As the end of the college basketball season ushered in the beginning of baseball earlier this month, I made a modest proposal to my three grade school sons. I suggested that they watch only the first half to three-quarters of this season's games. I will encourage them to clap, to cheer and to savor every shot, dive and save possible -- and then to turn off the TV.
This is not an overprotective mom's effort to shelter them from the agony of defeat, nor is it an attempt to deny the thrill of victory -- just a call to shift the focus from the score to the game. Though not exactly referencing sports culture, as Shakespeare observed: "The play's the thing," -- but for many fans today, I don't think it is "the thing."
Before this gets taken the wrong way, it should be noted that I am not that parent. I am not a fan of the "everybody wins and gets a trophy" philosophy. I grew up in the age of The Bad News Bears, when kids and kids' teams were allowed to compete and to lose and to look fairly unkempt while doing so. Growing up in Queens, New York I played softball at P.S. 144 with "Killer Conlon," whose mother coached, hurling a litany of expletives and wayward cigarettes at all bad calls -- and plays. And only the winners walked off with the hardware.
As a former college athlete, I am all for competition. I see the value in playing hard and accepting at the end there will be a winner and a loser. I believe this instills grit and perseverance and an understanding that however hard you try sometimes things don't pan out the way you want. Better to learn that on a field surrounded by fellow 8-year-olds with the promise of pizza at the end than later in life with a college acceptance, a job, a promotion or an x-ray result hanging in the balance.
At the same time, in our sports watching today -- in our fandom -- I worry that we are losing sight of something important and intrinsic to sports. So focused on the result, we often fail to see and to remember all that the result entails: the plays.
This dawned on me while watching the NCAA Basketball Final with my sons. The game didn't start until after nine on the east coast, so we gave them until half-time. Unwittingly this worked out perfectly. As the players headed into the locker room and ours to their beds, the score was tied at 31.
After a first half of applauding and fist pumping every one, two and three point gain, at the half it was as if we had returned to the beginning with nothing left but plays and possibility. There was no dejection or taunting or elation to eclipse the efforts made -- just sheer appreciation and awe. "Did you see that shot?" "Can you believe that move?" "Oh my god -- he made it!" And in the 'end' all they were left with was the acknowledgement that this was "an awesome game."
Unlike so many other post-game scenarios, that night my kids went to bed with visions and memories of the moves, the dunks, the steals, the swish -- and not the final score. Until, of course, they woke up the next morning and turned on ESPN.
There's no escaping the results, nor should there be, but sometimes it wouldn't hurt to press the pause button and just appreciate the time we had to enjoy the game.
Eileen Flood O'Connor is a writer and mother of four, one girl and three boys, who were not big fans of this proposal.