Saturday, July 6, 2013

Organized Sports

*I acknowledge in advance, that putting a three year old into an organized Sport Camp seems silly. I understand that while reading this post you may infer that my husband and I are crazy or perhaps the sport version of a "Stage Mom". While I may not sound convincing, I'll do my best to ensure that as our boys try different things, I not become one of "those parents". I also understand that there could be some expectations for our sons as their father played college hockey, was a Hobey Baker Candidate and even played in a Semi-Pro hockey game. But the pressure could also come from me, a mother who has been in love with the Detroit Tigers for as long as she can remember and has a love of sports and competition that fuels her life.*

Just after Memorial Day, I enrolled Henrik in a Sports Camp through the local school district. It was called, "Sport Sampler" and was for children ages 3-6. I fully understood that my son who had just turned three, would be one of the young ones in the class, and I understood that the expectations of the class would be for children to learn basic fundamentals of each of the five sports. I didn't know how much parental involvement there would be, or if it was a team of coaches working with my son. Either way, I was excited for a chance to drive my son to a sport camp where he could have an hour with me a ball and some kids.

In preparation for this class, my husband and I hyped up sports to our boys, we bought all the balls (football, soccer ball, baseball and basketball) in the right sizes so that Henrik could show up with some concept of what each ball looked like. We bought athletic shoes and even athletic shorts and shirts. Is it excessive? Perhaps. I did get a warning from Eric that, "He's not going to be the kid who shows up in Converse and a V-neck". And of course I knew that. If I go to the gym, I wear athletic clothing, why would it be different for a kid? Is it different?

When we arrived at camp the first day we immediately saw that we'd be playing soccer. Henrik was shy, he clung to my hand and placed his fingers in his mouth. When the other kids arrived, he wanted to play with them, but didn't know how to initiate a greeting other than standing creepily close to them and staring at them with big eyes. I stepped in introduced myself and Henrik and suggested that the boys run and play with one another until class began. It was a good idea. Hank warmed up a bit.

As Henrik ran around, I watched all the parents as we all gathered into a tiny carpeted floor gym; mothers with no athletic skill whatsoever and wore mom jeans, fathers who worked at U of M and were outfitted completely in Michigan attire, mothers who were college athletes, fathers still wearing dress clothes and out of breath as they pushed their sons into the gym, and the Tom-Boy Mothers who always wanted to play with the boys but had to prove their ability to play, all scanned the room and urged their children to get active.  There were dads cheering on their sons, loudly. One dad shook his head and got frustrated when his son couldn't trap the ball. Several parents took photos and video of their child. And, there was a mom that kept dropping a ball and said to her son, "Sorry, I just throw like a girl". As I watched these parents, I tried to figure out why they brought their kids to this camp. I saw the pain of gathering 10-15 three to six year olds as they practice throwing and catching. I saw the struggle of herding these kids into a somewhat straight line as they would take turns making a basket or shooting a goal. I saw the excitement of some the parents as their children ran around for 45 minutes before dinner, bath and bed. And I saw the hopes of some parents as they watched their sons make some pretty impressive moves.

Once the coach started class, he asked that all his players come around him. Hank wouldn't go, he needed me to stand by him. When the coach asked the kids to run and warm up, Hank wouldn't do it. He needed me to hold his hand and run with him. When the coach asked them to listen so he could explain what they were about to do, Hank swung his arms around and swayed back and forth instead of listening. We were all instructed to stand across from our child and practice each skill. Passing, kicking, throwing in and stopping the ball. It was torture. Towards the end of the class, the kids were asked to put their skills to use and they'd work on scoring a goal.

I pleaded with Henrik several times the first day to stop being silly and rude to his coach. He behaved for probably one second. While Henrik was playing with the cones instead of the ball, a parent asked, "how old is he?" I told her that he just turned three a few weeks earlier. She replied, "he's really cute." Is he cute because he's got smushable cheeks, a great smile and for the most part a friendly disposition? Or was he cute because he wasn't following directions and was clearly living in his own world?

When the kids were free to shoot and score, Henrik did exactly as he was told and even scored a few goals. He looked like he was having fun, finally.

We left that night and I complimented Henrik on his job well done on scoring and asked him if he liked it. He claimed he had fun but didn't like soccer. I let him know that he didn't have to like soccer, he just had to try it a few times. When he asked why, I didn't really know what to say. In my heart and mind I know I'm not trying to raise an Olympic athlete (especially when I'm pretty sure that IF Henrik does do sports it will be an individual sport like swimming, cross country or even gymnastics) but what I wanted to avoid saying was, "because you're a boy". I hated to admit it, I hated that it was true and I hated that I thought this way.

I wanted to say, you're a boy who is a military child, will live on a military base, and live in the "macho military world". You're a boy who moves around a lot and you'll always be able to make a friend even if you can even haphazardly swing a bat, catch or kick a ball. You'll be able to gain a confidence in your ability to achieve something if you work hard, sweat and train for a sport. You'll be expected to by other boys. You'll be expected to play a sport by our society. Do I expect that you'll be able to at least catch a ball? Yeah, I do. I can. I wanted to tell him that he had to sound knowledgeable about sports because then you can fit into any group. You can be the geeky engineer who builds anything you can imagine, but you can fit in with the jocks because even if you can't play a sport, you can at least talk about "the game" last night. I wanted to tell him that being from Detroit, I have experienced how sports have held this town together. Even when our baseball team sucked, for a few nights a year, the city clung to the hope that the Tigers might make the World Series. And when they finally did, Detroit was better. Michigan was better. We walked around happy, we had something to talk about that wasn't a shooting, a diminishing economy or the loss of jobs. When the Red Wings make the playoffs we all wear red, pretend we're best friends with the players or come up with reasons to hate the other team. As a kid, and even today, I still enjoy playing catch with my dad. Watching football with my step-dad or watching Eric play. Is it wrong of me to want my sons to fit into this sport based world?  Is it horrible that I look forward to my boys and husband driving across the country to visit different sports arenas, or sharing a Saturday watching football, or having a family night out at the ball park keeping score the old fashioned way?

