Different Goals

Anne Fitzsimmons’ children may not be great athletes, but they are good sports.

I was never good at sport. Any sport. Even the ubiquitous tunnel ball and captain ball. So I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise to find my children have all followed in my less-than-illustrious footsteps and have failed to excel at sport. It’s not that I didn’t give them the opportunity.

My oldest daughter refused year after year even to contemplate giving up valuable drawing time to do anything as uncreative as sport. My youngest daughter is not so bad but is still not interested in using Saturday cartoon-viewing time to do sport. But at least she has participated in interschool netball – for one year anyway.

My only son, my middle child, is my ‘sportsman’. He expressed a mild interest in kicking a ball around in his pre-school years, which we enthusiastically interpreted as a love for football. We signed him up for football fun skills, and stood in freezing, misty, early winter mornings watching a bunch of kids running up and down a field after the ball. Well, most of them were running after the ball. Thomas would more often be gazing intently at the ground for minutes on end, quite happy. We persevered for a few seasons, until finally, we thought we might be making him do something he didn’t want to do. So I asked him if he wanted to continue playing football.  He looked at me with great astonishment. “Of course!” he stated emphatically.

His enjoyment decreased over the years as the critical shouts of parents on the sideline increased

Thomas continued to play football for another five seasons, but his enjoyment decreased over the years as the critical shouts of parents on the sideline increased. It seemed that every parent wanted their child to be the star of the winning team, and had no tolerance for those players who might have fumbled a pass, or missed a goal, or – heaven forbid! – managed to knock the ball into the wrong goal and notch up a score for the ‘enemy’!

One girl on the team who managed to do just that was all pride and smiles – until she saw the fury and disbelief on her team’s parents’ faces, and realised what she had done. The poor little thing burst into tears and had to be substituted for the rest of the game. In fact, for the rest of the season, because we never saw her return to her field of broken dreams. And Thomas? He was one of the few who went to her and put a comradely arm around her and helped reduce her humiliation. I was so proud of my son then. The feelings of a fellow team member were more important to him than the score.

He has now discovered baseball, which is wonderful. His best friend also plays. There is acceptance of all skill levels at the club he belongs to, and the encouragement when one of them gets out is warming and very positive.

It was a great game! I got to catch the ball!

So, I may not have raised competitive, athletic sports addicts, but my children are healthy, enjoy outside play, and have a wonderful sense of fairness and sportsmanship. And I think this is best illustrated by the words of my youngest girl. During her one season of playing netball, she was so excited to be picked. She had tried out without any idea of the rules or how to play but had been mentored enough to make the team. One day when I had been unable to watch the game, I asked how she went. She answered with joy, “It was a great game! I got to catch the ball! I had so much fun. I just love netball!” I relished her enjoyment, then said, “That’s great! And who won?” She looked at me blankly. Then she smiled radiantly and replied, “I don’t know”.