Stoked for Sports, available at: ForYourMarriage.org


Happily Even After

Stoked for Sports


October 31, 2011

Our son, Oscar, played football as a fourth-grader last year. He was on a team of 3rd and 4th graders and though it was flag football, they wore full pads and helmets. There was plenty of contact: the boys were basically taught the first two steps of tackling—making contact and wrapping up—without taking someone to the ground.

I was uncertain how Oscar would take to the sport. I loved football when I got to play in high school and college intramurals. I made sure, though, that it was his decision to play, not mine. I encouraged him, and was able to describe the virtues of the game—teamwork, sportsmanship, courage, discipline—but I wanted him to want it for himself. He decided to give it a shot.

Turned out, he did great. He was not the fastest or strongest kid on the team, but excelled at the mental part of the game. Catholic Youth Organization is great about emphasizing participation, and he got to see the field a good bit during games. I had the time to be able to volunteer as an assistant coach, and it was gratifying to be out on the field with him during practices and games.

I have three hopes for our kids when it comes to athletics, and getting a good feel for a sport is one of them. Getting them to try a sport is one thing, but because they are beginners and lack skill, they are easily discouraged. For example, a 10-foot goal in basketball can be a long way to shoot a ball when you are in grade school. I hope to encourage them in a given sport long enough for them to get a real sense of the sport—not just how difficult it is, but how rewarding it can be.

Another hope is that they find something they are passionate about. That word “passion,” at its root, has to do with suffering. When it comes to sports, I certainly do not want my kids to suffer, but I do want them to find something they value enough that they are willing to sacrifice for it.

This year, when fall came around and signups for football started, I had a serious conversation with Oscar about his desire to play. In 5th grade, the game moves from flag football to tackle football. I knew that he had a good basis on which to decide, given his experience last fall. He seemed open to playing—“kinda” interested, he said—but there is no room for “kinda” in tackle football. It is a sport that demands commitment.

I asked him about other interests—soccer, for example, or climbing. His eyes lit up when I mentioned climbing. He has always loved to climb, mostly trees and climbing walls. Then this summer he climbed to the top of a smooth light pole next to our house like it was a palm tree. We’ve had him in a climbing summer camp before, but we haven’t given him a regular opportunity to climb.

So, instead of football this fall, we’re taking him to a bouldering gym twice a week. (Bouldering is climbing that does not exceed 10 feet high, and thus does not require ropes and harnesses.) His eyes genuinely light up when we are there. In gym lingo, he is “stoked.”

I suggested that he increase his ability by doing some exercises at home on non-climbing days. He has taken the challenge and is doing some pull-ups and push-ups now after school, and after several weeks of climbing, he is really improving. It is fun to see him having fun, and that he is willing to work at getting better.

The third hope I have for our kids and athletics is that they play at least one team sport, and Oscar has chosen basketball for that, which is great. Winter will be here before we know it.

There is a fine line between encouraging and pushing children in athletics. I’ve seen pushy parents who are too demanding of their kids, and most of the time both the child and the parent are miserable. Sports are, above all, a way to enjoy our bodies. There is a problem if a child doesn’t experience joy in an athletic experience. Yes, the agony of defeat is part of the game, but joy should not be absent.

Sports are also a way to grow in excellence through cultivation of habits—a lesson that translates very well into any other area of life. The key for me in this area is encouraging Oscar enough that he adopts that desire for excellence for himself. If I push him too hard, though, that desire becomes ordered not towards the particular excellence of the sport itself, but towards pleasing me and satisfying my authority.

Judging by his eyes in the climbing gym, he loves to climb and wants to get better. Which makes me, like, totally stoked, bro.

 

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The Book of Life

The Book of Life

Halloween had all the markings of a disaster in our town this year: snow was falling and the wind was gusting up to 45 mph.

Our family looked out the window and decided to throw in the towel. Oscar is getting too old for trick-or-treating, anyway, and Simon and Lucy are too temperate to risk pneumonia for some Tootsie Rolls and Sweet-n-Sours. We did want to mark the holiday with a fun family outing, so we decided to go to a movie, and allowed the kids to pick out their own theater candy. We saw the new animated feature, The Book of Life.

There are moments in family life when a plan goes terribly, terribly wrong—that happens often, and is good fodder for blog posts for us. But occasionally, there are also moments when everything clicks to produce a beautiful experience. Thanks to this film, our alternative Halloween was one of these beautiful experiences.

The story for the movie has to do with the Latino tradition of the Day of the Dead (el Día de los Muertos), which draws upon the feasts of All Saints and All Souls in the Church to celebrate the communion of saints. The plot line has characters entering the afterlife in pursuit of love, encountering deceased family members, and confronting evil. It was a funny, exciting, and beautiful film.

Most of all, though, it was a thoroughly Christian film, even though the only overtly religious figures—a priest and some nuns—served as only background characters. The characters moved through a Christian world in the presentation of death and the afterlife. Finding deceased loved ones in the “land of the remembered” was the ultimate fiesta, for example, and this communion of love beyond death colored everything—it freed the main character to live fully and authentically and fearlessly.

We all came out of the film uplifted, and the experience utterly recast the feast of All Hallow’s Eve for us. Halloween has its origin as the vigil for the great feast of All Saints (“all hallowed” refers to “all the holy ones”), so I was very grateful to avoid all the zombies and superheroes wandering the streets in search of free candy, and instead consider death through the lens of faith and love.

After the movie, we used the opportunity to call to mind those in our own family who are in the “land of the remembered.” We had the kids recall the grandparents they have known who have passed, and Stacey and I spoke about the grandparents who we remember, but who died before the kids could get to know them. We even recalled two special lives in our own family who were lost to miscarriage—it was a nice moment for the children to call to mind their siblings who are still a part of our family, even though we cannot see them with us now.

November is a good time to turn our minds to the end of things. The natural world is passing away before us in preparation for winter—trees are diminishing before our very eyes and even the daylight is dying slowly. Soon it will be time to recall the source of our hope and to prepare, through Advent, for his coming into our lives. But for now, we remember the faithful departed, and draw courage from our communion with them and the continuity of life beyond death.


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