July 12, 2011

The Budding Sports Star?

Last night we went to Brady's soccer game, and I have to say that, in my opinion, there's nothing quite as fun as watching a bunch of five-year-old boys and girls run around and kick each other in the shins. That's entertainment.

My only gripe: there's always that kid on the other team whose parents have apparently lied about his age to get him on the team. He's the one who's a head taller than everyone else and may or may not have a little bit of peach fuzz already growing on his upper lip. More often than not, he's the coach's kid. He bowls everyone over on his way to scoring nine goals while his mom cheers smugly from the sidelines. If they can prove to me he's only five or six, I'll eat a soccer ball.

At that age, these little athletes can be easily classified into two categories. I call them the players and the pickers. The pickers are the kids who are content to watch the action while picking grass or their noses, or sometimes both at once, and there are three of them for every one little player who's right in there, focused on  moving the ball down the field. Your team's winning percentage is directly linked to its ratio of pickers to players; it's simple math.

Brady is a little bit of both. He'll run up and clear the ball out of his team's end of the field and then go back to picking grass while the kid with the mustache gets the ball back and blows right by him. He'll block a kick while playing goalie, cheer for himself, and then turn his interest to the big booger his teammate has just produced while fuzz-face blasts the rebound into the corner of the goal. Brady hasn't shown a very wide competitive streak yet, but I don't care. Sports at that age are more about teamwork and making sure everyone gets a turn than real competition, and I could take or leave soccer. He's getting fresh air and exercise, and that's all that really matters, right? Right.

But baseball...ah, the beautiful game of summer. Baseball is my first love when it comes to sports, and that's where I get competitive. I played ball until I was a junior in high school, and in retrospect, I wish I'd stuck with it. Ever since I was old enough to think about such things, I've secretly hoped I would one day have a son who would be a major league baseball player, to hear the roar of the crowd when his name is announced, and I know I'm not the only dad who has a secret wish like that. Brady is in his second year of tee ball, and my heart swells every time I see him smack a burner up the middle. He bats left-handed like his favorite player, Joe Mauer, and he has the size and good arm to play catcher like Joe. Kids aren't very coordinated at that age, so his fielding needs work, but the kid can hit. All our backyard work has paid off. I'm so proud.

And here's where I get into trouble. Part of me is itching to live vicariously through my son. I find myself wanting to teach this five-year-old boy how to set the correct stance in the batter's box, to keep his weight on his back foot and shift it to his front foot when he swings while using his hips to generate power and his wrists for bat speed, when all he wants to do is crush the ball and run around the bases.

I have to continually sit myself down and say, "Look, man, relax; the kid's only five. Take it easy and let him have fun." To this I reply, "Yeah, I know, but I REALLY want him to be ready when it's time to start baseball camps a couple of years from now." At this point, Brady gives me a funny look and says, "Daddy, who are you talking to?", and we go back our game. The moral of the story is this: I've really got to stop talking to myself.

Exaggerations aside, like all parents, I have a deep desire to see my kids succeed, and a fear that they won't. I don't actually talk to myself (usually) or get that worked up about my son playing for the Minnesota Twins, but I do worry that I won't do a good enough job of teaching my kids healthy habits, good values, and all the other stuff they need to know in order to make it in the world. It's a matter of locating that fine line between being too lax with your kids and pushing them too hard, and I'll probably spend my whole career as a parent trying to find that line because it doesn't stay in one place; it moves as your kids grow and change. I have to face the fact that I'll almost certainly screw up a few things, and that my kids may sell insurance instead of selling the bunt. I'm okay with that.

Even so, we'll keep working on ground balls and corner kicks while the grizzled behemoth on the opposing soccer team is spending that time learning to shave. When next we see him, we'll be ready. Just wait 'til next year, big guy.

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