We heard the gym long before we entered it. The cheering. The shouting. The sound of shoes squeaking and a ball bouncing to the beat. We walked in and the din absorbed us, inviting us to sit and to stay a spell.
It was the first game of the season, and my then 7-year-old son was excited. He had worn his uniform since breakfast and spent the morning running further and longer than I deemed necessary for any given day. He joined his team, then the jump, and then the action. His smile lost among the whirlwind of his lanky frame and a head in desperate need of a haircut.
He ran. He laughed. He played.
And then there were those around us, the parents who viewed a drop of sportsmanship as a sea of competition. They yelled directions and reprimands and suggestions for the referee to consider, despite all of those things being clearly frowned upon by the rules and polite society.
I had been apprehensive about putting my boys in organized sport, in large part due to the kind of parents I mentioned above. I just don’t have the stomach for that sort of thing — I lost it when I was a kid, spending as I did my Saturdays in dugouts and at the end of cold metal benches, listening to strangers say I was lousy and had no business playing. They were right of course, but they weren’t right to say it.
A few years ago, my oldest son played baseball, and I somehow found myself in the role of assistant coach. It wound up being a much better experience than I had imagined, and even though his heart wasn’t in it, he played well enough to spare him the scrutiny of weekend professionals and the critics growing restless in the stands.
He didn’t care to follow his time in the show with another season and looked elsewhere to plant his budding interests.
The youngest, however, is all about athletics, and when he asked to play basketball, a sport that I enjoy greatly, I couldn’t say no. We signed up for the local league and braced ourselves for those parents you see on YouTube.
Then the season started, and we were there to offer support and encouragement and take more blurry pictures than our Facebook feeds could ever hold.
My son’s team won that first game, something they would only do once more throughout the remainder of the season. My kid never scored a point, grabbed a ton of rebounds, and loved every minute.
The other teams, with parents that yelled, were coached by the kind of people that threw their hands over their heads and screamed out plays and verbal discipline like the court full of second grade boys was getting paid by the millions.
The coach on our bench did not raise his voice. He would call the team over, praise what he could, and teach to the areas that needed it. Most areas needed it. And we sat in the stands and we clapped and we nodded.
It’s about learning, he would say. It’s about fundamentals. There were skills to be developed, confidence to be boosted, and fun to be had. It’s a game, and we all knew it.
We’re getting a lot better, he added. And we were.
The season ended last week, perhaps a disappointment should anyone care enough to note the wins and loses, but for us, it was a victory, and we had the smiles to prove it. We got exactly what we wanted from sport, and we were sorry to see it go.
Whit Honea is the author of The Parents’ Phrase Book. Read more at his site Honea Express. You can follow Whit on the Twitter, Instagram, Google+, and Pinterest (his opinions are his own and do not reflect those of Babble, Disney, or most rational people).