When Confidence Was Cool

At what age does it become socially awkward to say aloud, “You know what I like best about myself?”

Fortunately, it still flies in second grade.

Only two days after moving up from the reading group for those struggling with phonics, and four days after scoring a basket in a YMCA basketball game, my little guy was feeling good.

“You know what I like best about myself?”

“What?”

“That I’m really good at school and really good at sports.”

“I like that you have fun doing whatever you are doing, and you work really hard to get better at it.”

“Yep.” Big, huge smile.

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.”

How We Talk about Sports

When most families talk about taking up a new sport, I assume that the child expresses an interest or starts playing the game on their own, with friends, with a sibling. He or she begs to join a team.

That’s not exactly how it works at my house.

Recently, our ten year old told his Dad that he wanted to try lacrosse. Dad went and bought him a lacrosse stick, and they have been playing together in the front yard. My son now watches lacrosse on television with me (I tremendously enjoyed warming the bench throughout high school) and asks lots of questions about the rules. He is studying the game. He is learning the players, the trivia, everything. He learns to “talk” a sport before he learns to play it (e.g., he learned his numbers by memorizing favorite baseball player numbers).

And then, even before he asked to join a team or bring his lacrosse stick to a friend’s house or purchase any other accouterments of the sport, he checked on this:

“Dad, do professional lacrosse players make a lot of money?”

“Nope.”

“Are you kidding? Everyone watches lacrosse! They must be rich!”

“You don’t play lacrosse for money. You play for fun.”

“Do they at least make as much as you do?” (speaking to a doctor)

“Not even…”

“That’s ridiculous.” You could see my son’s mind at work, weighing his professional prospects with picking up a new sport just for fun.

Our six year old, always listening, added his two cents, “That’s why I play baseball.”

But fun still trumps money at ten. He brought his lacrosse stick for the first time today to play with a friend.

Best Sports Moment in History

Today, in their last game, my son’s soccer team finished the season undefeated.

It was his 6th birthday.

And when he scored his goal, he sprinted straight off the field, shouting joy, and tackled me in front of his team, his coach, his opponents, the entire kindergarten-YMCA-soccer-world.

They say winning the Super Bowl is great. I cry when my basketball favorites win the NCAA tournament. A World Series win for the home team is amazing, especially when you are in the ballpark. A victory at the Kentucky Derby, a gold medal at the Olympics… until today, they were the best moments in sports.

But nothing in all of sports will ever again beat my son tackling me after his goal the day he turned six.

Biceps and Basketball

“What are those things that she has on her arms?” my five year old asked, pointing to his five year old, girl cousin.

I eventually got to “biceps?”

“Yep. Well, even though she has those and she is stronger than me…do you know our hoop outside?” Pause for dramatic effect and general know-it-all-ness. “Well, she can’t even make a basket, and I can.”

Always competing at my house, even with those who don’t know they are in the competition.

“Why do you think that is?” I asked, going for the word “practice.”

“She shoots grandma style.”

When the Youngest Plays Soccer

My five year old joined a YMCA soccer team. It’s his first extra-curricular activity besides following his big brothers to theirs. During his five years of being a spectator at every practice, game, lesson and recital, he has gained something the other two lack – a desperate desire to come off the bench.

No dandelion-picking for him!

While he has yet to score, he takes joy in his teammates’ successes.

Although he is not quick, he runs with a determined eye on the ball, arms swinging, never stopping even when passed.

When the coach calls the team, he is the first to be at Coach’s side with a hi-five.

When he is on the sidelines, he may use even more energy jumping up and down than he does on the field.

And he yells. He yells when he’s on the field. He yells off the field.

When his brothers pretend to know more about soccer than he does, he covers his ears. “I don’t need any advices!”

Most important, though, he can’t stop smiling at everyone. It is finally his turn in the spotlight. And this little man is making the most of it.