Our sports editor’s mom returns for another edition of her Eyeopener column, bringing you pearls of sports wisdom from the real MVP.
By Daniel’s Mom
One of the most grown up things a parent must do is help their kid set realistic goals for themselves. We may see our kid as the next Bill Nye or k.d. lang but frankly, we might have to temper their dreams with a reality check or two. Especially when it comes to sports.
This past weekend, the spotlight shined bright on a select group of elite athletes. Millions of people tuned in to watched one of the most spectacular Super Bowl games in history, and another generation of young football players went to bed dreaming of the day they’d hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy over their heads. But the athletes playing in the Super Bowl were the exception, not the rule. It’s no secret that a microscopic portion of athletes will ever make a career of their sport.
So when my oldest announced at age seven that he was going to be an astronaut, I was relieved. At least he didn’t want to play in the NFL. He did play hockey, baseball and football throughout his school years. He enjoyed the comradery, warmed the bench a lot, made some memories and then moved on, marching to the beat of his own drum.
My daughter regulated her own athletic aspirations. After four—count ‘em—years of rejection from her elementary volleyball team (!) she flipped them a digit and proclaimed, “We hate volleyball.” She proceeded to exact her revenge on the soccer field, and of late has embraced individual sports as an antidote to her people-filled work life.
My youngest, your sports editor, got bitten by the hockey bug. Badly. He knew every stat, every NHL lineup by the time he was 12. It became incredibly easy to buy wildly popular birthday and Christmas gifts so long as there was a Calgary Flames logo on it somewhere, although I became slightly alarmed when he asked for goalie equipment. On closer inspection of my boy’s obsession, I learned that the players he followed—idolized—were not even ten years older than he was. Was hockey his life’s plan? And the grainy home movies of little Gretzky on his little Brantford rink didn’t help. Would my son’s love of the game and its players morph into a desire to ‘go pro’?
He was a good player, mind you, small but plucky as they say. Even in elementary school basketball he proved that spunk over stature could win a game. On the ice as a house league defenceman, he could scoot under the opponent’s armpit and disrupt a setup. But ultimately, he knew he couldn’t pull that off in the more competitive leagues.
Thankfully we had a degree of modulation in the extended family. Cousins excelled at sports, but they also became immersed in music, stage, dance. It was a healthy mixture of ability and interest. But my kids grew up in a village where summer was baseball or soccer, and winter was hockey.
Hockey moms and dads got up at obscene hours to shuttle kids to unbearably cold arenas and drank unbearably bad coffee to watch their budding Lindros or Sakic run through drills. These were member of an elite squad known as the REP players and parents.
Rep moms walked differently. They pushed their grocery carts with a certain swagger. They spoke a language house league mothers didn’t understand. They talked about ‘away’ tournaments, scholarships, scouts, summer tours, boot camps hosted by veteran pros. As a teacher, I even experienced parents who demanded high school exams be waived because they conflicted with team travel schedules.
These kids had a fire lit, the flames fanned by their parents. They had a bright future, and that future was National.
I can think of only one or two of these rep kids who didn’t burn out by the age of 16. To my mind, those parents did their kid no favours. In the end, many of these kids had few hobbies, the rare experience unrelated to sports and were less equipped to spend ‘alone time’ productively. Many were talented—extremely talented—but is that the magic ingredient for ‘making it’?
Parents play a huge role in helping their kids discover who they are and who they want to be. For a few—a very few—that future may indeed be NHL or NFL or NwhateverL. But parents, being human, get stars in their eyes, and a few tears too, as they envision the best and happiest life for their children. It’s hard to pull back and watch them fail, or choose their own path that might be unfamiliar or downright scary to a parent.
For most of us, all we can—and must—do, is invite our kids to embrace sports for the discipline, the comradery, the exercise, the sportsmanship and the fun. Not a bad skill set to see them into their futures, whether it lands them a Super Bowl ring or not.