Since our son was four and first picked up a basketball at the YMCA, he’s been a natural. We watched his first game with no expectations, but I remember we looked at each other with tears in our eyes as we watched him make a couple of baskets and control the ball, as much as 4-year-old could, and knew he might be on to something.
From then on, we watched him develop in the sport to the point he was an obvious starter, and maybe not the best on the team but definitely one with a lot of potential and a great team player. Until this year. He tried out for a new select team and was one of three new kids to join the established team. Before he could even get started practicing, he broke his pinky and was told to stay out of sports for six weeks. And he suffered for it.
Once he recovered and was back to the team, he had a ton of catching up to do with camaraderie, learning the plays, catching up to their new level, and getting physically fit. We went to his games and watched as he would sit on the bench, time and time again, definitely not starting, and maybe getting a couple of minutes each half. It was demoralizing for him and a couple of times, we had to watch as his eyes welled up with tears, and he’d shrug his shoulders. I’m sure you can imagine the frustration his dad felt and the raw emotion I felt watching my sweet talented boy not get to do his favorite thing with this new team he was so proud to be on.
After this went on a couple of games, we discussed with each other how we would handle this: we wouldn’t outwardly show our frustration because he was staring us down with tears in his eyes, and we didn’t want him to mistake our frustration with the situation as frustration with HIM. And I committed to smiling at him every time I could so that he knew his mom would be proud. And I’m proud to say my husband didn’t go to the coach like he wanted to and demand his son play. It was tempting, though. 😉
Then we discussed with our son what he would do. Every game we would tell him that the coach is still watching how you react even when you’re not on the floor: be in or right outside the huddle even if you’re not going in; cheer your team on – you’ve always been the rally guy – don’t stop now; show up to every practice; practice at home instead of going straight to your video games; pay attention; thank the coaches; be kind to the other team; and most of all STOP looking at us for OUR approval and just play the game.
He started his last two games. He didn’t make any baskets, but he showed up in defense and rebounds and dedication. We now don’t worry about what kind of playing time he gets because he did the work and proved (and is still proving) to the coaches and himself why he made the team in the first place. He doesn’t look at us as much anymore, but I’m still always smiling.