My Children and Sports: Yes I'm Watching

With this being Safe Kids Week I was reminded of the rare opportunity I had to see my two younger sons play basketball earlier this year. It was such a special moment for me, especially given that we live so far apart. This is something I’ve been working to change, hopefully before the boys start playing competitively in high school.

Basketball warm-ups before the game
If there was any question as to which person I was among the other parents rooting on their kids, all one needed to do was look for the guy holding a camera in his left hand and a Flip video in the right while trotting up and down the sidelines in an attempt to capture every pass, dribble, and shot involving my boys. I really didn’t care how out of place I may have looked. For the parents in the stands this was just another Thursday night of watching their elementary-age kids running around in an uncoordinated gaggle on the hardwood for a couple hours.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to imply that these moms and dads were apathetic as many of them cheered their kids on just as they probably did week after week. For me however, it was different, not only because I was able to be there with my boys, but also because this constituted the very first time I saw them play any sort of organized sports. And I didn’t want to miss a single second.

To anyone who may have noticed, my face was flush with an obvious amount of pride for all the reasons one would expect. What father doesn’t beam as he points towards the boy or girl who just scored a layup. “That’s my kid.” Everyone may already be aware of this, but it doesn’t stop him from reminding those within earshot of that fact as often as possible. I of course was no different except that my method for letting everyone know which superstar was mine came in the form of yelling things like, “Great shot!” and “Awesome pass!” at volumes that drowned out the rest of the crowd. (Incidentally, my 8 year-old scored 16 of his team’s 20 total points in a crushing win.)

Glory days. 
During my high school glory days I lettered in two sports, earning first-team, All-State nods in both soccer for two years and basketball for three. After graduation, I never really followed through on the possibilities these honors might have led to. I had other plans. Now, standing at the threshold of my forties, I’ve all but forgotten these accomplishments. They have lain dormant for over twenty years between the pages of old high school annuals and tattered scrapbooks stashed somewhere in the most insignificant reaches of our storage closet.

However, as my sons run back and forth across the hardwood, I feel a familiar sense pride that came from playing ball in my younger days as it fuses with this new pride derived from watching my boys mimic these same interests. It’s these sorts of mirrored patterns that link fathers and their children together. Yet at the same time, just as a reflection is reversed, so too are these roles in that the perspectives have changed.

As a high school athlete, my concerns consisted of how to break down a full-court press and anticipating which corner of the goal an opponent was aiming for on a penalty shot. The focus was on performance and winning—simple and straightforward. As a parent, though, I suddenly recognized the host of considerations and worries that go through your mind watching your child take to the field.

Recently my 8 year-old stepdaughter asked if she could play volleyball after watching her older cousin play in a big tournament. My wife and I thought it would be a good way to build her confidence, but as we checked out the nearby teams for kids to join, I was surprised at how competitive these leagues were. (That and how flippin' short their shorts are!) Apparently, according to my stepdaughter’s aunt 8 to 10 is exactly the age girls start training seriously if they want to play in college.

Why so intense so early? I remember talking to guys from other schools during summer basketball camps, and they would complain about being so burnt out from playing. Burnt out? I didn’t even know what that meant, but then they told me about extra practices they had to attend during the off-season, and traveling leagues, and then here they were at one of the several camps they had been signed up for by their coach. It was basketball 24/7, 365 days a year. Ironically, these guys always seemed to be hurt, knees, back, shoulders—and it wasn’t hard to understand why. No pain, no gain as the cliché goes, begging the question as to how much of a factor is this when high school players suffer from dehydrated, a concussion, or worse. If my kids get a coach like this, what will I do to ensure their safety?

And there are other things I wonder about too, like when to push the kids and when do I back off? I resolved a long time ago not to be that parent who tries to make their children into being something they’re not or don’t want to be. My oldest son who’s 12 has zero interest in sports, as opposed to his brother who’s a natural athlete. And then there’s my youngest—his signature move is sprinting to the complete opposite side of where the action’s at and then do a swan dive onto the floor. Talk about your head not being in the game, his isn’t even in the gym. (But he is having a heck of a lot of fun in the video ...until the poor little booger gets it in the face with the ball.)

I know the answers here might seem obvious, but I could not have cared less about kicking a ball around until someone gave me a bit of a nudge when I turned 13. Who knows how my life would’ve ended up without the self-esteem I gained from playing sports. Will any of my boys need that same nudge at some point? 

I realize that maybe this sounds a little premature on my part. I mean, after all, I was watching a bunch of 7 and 8 year-olds mobbing whoever had the ball the way goats at a petting zoo do to people who enter the pen holding a handful of grain over their head. Even so, the fact that these considerations didn’t even exist in my mind until this moment is what caught me off guard. Sometimes we as parents tend to make assumptions, not intentionally, but rather as a lapse in awareness. Then we find ourselves in the middle certain situations thinking, “How did I not think of this before?”

That’s the thought that hit me as I stood there videotaping my son tossing the ball into the net. “Dad, Dad! Did you see that?” he said running back on defense. “Were you watching?”

I held up the video camera and laughed. “Uh, yeah, whadda ya think I was doing with this thing? I was totally watching.” And I’ll be watching you and your brothers in all sorts of ways because looking out for your wellbeing is my job.

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This post was sponsored by Safe Kids USA in conjunction with Johnson & Johnson. Safe Kids is an organization dedicated to child safety “at home, at play, and on the way.” April 19 – 22 has been designated as Safe Kids Week, an annual nationwide event introduced by Safe Kids USA and founding sponsor Johnson & Johnson in 1988. This multifaceted public education campaign is created each year to help parents and caregivers understand a different part of childhood injury prevention.

On May the 2nd at 12PM EST, Safe Kids USA will be airing an educational webcast about sports injury prevention.

The webcast be streamed live on the Safe Kids Facebook Page and will be hosted by:

• Dr. Angela Mickalide, CHES, Director of Research and Programs, Safe Kids Worldwide
• Dr. Douglas Casa, Director of Athletic Training Education, University of Connecticut
• Dr. Gerard Gioia, Chief, Division of Pediatric Neuropsychology and Safe Concussion Outcome, Recovery & Education (SCORE) Program at Children's National Medical Center
Steve Young, former NFL Star Quarterback and On-air Talent ESPN (and this guy knows about concussions)

To mark this webcast on your calendar, you can RSVP at the Safe Kids Facebook Event Page

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Disclosure: In accordance with FTC regulations I am required to disclose that I was compensated monetarily for this post by Johnson & Johnson; however, payment for services does not represent an endorsement of their products by myself as the creator of Clark Kent’s Lunchbox. 

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