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Sitting in the stands

So, I’m not bragging (okay, I am), but my middle kid just took a first place and two second place ribbons at city track this year. He had a good variety of events too – ball throw, running long jump, and 200 metres. He also won the standing long jump and 100 metres at his school track meet, but they let any one kid represent the school in only three categories at city track (which is fair).

The reason I’m mentioning all this (besides the excuse to shout out my kid) is that sitting in the stands watching him do his thing was one of those times that I found it difficult to be the parent of an athlete. It’s not the first time. It happens whenever my kids are doing extraordinarily well or extraordinarily poorly in their sporting endeavours.

If they’re falling somewhere down the middle – working hard in a good, tight soccer game, or doing a strong run to finish third in a race, I don’t have any problems. I can cheer in good conscience, congratulate them without reserve, and have a good time chatting with the other parents.

Obviously it’s not so enjoyable to watch them when they’re losing badly. I really feel for the little blighters. Just this year, one of their soccer teams ended up losing by double digits in the kick off tournament. No soccer game should involve double digits, ever. It would have been horrible even if they other team wasn’t showboating like it was the World Cup finals. The kids were frustrated. The coaches were cranky. The parents were upset. It was no fun at all.

The thing is, it’s not much more comfortable for me when they’re the ones who are dominating, as happens not infrequently when you have pretty athletic kids. I can remember when my middle guy and his friend were in house league soccer. I used to take the two of them aside and tell them just to work on assists because they had enough goals. They’d sometimes beat other teams 20 to 1.

It was the same watching him at his school track meet. After he won his sixth ribbon, I almost felt like having him sit and let the other kids have a go at the rest of the events. He was having the time of his life (pinning the ribbons to his shirt as he went, looking like a peacock by the end), and I was truly proud to see him doing so well, but I couldn’t help but feel bad for the other kids and for some of the other parents too.

The thing is, when you’ve been on the losing side (as I often was, since I was nothing like the athlete my kids are), you understand how frustrating and defeating it can be when you’re not even competitive, when one person or one team is dominating all the others. You can’t help but identify with the ones who are struggling but not having much success.

It’s even awkward to really cheer sometimes. I feel like I’m being a jerk for cheering my kids on when they’re already doing so well. It seems almost like showing off, when all I want to do is be excited for what they’ve been able to accomplish.

I realize that most of these issues are mine, that the other parents aren’t likely holding it against me when I cheer my kids on, and that the other kids will survive when they lose (even when they lose quite badly). I also know that I have many years ahead of watching my kids win big, lose big, and (hopefully) battle through some close competition.

I just never thought that sitting in the stands would be more difficult than actually playing on the field.