It’s a Wonderful Game

December 23, 2022
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As many of you reading this are parents and/or young coaches, I hope my thoughts this morning resonate in some way.

I went to a high school basketball game last night. It was at a gym where I had coached for nearly a decade myself and as it was alumni night, two of my own daughters got called out to center court with former teammates to be recognized. I had coached most out there in some form or another, either in basketball, another sport or at a 2-4-1 program. It was really nice.

I chose the word “nice” intentionally there. Yes – in most cases I just let the words come as they are and if I use a word like “nice”, and I thought that a “wonderful”, or a “powerful” or an “extraordinary” was warranted, I would simply replace the “nice” with one of those. But, I use “nice” here because there was something quite tranquil about the experience.  

I was incredibly relaxed watching the game. Despite the fact that I of course wanted the home team to win, I wasn’t “invested” in the same way I would have been had I been coaching or if one of my children were out there.

There are many of us who age and still play a game from our youth, that often exclaim, “if I only knew then what I know now”. It’s a variation of the “youth is wasted on the young theme”, but essentially says that I wish I could do all those things I could do physically in my 20s now that I’ve learned all these lessons that my 50 year old brain is aware of.

I think that pertains to coaching and sport parenting as well.

Let me preface this with the undeniable fact that as first time empty-nesters, Kerry and I have been like kids in a candy store in anticipation of this Holiday week as we have all three of our daughters at the house for the first time in over 7 months. When most of your adult life involves raising your children, there is great joy in trusting they’re prepared to set out on their own, but a different – and arguably greater joy – when they return home to be with you. I reflected on that as I watched the game last night. 

If you don’t think it goes fast – think again! (these are our Holiday card photos from 2003 and 2019)

In a “wish I knew then, what I know now” experience I offer the following both as coach and as parent – here are some thoughts that hopefully offer some perspective:

  • The Game matters, but in the overall scheme of life the game being played at that moment matters only then, but just like a play in the first quarter that nobody really remembers, this entire game will eventually be like that play (notice the big G and the little g there). This might feel dismissive, but as I sat among former players and my own children I tried to recollect snippets of the 1000s of games I’d coached or watched and could only remember snapshots of a very few. But then I thought about how much emotional energy I had expended stressing over losses or in anticipation of an upcoming contest and wished I could have just enjoyed it all a little bit more and not have taken it all quite so seriously.  
  • I wish as a young coach and parent, I allowed the Maya Angelo mantra of “people will forget what you said…but people will never forget how you made them feel.” guide me more fully.  
  • The referees don’t care about the score. Like our kids, they are trying their best to have a great game. Yes – they’re human. And yes – like our kids they are influenced by other humans screaming at them during the heat of the contest. But, just go to a game where you don’t care about the outcome for either team and watch those same refs you were just berating, and I will absolutely 100 percent guarantee you that you will see them differently. They will still make some mistakes (that’s the whole human thing) but you’ll realize it was no different than the airball your child just missed from the foul line – the ref, like your daughter – wasn’t trying to miss. I truly regret all the times I yelled at a ref as coach and as parent.
  • The rides home and meals after games are precious and are gifts you can never get back and in many rights can shape your relationship with your child and guide their sport experience. Under no circumstances, be negative about the coach, bash other players or blame things on the ref. If you want to have your kid keep playing and enjoying the experience while they’re doing it – do something completely counterintuitive – give them a hug or a pat on the back, tell them one reason why you love to watch them play – and then move on. Believe me on this if nothing else – it is in the moving on where the magic happens.

One of my all-time favorite movies – Holiday or otherwise – is “It’s a Wonderful Life” (see trailer below) and while my guardian angel, Clarence was not able to show me then what I know now, I hope my sharing the above is at least somewhat helpful for those just starting out. You see – I walked out of the game last night with my 23 year old daughter and she said “Wow Dad, that was really fun”. And I have to admit – hearing that from her was really nice…because as trite as it might sound – isn’t fun what it should all be about! Happy Holidays!

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About Steve Boyle

Steve is the Executive Director of 2-4-1 CARE, Inc and Co-Founder/Director of 2-4-1 Sports -- a signature program of 2-4-1 CARE-- whose flagship program is held at the Kingswood Oxford School in West Hartford, Conn. but now has locations throughout the United States and Canada. 2-4-1 was recognized by the Aspen Institute in Washington, DC as one of eight model programs in the United States for its approach to anti-specialization in youth sports. This led Steve to form the National Association of Physical Literacy – of which he is now Advisory Board Chair. Steve is also a founding member of the Quality Coaching Collective – an international group of activators around sport, movement and mindfulness. Lastly, through his role at CCG, Steve was the two-year Global Lead on Physical Literacy and Athletics for Whittle School & Studios (2018-20), which currently has campuses in Shenzhen, China and Washington, DC.

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