Field of Daydreams
You know the outfielder who’s always picking dandelions or looking at clouds in Little League? That’s my son. Well, not all the time. Sometimes he’s the infielder who just watched the ball roll between his legs.
My son is not what I’d call “physically inclined”. Yet, for some reason, my wife tends to sign him up for every team sport offered through our local Parks & Recreation. Right now, he’s playing basketball. So far, he seems to be doing better than usual. It’s just the dribbling, shooting, rebounding, and passing he struggles with. The rest of his game is rock solid.
My son will be turning eleven this year and finishing the fifth grade. But, because of his small stature and “developing” athleticism, we usually put him in with players who are younger than he is. The other members of his basketball team are third and fourth graders – and he’s still the second shortest player on the team. He comes by his height honestly, though. I’m only 5’1 on a good day. No, the Wells are not likely to be scouted by the NBA, any time soon.
I think it’s obvious that my wife and I put our son in sports because he enjoys it, not because we’re hoping to turn him into a superstar who will support us in our golden years. That’s where his five-year-old, left-handed brother with the strong arm comes in.
After watching our eldest’s last basketball game, I get the feeling that not all parents share our laid back, just-for-fun approach to elementary-level athletics. Don’t get me wrong – I expect my son to try his hardest. I preach teamwork, good sportsmanship, and giving your very best effort. And as long as that’s what I’m seeing on the field, I’m not too worried about whether the result is a win or a loss.
Even before the game started, it was clear that the opposing coaches had vastly different approaches to motivating their teams. My son’s coaches were lighthearted, joking around with a team built on camaraderie. The other team’s coach – not so much. His methods reminded me of the sensei from the Cobra Kai dojo in The Karate Kid. He even had his star pupil with the killer instinct. We’ll call this pupil “Johnny”. No, that’s not his real name, but his real name was stupid and doesn’t fit my Karate Kid theme.
Anyway, Sensei’s mastery of fear and shame seemed to really accomplish what he was going for. His team was clearly physically dominant, and by half-time they were winning by a large margin. It seemed like a hollow victory though, considering his players didn’t appear to enjoy themselves at all. As a matter of fact, I lost track of the number of times little Johnny flew into a rage at either his coach, the referee, or one of his teammates. And Sensei obviously approved. I half expected him to order Johnny to “sweep the leg”.
At one point, Sensei took issue with my son’s coach expressing his displeasure about Johnny’s ‘roid rage and suggested, rather loudly, that they settle their differences in the hall, Cobra Kai-style. He also managed to drop an F-bomb in front of all the third and fourth graders watching the exchange.
Sensei wasn’t the only person in attendance who encouraged Johnny’s behavior. Fate smiled upon me and I ended up sitting right next to Johnny’s mother. Over the course of the game, it started to become more apparent where Johnny learned his lack of sportsmanship. It became crystal clear when the game ended and I learned that she was Sensei’s wife. Whether or not Johnny is their biological son remains a mystery. I suspect he was genetically engineered in a laboratory for speed, power, and ruthlessness from the DNA of O.J. Simpson, Mike Tyson, and John McEnroe.
As the Kai family was leaving, I overheard them laughing about Sensei’s obscenity-laden tirade in front of the children. Classy. Where’s Mr. Miyagi when you need him? And when did Parks & Rec basketball become so cut-throat?
Sure, my little Daniel-san may not be the perfect athlete, but I’ll take his spirit and attitude any day over the alternative. Now I just need to teach him the Crane Kick stance.