We are entering a new phase of parenthood: The phase in which our kids participate in organized team sports. They have been playing sports their whole lives, of course, but now things are getting real.
They are on actual baseball teams, with uniforms, coaches, practices and games. All of that.
This adventure is my husband’s idea. He has fond memories of playing little league as a kid and wants our boys to have the same opportunity to form those friendships, learn to play, learn to compete. Everyone is excited.
Everyone but me.
Everyone is excited but me because I have a secret, one that I fear that will be revealed publicly in the next few months.
I am competitive.
I mean very, very competitive.
In my adult life, this quality makes me a valued employee, an organized mom, a reliable team member. But I’m afraid it will make me a nightmare on the sidelines.
I have glimpsed this alter ego in my children’s first sporting endeavors. There’s something volatile about the combination of my desire to win and my Mama Bear mindset. It’s all I can do to keep it together, and yeah, I know, it’s park district soccer but I sometimes have to walk away.
I grew up playing sports like soccer and softball and I was a high school varsity basketball player, albeit not a particularly good one. Coach Royal used to shake his head at me after I missed layup after layup in practice.
“Good thing you’re an honor student, Reid!” he would laugh, and I would shrug and try again.
Good thing, indeed.
I loved playing basketball and my closest friends from high school were from that team. We were unremarkable as far as win/loss records go, but have such happy memories of our team trips on school buses for away games, sweating out suicide drills in a hot Florida gym, slumber parties with my teammates. It was great to win of course, but somehow the experience was more than that, even for a competitor like myself.
I felt a true sadness after our last game, knowing my glory days of team sports were behind me at the ripe old age of 18. I played a little intramural basketball in college, and some company-team softball later on, but my adult sporting life was more about individual sports such as golf and running. My parents were supportive and encouraging about my efforts, on field and off, and those of my siblings, too.
Now I’m the parent, agonizing over seeing my kid get run over by a bigger one, or seeing a blatant rule violation, or simply, painfully observing the semi-controlled chaos that is youth sports.
And it makes me crazy.
In anticipation of my new role of sideline parent, I realize that what I used to call ‘competitiveness,’ with all its negative and misogynistic implications, could be better described as ‘passionate.’
Passionate. That’s much more palatable. I think of being passionate as enthusiasm fueled by heart. Not unlike parenting itself.
And so harnessing my passionate nature is more than my desire for victory. It’s also the ability to channel energy and joy into things that bring you more of the same, nothing to be ashamed of.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m never going to be one of those people who are completely able to let it go and we all know that winning is awesome. But as they say, it’s not the only thing.
Lately we started playing the card game Uno card as a family. Some nights everyone is able to win and lose gracefully, and sometimes… not. Then there are tears and flinging of cards and yelling. Not usually from me, however. We have the usual discussion about winning and losing and sportsmanship, and those lessons are tough.
I worry that that the passionate genes I’ve passed on to my children will overwhelm their ability to have fun in competition, to lose themselves in a team where it’s not about individual goals. I hope they are able to find ways to channel that drive in ways that complement their other gifts and not find themselves stuck in a rut of competitive frustration.
And when they take the field, I’ll be there on the sidelines, travel mug of… something… in hand, pacing, living and dying with every inning, every play. Watching my boys learn to win and to lose, helping them revel in their passions and learn to deal with their demons.
No matter what the score is, I’ll be proud to watch them do their best, to play with passion and enthusiasm, just like I want for them in life.
After all, it's no secret that passion runs in the family.
This essay originally appeared in the March 2019 issue of Fete Lifestyle Magazine.