Friday, February 19, 2010

Even I Can Fall...

Winter Olympians are suicidal, masochistic, insanely talented athletes who have no fear of heights, speed or falling. The part of the brain that turns off logical reservation for most people, fires powerfully for these athletes, and I am awe-inspired because they are not petrified by those fear-filled events. Instead of being scared, they are motivated and joyful. It is a fascinating contrast to my own understanding of the world, and I can't help but to watch it endlessly.

I don't quite relate to today's best athletes because I am cautious and I thoughtfully consider how much something may hurt if I don't execute it perfectly. I don't think I've always been this way. I used to be more fearless and less logical, but the youthful tendencies of my playing days have given way to the conservative body-protecting mechanisms that have taken over as I've gotten older. I am probably even more impressed by the athletic talents of these young Olympians than I was when I was younger, but what blows my mind the most is the level of fearlessness that is regularly displayed.

As an unfortunate bi-product to my wonder, I have found that my expectations are becoming about as outrageous as the ridiculous skills displayed. Just like there is hardly a limit to how fast, how high or how crazy these Olympians can go, I, the spectator, am disappointed when they don't go higher, faster or crazier than the last guy. It is possible that I am simply reacting to the sound bytes in my home because my husband literally gets up and leaves the room if a figure skater has fallen during the program...taking him out of contention. We are not figure skating experts and we only watch it during the Olympics, but my husband was cheering (similarly to how he goads the television during football games) for all the male figure skaters to, "Throw down a quad."

He knows nothing more about the sport than I do, but, as we listen to the color commentators, we learn that a quad is incredibly difficult and dangerous, and we both really hope that they are going to at least try it. My husband gets mad that the young athlete who attempted, and failed, to throw down his quad, was not rewarded in any way. I, on the other hand, think it is a brilliant scoring system by the Olympic committee. Only rewarding landed jumps discourages the athletes who may be more "fearless" but who may not have the skill necessary to complete such a skill thus putting themselves in real danger. Encouraging athletes to do well the elements that they can do safely, is a fair expectation of the scorekeepers, but likely in contrast to the armchair skaters who live vicariously through the adrenalin rush of the crazy athletes. We want more.

While watching the free skate last night, when a skater would barely bobble a triple-lutz or touch a hand after a difficult combination, I was disappointed and my husband verbalized his frustration by saying, "He's not that good...I can do that. Even I can fall."

I laughed at the remark, because of course he couldn't do even half of what these guys are doing on the world stage, but I understand his disappointment. We watch these athletes because we hope they are more than human. We hope they are worthy of the television coverage and the dramatic background music. We hope that they'll do something that has never been done before, and we can at least, for a moment, share the glory of achieving the seemingly unachievable.

I count on the crazy athletes, those among us who will do anything in the name of sport. I will cheer and wonder and find inspiration in their willingness to do what they do...just as long as it is crazier than the last guy, and never performed by a kid in my house!

Monday, February 8, 2010

To Play or not to PLAY

It was the second game of the day for my son's squirt hockey team, so it was to be expected that they looked tired and sluggish.

"What is wrong with you? Move your feet!" One of the dads yelled.
"Skate!" Another screamed.
"Get going...go after the puck...don't just stand there...back check...stop him," similarly appalled parents yelled in succession for the majority of the game.

I got caught up in the emotion for sure, but my frustration was truly not with the was with the parents. It was hard not to be disappointed with the performance of the team, because we had all seen them play better, but I was mostly just disappointed with the expectations of the parents as a whole.

For those of you unfamiliar with the bizarre age-grouping of hockey teams, the squirt level is for kids ranging from ages 9-11 years old. Kids...who most certainly should be parented and directed and guided on a regular basis. Anyway, this particular game was an early evening game after a full day of team "bonding" at the hotel for the one weekend trip for this team. The day started with an 8 am game, after sleeping in the hotel the night before. Some of the families had gone up to Duluth early the day before to take in the slopes for snowboarding and skiing. When I was tucking our son into bed at 8:30 on Friday night, a large group of the boys were headed down to the pool...commenting on how our kid was missing out on the fun. I just knew we had three games in two days and the first game was at 8 am, so it made sense to me to get some sleep. My son reluctantly agreed.

After the win in the morning, some of the team spent additional time in the pool, most of the boys played a few hours of knee hockey, there were video games played in one of the rooms, tag games through the halls, a team movie/ sandwich party for three hours and more knee hockey before the second game of the day at 5 pm.

I admit that I struggled with the assertion of parenting to make my kid take an extra rest before the second game, but I kept in perspective the fact that he was going to be less than sharp for his performance in that second game, and I expected the sluggishness that was our team for that evening.

We lost the overtime...and I was truly only disappointed with the outcome because that meant we were going to have to get up at 8 am the following day for the third game. Several of the parents were visibly upset by the outcome, and one commented that he was so angry with his kid he really didn't have anything more to say about it. I know better than to assume that he really had "nothing" to say to his kid about his performance, and I became even more agitated with the unrealistic expectations.

What should a travel weekend for sports look like for a youth team? If the team is there for the fun parts that are the hotel, and the pool, and the friend time and the skiing and the snowboarding, I truly have absolutely no problem with that. My problem comes when there is an acceptance of the "fun" off the ice but frustration with the inability to perform. They are young boys who are supremely affected by how much they rest, by what they eat, by what they are told and by how much energy they expend. If the goal of a team is to "perform" for the weekend, then the expectations of life in the hotel needs to be drastically different than what this team was able to do for their weekend.

Youth coaches need to follow some very simple guidelines in preparing the team and their parents for a weekend trip to a hotel:

Lay out very clear expectations. Poll the families and the kids and determine whether they are happy to just compete or if they really want to perform at their best. As long as all the families, players and coaches are on the same page for expectations, the weekend can be enjoyable and productive.

If the team hopes to perform well, the expectations should be as follows:

Clear curfew, and possibly a suggestion for rest if there are multiple games in a day. Guidelines for the best foods to eat and when. There needs to be a designated time for fun (one hour in the pool, one hour of knee hockey, down time in your room, etc.) When coaches direct such an itinerary the kids will respond, and performance will improve.

Both kinds of weekends are memorable and fun for all members of the families involved, but when each family comes with their own individual goals for their kids and for the group as a whole, there are going to be discontented parents, and unfortunately, many of the kids will have a negative taste of something that should be nothing more than positive and fun. It is never fun to be yelled at by a disappointed parent, and I wonder what those boys who have an intense fan for a parent will remember more for the entirety of a travel weekend. The fun in the pool or the disappointed yelling of his dad or mom?