Parenting athletes is more than a spectator sport

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Paul and I are sports enthusiasts. Especially when it comes to our kids. “Loud” would be apt.

We make it a point to know the names of our kids’ teammates and cheer them on from the crowd. Sheer giddy joy describes our attitude toward each new season and game.

Some folks can, throughout a game, breezily chit-chat, seemingly indifferent to the final score. It’s a skill I’ve yet to acquire. Maybe it’s me, but I sense a cultural shift in regard to how sports spectators are expected to behave. I’m reminded of “golf applause.” Very tame, veddy British.

An overall cool aloofness seems to be the current social norm. Rest assured, we Aguilars are not typical.

Given that truth, something deeper lurks. Although I may point out the occasional bad call on a foul, my cheering is of the “Great job!” “Good teamwork!” “That’s OK, good try!” persuasion. Not so for Paul. That fact has caused more than a little friction in our ranks. Many times over the years, I have wished Dr. Phil could mediate our family’s conversation on the way home from one of our kids’ sporting events.

Paul wishes he would’ve explored athletics more in his youth. It’s a regret he wants to save our boys from. He champions seizing the day. Be a kid. Play your heart out, for, as we all know, the day will come when, for many reasons, you cannot. Remember the scene in “Napoleon Dynamite” when Uncle Rico says, “Coach woulda put me in fourth quarter, we would’ve been state champions.”? There’s a little bit of that going on with Paul. He is one of those people who can pick up the racquet, club, bat or ball for virtually any sport and be remarkably good at it. (He can still beat our strapping 6-foot-1, 16-year -old son Troy at basketball.) It’s pretty annoying, really.

I have always held a sort of reverence for sheer athleticism, though I’m aware I do not possess it. (I once walked into a wall, giving myself a concussion, and a black eye ....) Not so with Paul. He is coordinated, spatially aware.

Paul is the youngest child of seven from a busy household, and the only boy. God then saw fit to give the gift of daughter Kate and three strong boys into Paul’s care. He can hardly wait between seasons for the next sport to start. He invests much of his time coaching our sons and their teams. We love watching our kids shine.

Paul is by nature a strong, intrinsically motivated person. He is never the guy that just “gets by.” Whatever he endeavors, he does so with fervor and undying intensity. He is great at recognizing the missing, or weakest link, and addressing it to effect positive change.

This skill has served him well in the business world, but, as you might imagine, is often not as valued in relationships, both personal and parenting. He’s not one to easily give out gold stars; he’s the one who sees the weak area and offers the “gift” of enlightenment. It baffles him to think someone would want or need to hear “Good job!” when he feels they are not performing to their full capacity.

Part of the problem, as with many dads, is that I think Paul believes each one of our boys have notable and exceptional athletic talent. He truly believes in them and their ability. As our boys have gotten older, they’ve become adept at expressing their preferences concerning the flavor of Dad’s sideline input, and the countenance with which he offers it. Paul doesn’t always readily obey, but he sees their point and offers hope of future reformation. (We’re still waiting.)

Life experience has shown me that when it comes to sports, dads and moms are often worlds apart. Of course there are always exceptions to the rule, but, by and large, Dads get a little crazy on the Little League field. Mothers are more likely to feel gratitude their kids are able to have the experience. Mothers hope for their children to build camaraderie, friendships, acquire skills, personal inner strength, mental toughness, the ability to work with others, and weather the storm of a coach that does things “differently.” We cheer loudly and nearly exclusively watch our favorite player.

Dads want their kids to give their all. And I mean ALL.

Although I loath the saying, “giving 110 percent” comes to mind. It doesn’t matter what else is going on in the world, dads expect their kids to show up with the intensity and drive of a roaring tiger. Nothing less counts. Nothing less will do.

What happens if or when a kid doesn’t care as much as Dad deems necessary? That is the crux of the problem at our house. Any sort of mistake or failing is genuinely fine by Paul so long as the kids are participating with an intensity that indicates THIS moment could quite possibly be THE most important moment of their entire lives. That is a pretty tough level of enthusiasm to maintain.

Like weddings and funerals, it’s novel that sports tend to bring every facet of ourselves to the surface. The good, bad, the ugly. It is why sports movies are about so much more than the win or loss; they’re also about the kind of person one is, the kind of person one is becoming. This pervasive idea that what you are on the court or field is who you really are and will be locked into for a lifetime is something I simply cannot relate to. When we watch the “Biggest Loser” and see and hear trainers scream at and humiliate overweight participants to change, I know I would balk at the sheer offense of it all.

Paul would flourish under such strain and scrutiny. In his first three arduous years of golf, he nearly quit the game because he wasn’t seeing what he would deem “success.” He pushed through, however, and is now a great (although that might not be the term he’d use) golfer. Time, determination, tenacity and discipline took him there. Every game the boys play is like the NBA finals for him, and he thinks it should be for them, too.

Personal discipline is something I place a little too low on the priority list, and something Paul places perhaps a little too high. We try to help each other out with balancing the fun and have-to’s of life. Ultimately, it is about unlocking the potential that lies within each of our children. Cultivating their talents and pruning their deficits. Loving them unconditionally.

Paul is good at calling our boys to the next level, helping them value and expect more of themselves. I’m good at affirming them right where they are, enjoying the fun, enjoying now.

Hope to see you in the stands soon.

Play ball!

Michelle Aguilar is a College Place writer, wife and mother of four.

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