For the Love of the Game

Our two middle school sons play flag football on the same rec league team, and as I watched their first game under the Tuesday night lights, I realized that later, it would sound like they had played on completely different fields. One would strut to the car as if they had won (they did not), and the other would approach, head bowed, teeth clenched.

For the first, it has never mattered if his team wins or loses (unless he’e watching the Packers on tv). If he makes one good catch, it’s a victory. Last night he made two, including a one-handed, over-the-head grab. You should have seen his grin. He’s an “I’m just happy to be here” kind of player. A big guy, coaches play him at center, which means he is involved in every play. But he’s almost as happy standing on the sidelines talking about the game with his coach.

His younger brother has the body of a sports statistician but the mind and competitive will of a quarterback. When he is not leading the charge, he feels ignored. When he is, the opposing team looks larger than life. But he runs smart plays that give his team an edge, and he knows it.

The Blue Jays’ chosen quarterback threw him one pass, which he caught for a two-point conversion. As he held onto the ball in the end zone, I felt that “phew” moment moms feel when we think we know our athletes will be pleased that they played their play well.

I should know him better than that.

As the game wore on, and he was left out of one play after another, I could see the frustration build in those piercing blue eyes all the way from the sidelines. It’s not “I’m just happy to be here” or even “put me in, coach.” It’s “give me the ball,” “let me lead the team.” Even if they had made it to the rec league Super Bowl last night, he would have seen the game as a defeat.

Two boys who love football. Same team. Different game.

 

 

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Swim Team

I signed my guys up for swim team last year for a few reasons. I wanted them to get some exercise over the summer, to look like they knew what they were doing in the water (as only swim team kids do) and, most important, to make friends and be known by the larger pool community.

Their strokes are looking better. Their stamina has improved. The coaches and lifeguards know them and greet them by name. The younger two boys talk to anyone who shares their lane or swims with them on a relay. They look up to the good swimmers, referring to them with the highest regard, “he’s State,” which really means he is fast enough to swim in the A league championship at the end of the summer.

What I had forgotten from my own childhood was the difference between being “on” the team and “one of them.” This week, in their second year, I witnessed the transition for my oldest and most reserved son, and realized how special that particular series of events is in the life of a child.

First, he made a friend during practice. Together, they helped the coaches unhook the lane ropes. The head coach realized his breaststroke is legal and, making a big deal about it, convinced him to swim it in the next meet.

Simple things, yet out of the blue, he asked for a private lesson to work on his starts and turns. He lingered at the end of the lane ropes after practice all week waiting to take ownership of his new job.

At the meet, he earned a second place in his first breaststroke race. His new friend got the blue ribbon. My son, never the first to reach out, found the winner and gave him a high-five. “We got one-two! Good swim!”

Last year, when he was “on” the team, had I given him the opportunity to skip a meet, he would have seized it in a second. Now that he has felt the magic of becoming “one of them,” he does not want to let that feeling go.

“Guys, we’re flying home at midnight the night before your last meet,” I said, expecting groans and “do we have to swims?”

“Oh, we’re going!”

“But then we’ll have to be late for…”

“Mom, we have to be there. The team needs us.”

My boys may not be “State”, but they got their trophy when they became “one of the team.”