In a game that caused me to get more nervous than any sporting event since the seventh game of the 1991 World Series, my daughter Nicole’s basketball team at Annunciation School recently defeated an equally fine squad from John Ireland School, 14-13, for the sixth grade championship. The following are nearly verbatim exchanges between my wife, Diane, and me during the contest.
Me: Come on, Nicole, play hard. Be aggressive.
Diane: Should she be doing that?
Me: Doing what?
Diane: Jumping into piles of people and trying to grab the ball away from other girls like that?
Me: Of course, that’s the point. She’s supposed to grab and steal every ball she can get her hands on.
Diane: I don’t think that’s very polite.
Me: Polite? What does polite have to do with playing basketball?
A short time later, after a player on the other team was called for a traveling violation, giving the ball back to Annunciation, Diane cringed in empathy. “Oh, the poor dear,” she sighed. Whereas I exclaimed, “Way to go!”
Actually, I exclaimed this softly, as I was fully alert to the fact that the children on the court really were children, about 12 years old. Also, grownups from the other school were sitting nearby, and I didn’t want them to think I was one of those out-of-control sports parents.
I’ve always been a big sports fan, so much so that I’m embarrassed whenever I’m asked about my hobbies, as I don’t have anything much better to offer than watching ESPN. If I were to recite my proudest achievements, ranking in the top dozen would be pitching and winning a championship baseball game, when my team was a big underdog, when I was 15.
Yet while I’ve always appreciated how sports can teach discipline, teamwork, and similar values, I never realized just how invaluable sports could be in doing so until Nicole started playing organized basketball several years ago. I’m quick to acknowledge that athletics are not the only route to learning essential things about winning with humility, losing with grace, and finding the gumption to stick with an obligation no matter how many laps need to be run, be they literal or emotional. Still, when it comes to my daughter, I can’t imagine a more conducive vehicle than sports.
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