Toronto Zoo

Playing with the adults

One of the coolest things about my kids getting bigger is that they can come and join me in my activities rather than always needing me to come and join them in what they’re doing.

For example, everyone in our family plays sports of one kind or another, and I’ve spent many hours kicking a ball around with my kids at community soccer games or shooting a ball around with them down at the basketball courts. When I do this, however, I’m not really playing the sport. I’m playing with my kids who just happen to be playing the sport. I can’t really try my hardest, because I’d end up hurting my kid or someone else’s.

And that’s fine. There’s plenty to be said for just goofing off with your kids. They need to see that sports (and life, for that matter) doesn’t always need to be about winning, that it’s okay sometimes just to have fun, hang out, and get some exercise. I believe in all that strongly, and I’ve written about it more than once. The fact is, though, that this kind of activity is far more about me playing with them than it is about them playing with me.

Which is for good reason. Until recently, if my kids had come to play basketball with me and the adults up at the courts, they would have been crushed, both physically and psychologically. The same would have gone for them joining my wife on her soccer team. They just weren’t physically strong enough or competent enough at those sports to play with us. The best they could have hoped was for everyone to play down to their level, which would once again have been us playing with them rather than them actually playing with us.

Last winter, however, that began to change. My wife’s soccer team suffered a number of injuries (which is part and parcel of having players who average an age of 40-plus), and they needed someone to fill in on short notice. My eldest son, then aged 13, was pressed into service – and did well. Very well. He averaged better than a goal a game for the entirety of the season, and was a major reason that the team wasn’t completely embarrassed even with half its players sitting injured on the sidelines.

Then, one day this past summer I took the kids up to the basketball courts to shoot with their friends while I played some pick up. It wasn’t a great day for weather, and there weren’t enough people there to play a proper game, so we pestered my middle son to come play with us.

Now, he’s only 12, so at first the guy tasked with guarding him was taking it easy. He was playing down to my son’s level because he assumed that my son couldn’t play up to his adult level. Until the very first play of the game, when my kid hit a three point shot on him. And the second play of the game, when he hit a second three point shot after losing his defender around a screen. And the third play of the game, where he hit a layup off of a give-and-go play with his very own dad.

After that the guy realized that he had to play real defence, and my kid didn’t score again, but it was fun to see that the adults didn’t have to play down to his level any more, just as my wife’s soccer league didn’t have to play down to my eldest. In fact, if they do, my kids are now old enough and good enough to take advantage.

Which means, as I said in opening, that my kids can now come and play with me, and when they do, I can still actually play. I can play my hardest, try my best, and know that they can cope with it. We can play at the same level. And that’s so much fun.

I’m trying to enjoy it in the brief time I have before they’ll need to start playing down to their old man.