We’re All Learning Lessons


He’s just as good as he looks…sometimes.

The things we learn as kids are often times passed down from generation to generation. Whether it’s teaching our kids how to sew, how to cook, how to tie your shoes or any number of things. Many people have gone on to do great things and the first thing they do is thank God…and then their parents. And I imagine the people they became are a direct result of the parents they had.

The other day one of my best friends sent me this link to my wife and I. The article is called “What Makes A Nightmare Sports Parent And What Makes A Great One.” In it, the author highlights a survey that has been ongoing for over 3 decades and according to it, the absolute worst part of growing up and playing sports for kids is the ride home after the events. Not the losing or the coaches or the weightlifting or any other part of practices. Not the lack of playing time or the fact that there wasn’t enough Gatorade for everyone after the game. It’s the ride home and the misery that accompanies it that is the absolute WORST part of playing sports at any level.

After reading this, I thought about it and I wasn’t sure WHAT my thoughts were. I mean, I remember the drives home after basketball games and I remember my Dad giving me pointers on what I did right & wrong but I don’t remember ever thinking as I was leaving the gym, “I bet my Dad is PISSED!” or “I hope Dad didn’t leave me behind because I only scored 2 points tonight.” I remember there being long rides home because I was mad at myself for not playing the best I could or there would be disappointment that my team lost or there was excitement because I had played well or because we won but I don’t recall there ever being a time where I would say the worst part of playing sports was because my parents talked to me about my performance after an event.

Cut to 25 year later. This weekend I had the opportunity to go to 2 of Christopher’s basketball games. In the first one, he played one of the most impressive games of his young career that I have seen. I want to say he had 16 points, played good defense, had a couple assists and some rebounds. He had a great all-around game and his teammates also played as hard as they could but they still lost to one of the better teams in the league by 12 points. Nevertheless, all of the parents there were happy with what they saw because ALL of our boys played their hearts out and worked really hard despite the loss.

The second game was this morning and it was the exact opposite. Christopher is playing on a team where he knows few of the boys on the team, he’s easily the most advanced player on the squad and he knows it. So it was disappointing today when his team had an opportunity to win but fell a little short losing by 1. Christopher had 7 points and did do a lot to keep his team in the game but there was a different vibe to the way he played today compared to yesterday. And so here is where, as a parent, I needed to make a judgement call and so I did.

After the game yesterday, I was as supportive as I could have possibly been. He worked hard, held his head high against a team that had blown them out earlier in the season and despite the loss, Christopher had gone out swinging like a champion. In today’s game, when his team needed him to step up and be a leader, he didn’t. Instead he didn’t listen to his coach (who has been coaching him for 3 years now), he didn’t try to incorporate his teammates into the game (3 games into the season and he doesn’t know their names yet?) and he completely fell apart at the end of the game instead of staying positive and working to try to get an opportunity to win the game.

Soooo…after today’s game, I thought about that article my friend sent me as Christopher sat quietly in the back of the car. He was mad at himself and he had cried at the end of the game when they lost after he turned the ball over. I had a choice to make…do I console him? Do I scold him for being a jerk on the court? Do I just drop it? Or do I say (as the article says to do), “I love watching you play buddy!” and leave it at that.

Well…needless to say…the first 5 minutes of the drive it was quiet. Then I made a judgement call. This was a great time to make a point and despite what that article said, I firmly believe that this is the age where our kids are learning what it takes to be not only a good athlete…but a better, all-around person. And so I let him have it with both barrels.

I told him I was disappointed that he played like he was the only one on the team (he took several poor shots and didn’t pass the ball when he had teammates wide open). I told him I was disappointed in the way he disregarded the coach on the sideline when she was trying to set up plays. I told him I was disappointed that he didn’t look to HELP his teammates who are younger than he is and are still learning the game. And I told him that it is a slap in the face to his teammates that he has been playing with them for 3 weeks and STILL doesn’t know any of their names. I don’t care if they’re the best or the worst team, I don’t care if they win or lose, but for him to act like he is so far above his teammates and not be the kind of player that they can look up to (especially since he IS the best player on their squad) was a slap in their face and they deserved better.

