As a society, we no longer esteem the "good sport." You know, the guy who plays on the team, cheers on his fellowman and has a passion for the game which might exceed his talent, but certainly brings the team great value. Instead, we've become a society that wants everyone to be a superstar, the lead pitcher, the number one goal maker, or the prima ballerina. It's no longer enough to just be good and love the sport. You need to excel.
A few years ago, I took my son to an baseball complex for batting practice. He needed a little time behind the plate to overcome his fear of the ball. He loved playing baseball, but was not the top hitter or best pitcher on the team. However, he had the mental part of the game down pat as he knew how to read the pitcher, where the play should be, etc. Maybe, that is what makes him a pretty decent umpire.
In talking to another parent waiting for his son, I commented that we needed to leave soon as Mr C had a soccer game to get to that night. He commented that in second grade it was probably time for him to "specialize" in a sport. Not thinking I had heard him right, I asked for explanation. "You know, he needs to pick his sport. Is he going to play soccer or baseball when he grows up?"
Guess I was thinking that at 8 years old he still had a few good years ahead of him to decide where his interest and talents lay. However, if we were looking for a star athlete, Mr. C was already behind the curve ball (no pun intended). He hadn't played fall baseball that year, but only Spring. He wasn't competing in an indoor league through the winter and he didn't take conditioning classes all year to improve his stance, his glove work, and perfect his swing.
Since that day, Mr C has tried his hand at basketball, golf and continues to play baseball. He dropped soccer years ago due to the conflict with baseball, but more importantly because it involved too much running. Today, C still plays baseball, loves to play golf and is trying his hand at Track and Field. He didn't "specialize" and did not go select in anything. He really like trying it all out to see what works. He's not the best on the team, but he cheers them on to victory. He helps his friends with their putting. He's thrilled to be in the dugout and on the field.
Track and Field has been a whole new adventure. He's not the fastest on the track nor has he mastered clearing the high jump bar with his feet, but he hasn't given up. He's gone to practice every day and given it his best. He stayed with it even when it appeared he wasn't going to qualify for any event at the meet. He's showed determination, commitment, and tenacity in the face of better athletes, faster runners, and better jumpers and he has stuck it out because he wanted to give it his best.
I held back wanting to call the coach and beg for him to be allowed to compete in something, anything at at least one track meet this year. I'm so glad I did because Mr. C got in on his own. The coach selected him to compete last week in the high jump and the "fat man relay" as he affectionately called it. The relay is for those who compete in non-running events such as the shot putters and discus throwers. They race a 4 by 400 meter race, once around the track with each runner taking 100 meters. Mr. C is in no stretch a "fat man," but because he's not running in hurdles or splints and is competing in just the high jump he qualifies.
His relay team came in second place last week. Second place behind a team of 8th graders that were bigger and faster. C was thrilled. He gave it his best and was thrilled with the results. Tomorrow, they are running again at another Track Meet, his second, more than I ever dreamed of for him. I'm so glad we didn't force C to specialize and pick his favorite sport and leave all dreams behind.
My son will never be the fastest runner on the track and he'll never make the A Team in High School sports, but I know the lessons he's learning by being on the team will serve him well the rest of his life. He doesn't need to excel on the sports field, he's excelling in life. He's learning, perseverance, determination, courage, strength and teamwork.
He's a great sport. He loves the "game" and gives it all he has every time. That's all I've ever wanted from him on the field and off.