As someone who has spent thousands—literally thousands—of hours sitting in bleachers, I might have a little something to offer regarding youth sports.
My career as a sports mom began back in the days before “bag chairs” were even invented. This meant sitting hour after hour, game after game, season after season, on a cold, hard bleacher with no back support, which I did for a couple of years/seasons until I finally bought one of those cheap little stadium seats with a spring-loaded hook that (more or less, mostly less) kept it attached to the bleacher bench.
My four kids played pretty much every sport that existed: T-ball, baseball and softball. Soccer, basketball and football. Basketball, cheer and dance. Track, cross country and four-square.
Okay, that last one was just played in our driveway, but still.
I didn’t know anything about any of these sports. I just signed my kids up, carried the list of equipment I was supposed to purchase to a local sports store, and asked the clerk to help me find this stuff, since I had no idea what it looked like.
Here I will confess that I managed to completely melt more than one mouth guard before finally figuring out the magic formula that allows these devices to fit a kid’s teeth. I tried – unsuccessfully – to convince my kids that nobody would know the difference if they wore my black knee socks instead of official soccer socks. And I lost every argument about whether or why it mattered if every kid on the team wore the same brand of cleats.
I grew up in the 1960s and ’70s. At that time, there were few, if any, athletic opportunities for girls, and girls weren’t really “supposed” to play sports anyway.
But by the time my kids came along, I knew I wanted them to have access to experiences that were not available to me, so if they expressed any interest at all in playing a sport, I encouraged them to sign up, try out, show up and do their best.
My oldest son played T-ball. He wasn’t especially good at it but he had long legs and could run, so on those rare occasions that he actually hit the ball off the tee, he usually managed to make it to first base, and then eventually all the way around, to score for his team. It helped that the kids on the other team couldn’t throw and couldn’t catch, but that’s the way the ball bounces.
I knew enough about baseball to know there are three strikes and you’re out, and three outs and you trade sides, but that’s about it.
Turns out, that’s sufficient knowledge.
Football and basketball were more of a mystery. First one team had the ball and ran this way, then the other team had the ball and ran that way. Eventually they traded which way they ran, but I never knew why.
Soccer was even more chaotic: Everyone just ran everywhere.
Track and cross country were quieter and more organized, for the most part, but you had to be in the right place at the right time to see the right thing. I never seemed to be looking in the right direction, myself.
Cheer and dance were fun to watch and most of the cheers were pretty fun too (“Bang, bang, choo-choo train! Come on team, do your thing!” was a favorite) but oh my goodness, the drama, the drama, the mama drama. That’s all I will say about that.
When my kids got old enough to play for their middle and high schools, there were “away games” – and remember, this was before GPS. One thing I can tell you for sure: Coaches might be great at drawing up strategies for their teams, but they are horrible at giving directions to Podunk High School over in Obscure County.
If there were ever any trophies given for how many miles out of the way a parent drove looking for the field, I would have won every time.
But when I think about watching my kids play sports all those years, all those seasons ago, the things I remember most are the spirit of teamwork that embraced them and their friends. I remember the hours of practice and conditioning and hard work they dedicated to their sports.
It’s a cliché, but I remember the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat – and the lessons learned from both.
The trophies, ribbons and plaques are long gone now. Photographs have faded.
But the memories of hugging your child whose face is streaked with sweat and tears and maybe even a smear of blood, a kid who did his or her best and gave their best effort, who left it all on the field of competition, and whispering a heartfelt, “I’m proud of you” … well, that’s a winning moment in any parent’s playbook.