The score is 53-11, and my oldest son is playing on the Brown team, losing to Red. His team of 12 and 13-year-olds are still putting all efforts into the game, playing hard. But this isn't what I'm admiring from the stands. What makes me grin? That they are having fun. Amidst their awkward, too-big-for-their-bodies-heads, their beginner's acne and new body hair, they are managing -- finally! -- to have a good time. They are laughing and being supportive -- not too raucous, not rudely, just right. From the bench they smile, cheer their teammates, laugh and jostle.
Until a dad behind me marches over to yell at them. "Want to know why you're losing?" he screams not only in his son's face but in everyone else's. He goes on to chide them about their performance, how idiotic they're being. "Want to know why you're losing? Because you're goofing off."
Actually no. The Brown team is losing for one reason only: The Red team is better. They have, on average, four inches of height more per player. They have better coordination, more skillful passing, more competent shots.
So our team -- my son's team -- isn't goofing off. They are coping. They could, quite easily, be tearing into each other for missed plays and faulty shots. They could be bitter. They could be cracking on the other team. But instead they are rising above it, finding the humor and camaraderie that will sustain them later in life when they have disappointments large and small.
Where is the fun these days?
My daughter's basketball team the same day spent the first 20 minutes wondering where the extra coaches were, then another 10 sitting in a circle doing introductions meant to make the game friendlier. Fine. But then we segue from names to asking what everyone's favorite fruit is. "My name's Lily and my favorite fruit is strawberries but sometimes I like kiwi, too." What? How about a few drills, sprinting from one line to the next, still being supportive and putting a name to the face of competition with introductions, but... fruit?
Where is the balance? It's as if fun is competing with parental need to succeed. And the fruit? That just doesn't help motivate girls who might hesitate getting in the game in the first place.
In 1978 I was six years old, watching my older brother's little league team. Parents socialized and had a beer while watching their kids play once a week. Everyone had a good time. Sometimes my parents attended games, other times we dropped him off and picked up nine innings later.
Now I have four children and no the nights I can't make a game I am given "the look" -- the look that says how could you? The look that implies my child will never recover from my lack of attendance. That my kid couldn't possibly enjoy himself without me to bear witness.
It is my hope as a parent that I am raising my children to enjoy both team sports and independent pursuits. I believe the glory of being on the field and off should not rely on my watching. Win, lose, tell me all about it. Tell me your favorite fruit. Tell me all your feelings and each play by play. Play hard, laugh, enjoy learning the skills and running until you are short of breath, support from the sidelines and cheer.
But for God's sake -- have fun.