our boys.

Rob talks a lot about letting go and letting your kids grow on the field. “Don’t be over involved” he says. “Let the coach coach, the ref ref and the players play. You get to cheer — positively.”

How could I not be over invested? That was my baby out on the field getting whacked by someone’s lacrosse stick or stepped on by someone’s football cleat. Shoot, that was my baby on the floor of the rec basketball game who got fouled and the ref didn’t call it. I had many, many hours invested in his sports. I’d driven to practices and games, I’d watched practices and games. I’d sucked up to coaches, I’d sucked up to captains and their moms. I was completely over invested in the players, the team and the game. I was often sick to my stomach at half-time. I often broke the no drinking rule in the parking lot to calm my nerves. As the season wore on, if we were doing well, I would pretty much spend my entire game-day afternoon doing magic rituals. I wasn’t making a stew of toad’s eye, but I couldn’t walk in the back door and out the front. In fact by the end of one lacrosse season, there was only one door of my house I could use. We won the state championship, so there — it’s only weird if it doesn’t work.

I took Rob’s words to heart. He was the expert. Our awesome AD believed in him and his ideals. I wanted to do what he said. I wanted to let my son grow and make mistakes and leave it all on the field. Rob assured us the field was a safe place for our kids to make mistakes and learn from them. To learn how to lean on team mates, to learn how to be a team mate. But I as the parent needed to let go of my expectations for outcomes and let him grow on his own.

So I committed, I wanted to let go and let my son grow. Rob says that if you are nervous before a game, you haven’t let go. I tried, I really tried. And yet I would wake up on game day with that nervous feeling. Did I eat the right foods, wear the right clothes? Was this t-shirt the lucky one or that other one? Did I have on the right earrings? Did I remember my pin? We literally drove around the neighborhood looking for a white squirrel before the state championship last year. We lost in double overtime. My fault — perhaps I should have left a little earlier to find the white squirrel. No, no you see, I’m not over invested at all. Forget the fact that I risked friendships and my marriage and ignored my own mother because they weren’t part of our seating order. That state championship game was his last game ever. And here I am, wondering still, if I’d just found that damn white squirrel would they have won?

But now, less than a year out from graduating from high school (not me, my son), I get these words in a whole new way. Sure I remember the state championships. I still get a pang of pain from our double over time loss last year. I remember the pure joy we all felt when our boys beat St. X, when our boys, the underdogs, won the first state championship, when our boys, the underrated won the second state championship. When our boys, the unexpected made it to our third state championship game in three years. I loved watching them play in every single one of those games.

Winning is fun! Winning championships is even more fun! Losing the championship is devastating. But why is it so devastating? As the pictures roll by on my screen saver, I see ten years of lacrosse. I see literally hundreds of happy moments of lacrosse. And yet there is still this pang. This pang of “we lost the championship.” Why did ten years of lacrosse get boiled down to the final game, the loss?

I blame myself, I blame the other parents, I blame the coaches. We are the grown ups. We should have hugged our boys and said, “I love watching you play.” Later, at the party, we should have told them why we love watching them play — highlighted their accomplishments. We should have given the seniors their due. These boys, many of them four year varsity players, deserved their moment of glory. We had an All American, the Ohio Player of the Year, many All State, All District and All City players. We had state MVPs. These boys had been passed over for two championship years, while past seniors were honored, and rightly so. This was their moment to be recognized for their accomplishments — and they were many! The problem is that the grown ups forgot it wasn’t about us. The coach forgot it wasn’t about him. Rather than lamenting the loss, we should have celebrated the accomplishments of the team — every single one of them.

You see, if we remembered that we loved watching them play, we might have remembered that it wasn’t about us. If we remembered that we loved watching them play, we could have made it about them. I hope that our boys have moved on, to new seasons and new experiences. I hope we, the grownups, can help them if they haven’t. I hope we can get back to being inspired by these boys who had so much heart — playing with torn shoulders, hurt knees and running top speed when they were so tired they could barely walk. I hope they will be used as an example of winners. Good sports. Good winners. Good losers. Good team mates. They never blamed each other. They all had each other’s back. So while maybe they lost in double overtime, what we need to remember is all the good that was the class of 2015. Because in the end, knowing how to lose and still be a good teammate is far more important than one win.

And that’s why we loved watching them play.

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