The Olympic games are beginning in London, and over the next few weeks, we will tune in to see elite athletes accomplish incredible feats. As the cameras pan the audience and alight on the Olympians’ parents’ faces, I can’t help but wonder what’s going on beneath the surface. Are they nervous? Exhilarated? Judgmental? Scared? Ecstatic?
A few months ago, Procter & Gamble, the official sponsor of this summer’s games and also the self-proclaimed, “proud sponsor of moms,” kicked off their London 2012 advertising campaign with a spot called, “The Best Job.” In it, they eloquently documented the quiet, determined support of women worldwide who roll their kids out of bed at the crack, give them a good breakfast, cart them off to practice, and then finally see all their hard work come to fruition as their children win races, sweep gymnastics competitions, and medal for their performance in the pool.
Every mom I know, myself included, couldn’t help but tear up at the end. The Procter & Gamble view was gentle, kind, benevolent, and maternal. Just as we’d like it to be.
The reality? If you have a kid who plays competitive sports, you know it can get ugly. Fast. Forget helicopter parents who hover, orchestrating their precious babies’ every move — that’s wee ball in these circles, as there’s an implicit distance in the hovering. In youth sports, when parenting goes full contact, the result is never pretty. I’ve seen a coach shove his kid so hard that his teeth rattled and a bystander threatened to call Child Protective Services. I’ve witnessed “big” men push little leaguers to the breaking point in 100-degree heat, guaranteeing that the post-practice wrap-up included a group puke session. And that’s just on the field: There are moms that stoop to levels so low to sabotage other kids’ success with gossip and backbiting that they could win a moral limbo contest. And then there are dads who stop at nothing (literally, NOTHING) to gain their kid a better position on the field, in the line-up, and always off the bench. But the worst of all are what I call the Parasitic Parents, who feed on their child’s every victory, sucking the joy out of any triumph and greedily devouring the accolades as if it were something they did themselves.
The funniest thing about all of this — and believe me, much of it is not funny, especially when your kid is on the receiving end of a big, phat, grown-up power play — is that you, the parent, don’t really matter. Because sports are a metaphor for life: success comes with hard work, determination, and above all, a love that springs from the gut and spreads out all over the playing field. The desire to achieve victory is innate, and it cannot be forced out of anyone, not even a child. When you make the mistake of thinking it can be, you lose, Buckwheat.
In other words, IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU. IT’S ABOUT YOUR KID.
This past weekend, I had the honor and the pleasure of witnessing true golden moments, when my daughter’s softball team played in the climactic tournament of the summer: The California State Games. This was a regional competition, with kids from all over California and Western States, and it was Olympic style, with multiple sports being played throughout San Diego. The path there was a gnarly endurance test, with 4-day-a-week practices since Memorial Day and several tournament wins leading up to it.
At this point I could launch into how freaking tired I am. What a toll the months of driving to practice, getting my daughter up and out of the house at ungodly hours to head to the far reaches to play every weekend in tournaments, the lumpy hotel beds, bad fast food, and endless stream of expenses have taken. But you know what? It’s not about me.
And it’s not about the other parents on the team. It’s somewhat about the coaches, who selflessly volunteered every bit of free time they had to teach the girls all they knew, without one hint of daddy or mommy ball. These coaches weren’t the throw-the-kid-against-a-dugout-fence-and-knock-some-sense-into-’em types. They were the kind of coaches that set the bar high and said go for it. Just do it.
JUST DO IT. That’s all we need to say, and all it really takes. (Thank you, Nike, for those words of wisdom. Now if you could PLEASE send some sponsorship dollars our way, that’d be swell.)
The opening ceremonies in the Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego were pretty spectacular. There was a local sportscaster announcing, a rock band with a YouTube channel performing, tap and ribbon and hula hoop dancers, martial arts display, “disc dogs” (trained dogs catching frisbees, my favorite), and fireworks.
But what made the biggest impression of me were the Olympic and pro athletes that had a few words of wisdom for the 9,000 kids assembled in front of them. Not that they were saying anything that earth-shattering — there was a lot of talk about setting goals, ignoring obstacles, learning from failure, and all that good stuff that any athlete worth their salt knows to be true.
What they all said, and what really stuck out to me, was that each of them did what they do from a young age because they love doing what they do. When BMX Olympic contender Alise Post told the kids that she’d always loved messing around on her bike, and some stupid injury like a broken leg or busted knee wouldn’t stop her from her dream, their ears perked up. Or at least mine did — this girl had barely ridden her bike in a year, but she was going back at it, in London. All-American collegiate and pro-wrestler turned NFL star Steve Neal made my jaw drop when he casually mentioned that he never played football until after college, when the New England Patriots drafted him. He went on to win three Super Bowl rings with them.
I took note that the athletes’ words to the parents were just a little thank you footnote at the end. Sure we physically drive the minivans, the Priuses, the SUVs to get them to where they’re going, but it’s the athletes themselves who have the drive to succeed.
My daughter’s team played all weekend long in the San Diego heat. They were knocked into the losers bracket on Saturday, and battled back through five games in a row on Sunday to take the gold at the Junior Olympics/California State Games in the 10-Year-Olds’ Division. They shook hands and posed for photos with the team that they beat. They were all good sports and great athletes.
That’s what happened, although of course I forgot to mention that when the last out was made, and I realized the girls had achieved their impossible dream, I bawled like a baby.
Seeing your child accomplish a goal that’s his or her’s alone, beyond your wildest expectations and your own personal ability – now that’s solid gold.