One of the hardest thing about being a dad has got to be sitting on the sidelines of your kid’s sporting event and not saying a word.
At least once a week I have to resist, with every fiber of my being, the urge to offer my 7-year-old daughter Alia unsolicited advice as she jumps, tumbles and flies through the air during gymnastics practice. She has an excellent coach, so I know that any instructions I might offer would be redundant, and likely rejected out of hand.
Still, there’s that urge to do so. I can’t help it. I’m a dad. I’m biologically hardwired to instruct and guide my offspring so they can one day claim the alpha spot in the pack – or win an Olympic gold medal. I wasn’t born to keep my mouth shut (just ask my friends). How did my dad do it all those years I was playing sports?
I asked him. He said:
“When I was a kid I loved baseball and couldn’t play a lick. It was tough on my dad because he loved baseball. I had no real knowledge about the technical aspects of it. When you played, I tried very hard not to coach you. All I really did was to play catch with you and encouraged you to have fun. All the while, I hoped all of the other coaches could do their job. All I wound up doing was giving what advice I might have before or after the practices or games.”
He offered this sage advice: “Try to instill confidence and the need to enjoy (the sport). I feel that if children don’t enjoy it, then how can they boost their confidence. Of course it never hurts to have talent.”
Alia started gymnastics more than a year ago. I’ve watched her, and other girls, progress from being afraid to jump off the balance beam to doing hand stands and one-handed dismounts (and stick their landings!). Alia bends her body with ease in ways that make me wince. She can do a round-off back handspring without breaking a sweat.
I break a sweat just tying my shoes, so what advice in the world can I offer her?
The real test of keeping my mouth shut came last Saturday, during Alia’s first gymnastics competition. She and her 11 teammates traveled to Eugene to compete against their peers from throughout the state. They performed floor routines, bars, beam and vault.
Me? I sat with my wife and several hundred other parents in a roped off area – and kept my mouth shut. I wasn’t alone. I glanced around to find other fathers equally challenged with keeping their thoughts to themselves. When the temptation became too strong, some fathers left to find a hot dog to eat, or exited the gym. Several yielded to temptation, yelling out advice only to be firmly stared down by their wives. Fortunately, the athletes, coaches and judges were too busy to notice such lapses in parental judgement.
Saturday’s meet was a first for Alia. I am extremely proud of how well she managed the first-time jitters of competition and performed in such an arena. She did her best and exhibited more guts than I did at her age. I caught her eye a few times during the event and simply waved. Her mom gave a wink.
I guess that’s what parents do. We smile a lot, give the occasional thumbs up and bite our lips.
My dad did it.
So can I.