I believe in sports. This is not a belief I have always held. I grew up, as many females my age did with ballet, horseback riding and the occasional game of tennis. I learned my strength lay more in my mind than in my body. The goal of the sports I was involved in lay in the effort of concentration and the quickness and grace of my youth, not in my physical strength.
When I got married and had children, my husband I spoke about getting our kids involved in sports. Images of pirouettes, riding boots, graceful serves floated about in my head. My husband envisioned group sports; soccer, basketball, little league. When we gave birth to girls, I became even more excited, buying little pink tutus and ballerina slippers. My husband bought them soccer balls.
A discussion ensued. My husband was raised playing competitive, team sports. I was uncomfortable watching Ille Nastasi, with his overtly competitive manner on the tennis court. My husband spoke about the life lessons of playing with/for a team. About depending on others and having others depend on you. About laying it all on the line. For a game? For a silly, little game?
I bought my first daughter a snazzy leotard and took her to gymnastics class. She stood there; age 7, watching these thin, spry, dainty girls, skipping and hoping across the balance beam. She laughed as the instructor tried unsuccessfully to balance her pudgy body on the uneven bars. She smeared herself with chalk and spent the rest of the time jumping on the pads.
The next week, I signed her up for soccer.
My second daughter, I took to dance class. She was good. She got the steps, she moved with rhythm and grace. With her thin body and long legs, she looked like a dancer. After the dance class series was over, she looked at me and asked when she was going to play soccer.
I loathed team sports. Parents yelling. Kids running into each other. Watching my daughter struggle on the field, I would stand there, tears running down my face. My older daughter took up basketball and got deliberately elbowed in the face. I remember the sad, questioning look she gave me, how she couldn’t fathom why anyone would intentionally want to hurt her. If my husband hadn’t held me back, I would have killed that other eight year-old. It was more than I could stand. Then this look of calm determination came across my daughter’s face. She focused, she bore down, she made a basket.
My younger daughter, my dancer, was fast on the soccer field. She’d zip back and forth, stealing balls, breaking up plays. But she’d get hit and go flying. She’d get fouled from behind. I screamed at the referee. I paced back and forth. As I stood on the sidelines, watching my daughter, weeping on the field, the air knocked out of her, I would curse my husband. I would curse the overt competitiveness of the game. I would curse the players that had not come to my daughters’ aid.
I remember the turning point. It was a championship game. My daughter was captain of her soccer team. They were playing a team much better than them and they knew it. It didn’t stop her. She called to her team, encouraging them, building plays. She ran all over the field. She played with fire, determination and aggression. When they lost, she walked over to me and broke down in huge, wracking sobs. She had given everything, but they had lost. Her teammates came up and they stood in a circle and hugged each other. I realized that sports do teach so much; about individual effort, commitment to others, and not being afraid to fail.
I still cry when I watch my daughters compete. But not because I’m scared for them, but because I am proud. I know what sports has given them. I know what it has given me.
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