So now I have to wonder…will what I say make ANY sense to a 9-year old? Did me telling him all of those things make him a better or worse person? Or am I a contributing factor to the decline in children’s attitude about sports? Or I am trying to live vicariously through my son by pushing him harder than I should? I realize it’s just a game but it’s NOT about winning or losing. It’s how you face adversity and work as a member of a team that should be the first thing learned in sports. It’s playing the best you can against ANY kind of competition and being a good sport after the final buzzer has sounded. In the case of today’s game, I felt Christopher let his ego get the best of him and because of that, his team lost. I told him I felt they didn’t lose in the 4th quarter when he had the turnover but in the very 1st quarter when he decided that he was the best player out there and didn’t have to play with his teammates.

Obviously this made him feel even worse but after sitting quietly for a while he came and sat down and ate some pizza and then I took him to his friends’ house and so here I am, wondering if I’ve been too hard on him or if what I said needed to be said and he might have learned something from his experience. I guess only time will tell but I DO know this…if I had simply said “I loved watching you play buddy” and NOT said anything about his attitude on the court today, I think that would have made me a bad parent. It’s our job as parents to help guide our kids through the early part of their lives and while I understand what that article was saying in regards to parents who have a “must win” mentality when it comes to sports, I do not. I just want to see 4 things when my son or daughter are playing sports:

1. Have fun.

2. Work hard.

3. Listen to your coach.

4. Be a good teammate.

Today Christopher DID work hard (there were only 5 players on his team) but the he certainly didn’t look like he was having any fun and he certainly was not listening to his coach or his teammates. So are my rules so wrong? I think not. Anyone who knows me knows I just want my kids to enjoy their time on the field/court/whatever. But when you get an attitude at the age of 9? Yeah…something needs to be said. And I’m pretty certain my Dad would have said the same things to me….

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5 Responses to We’re All Learning Lessons

  1. Chris Thompson says:

    Hey Alan,

    Having had the pleasure of playing with you
    in both organized and pick-up basketball games, I understand your take and agree with
    how you chose to address it.

    I wish my kids had taken to sports more when
    they were younger. But I do try to be very
    supportive of their endeavors( my daughter is
    A ballet dancer). But I also want to push to be
    the best that she can be…. So I sometimes remind her of what it takes to be better.

    As for my memories of playing with you…
    I always felt you were the best player on the
    floor, but that you were looking to make
    us all better. I had a blast sharing the back
    court with you ….. Even if was just church
    League or on the channel 22 team… Or even
    playing at Kettering against the punks from
    the Wright State team!!

    • Al says:

      Well thanks Chris! I miss those days and I miss playing but with my back issues, I’ve pretty much given up hope that I’ll ever be able to get back out there. That is why I don’t want to be one of those parents that pushes their kid to be “better than I was.” I was never a great player but I loved playing and that’s all I expect of Christopher. He plays sports year round and has gotten to be a good athlete. I expect him to play hard and WANT to win but I would rather he be competitive and enjoy the game than be a total butthead and forget that he’s out there to be a player with a team. I imagine I could be a butthead from time to time but really I just enjoyed the time hanging with my friends and playing against guys that I could have fun playing against (except for Fogle. He was ALWAYS a tough nut on the court! LOL)

      Miss you buddy. We’ll have to get together for some golf sometime and relive the glory days! šŸ™‚

  2. dad says:

    I always told you to do your best, no matter what you were doing. That’s one of the most important messages to leave your kids. If you do your best, you can always be proud of your achievements (or failures) because YOU know you were not a slacker, and you didn’t blame anyone else if you didn’t win (get the job, make the grade (whatever). But one more piece of advice: No matter how disappointed you may be in your kids’ endeavors, always, always, always find something they did do right. Spread a little honey over the onions. You are a great dad, Alan, especially since you have to make your little time at home exceptionally quality time, so keep up the good work and go out to your basketball court and teach Chris how to pass off the ball. Love……..dad (p.s. typed by mom because dad only dictates)

  3. Amber says:

    You shouldn’t question yourself on this, you made the right decision. Chris is always saying he wishes we lived closer to you because you and Christopher are such good role models. This is a perfect example of why. I am sure when Christopher looks back he is going to remember that you were there to give him the direction he needed.

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