I ended up telling him that we were doing this camp so we could have some mom and Henrik time and so that we could learn different sports. I told him he didn't have to like any of them but we were still going to listen to his coach and try really hard to do each one. He nodded and agreed.

As the weeks went on, Henrik's confidence grew. He started to "make friends" even though he sometimes was creepy and just stared, very close, to another child. He tried at least three times to do each drill, his attention span wasn't as long as the other, older kids, but he tried. He joined in the stretching and running, he didn't require me to be by his side. He never did the end of the practice huddle with the team though. As we worked on drills with our kids I noticed the other kids excelling with each pass, kick, or throw. Henrik was doing better, but the drills didn't keep him occupied. He'd rather play with the hockey stick, wear the cone as a hat or just sit and zone out. At first I got upset. I wanted him to do what he was told. I didn't care if he could do a bounce pass or not, I just wanted him to TRY. There was a day during basketball camp where I wanted to chuck the ball at him because he just wasn't doing what he was supposed to, even when his coach was there trying to help him. Then I remembered he was three. When I discovered that the "drop the ball and catch it on the bounce" drill was too hard for him, I had him sit down and do it with me. It worked, we laughed and cheered when he caught it, but it took every ounce of energy I had to stay positive and encourage him.

When Henrik was asked to put all of the skills together to score, hit or make a basket, he did really well. He was proud of himself too. It's funny, he's kind of a modest kid. When he scored in hockey he smiled so big. He put his stick up in the air and celebrated. When the parents cheered, yes, he was the kid parents cheered for (probably because he was oh so cute) he quickly hid his smile and acted cool like nothing happened. In basketball, he'd walk up to the line nonchalantly and make a basket, just like that. He'd give a half smirk, give me a high five on his way to the end of the line and that was that. When he hit the ball in baseball and ran to the bases, the parents who were assigned to each base had to guide and quiz him on which base to run to next because he got lost. But when he stomped on home plate, he had a smile as wide as the Grand Canyon. It made me proud to see him so proud of himself. It made me happy, not because he was playing a sport and scoring, but because he was doing something that he was able to see growth in. Each day as we left we talked about what we did and I made sure to let him know I was impressed with his ability to do the exercises with out me, or run the laps with the other kids or even score. Each time I let him know that he was getting bigger and was able to do more than he thought he could. I think by the end of the five weeks, he did gain a confidence in himself, was it the sport? The teaching? The attitude? I'm not sure.

A few people have mocked the idea of the Sport Camp that I enrolled him in. Yeah, I see how people can think that I'm "forcing sports" on a kid who doesn't really have interest in them. But isn't it my job as a parent to push my kids? Shouldn't I  have them try things that make them uncomfortable so I can teach them that they are capable of doing something they thought was impossible? Someone also made the point about forcing little boys into sports when they could be doing some other not so stereotypical activity. But my boys play with baby dolls, they push pink strollers and shopping carts, they love the color pink and when they play house sometimes they want to be the Mommy that stays home with the baby. I guess I'm caught somewhere in the middle. Part of the reason I wanted Henrik to do this was to stretch him, to force him away from cars and trucks to do something physical. Odin knows this child has energy to burn and playing cars doesn't always cut it. I also want him to at least understand sports, I don't care if he plays them or not, but I want him to be able to join a pick up hockey game in the cul de sac, or go to a friend's house to play H.O.R.S.E, or to not get made fun of in gym glass because he doesn't know how to throw a baseball. I want him to get the joy from sports that a lot of people do, especially his dad and I do. There's more to a sport than the points: there's hard work, teamwork, leadership and self awareness, all traits I want my sons to have.

Maybe it was silly to start at age three, but aside from the sport itself, sports teach coordination and physical awareness that all kids need to master at some point. I don't know why those other parents put their kids into the class. I'm confident that I made the right decision for Henrik. I think that while he didn't always participate, and while he didn't love every sport we did, he got something out of it. He may not remember it a week from now, because he didn't show huge interest in it, but I've seen him run up to a soccer ball laying in the grass and kick it around when before he wouldn't have touched it. I've seen him take pride in the fact that he's getting bigger and that he went to school. I've seen him get high fives from other boys when he made a basket and I've seen the proud look on his face when he seemed to fit in.

I really don't care if he plays baseball, or hockey, but I do care that he find some athletic outlet that makes him happy, that he can be good at. I think we've discovered that he's not a team sport guy and he'd rather be swimming or leaping from play structures, but that won't stop me from having him do something like this again next Summer. I'm going to struggle with the fact that he's a boy and he should know how to play sports, maybe not be great at them all, but at least know how to play them. It's not important 20 years from now, but the world of the teen age boy is full of sport and physical activity, and frankly it scares me. I don't want him to get made fun of like the kid in Sandlot who didn't know who Babe Ruth was.

When I look back at the parents in that class I see a bunch of people all there because they felt like they were doing the best thing for their kids. They felt like their kids needed to be physically active, learn a sport or just get out of the house for an hour. I do see the pressure put on kids as early as Kindergarten to start playing competitively and I see why a class like this may cause one to believe that we're those type of parents. But I'm making a promise now, that no matter what my boys decide to do, I'll embrace it. From 5 am ice time to the Debate State Championship, I'll be there to support my boys. And until they find their own interest, I'm going to continue to give them the opportunity to try new activities and sports, to figure out what they are good at and what they love.

Theo joined us on Football day. 

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