Eye of the Tiger, Juice of the Freckle

Are you ready to read this blog post?…I can’t hear you! ARE YOU READY TO READ THIS BLOG POST???? Well, this should pump you up:

So I have admittedly never watched this music video before now, and somehow the bad-assitude of that song diminished the moment I saw a gaggle of mullets led by Captain Beret struttin’ down what clearly looks like a perfectly safe, well-lit city street.

Bad 80’s music video aside, “Eye of the Tiger” is arguably one of the top go-to songs when it comes to getting oneself psyched up, especially in the arena of athletics. And it conveniently came on the radio as we were driving to my daughter’s soccer game. I could feel its magic working on me; I was definitely pumped to go spectate the hell out of that game! But Grace was just sitting in the backseat, reading Freckle Juice by Judy Blume.

Looking eager in the field during a T-ball game

Throughout her young sports career, Grace has not exactly been the picture of the enthusiastic athlete. There was the time in pre-K soccer when the other team scored and she marched off the field, declared she was done, and walked straight to the parking lot. (My husband and I were of course laughing at her and videotaping the whole thing.) And then there was the time in first grade during her school’s annual kickball tournament when she was so clearly not enthralled with the game that she let three kicks go right past her without missing a beat in her conversation with a friend. We don’t force her to play sports, mind you; she is always willing to sign up. It is only after we have paid the slightly ridiculous fee that she suddenly informs us that the answer of “yes, I would like to play soccer again this year,” actually means, “no, I did not really want to play soccer even though I said I did, so I will now just whine every time you tell me I have to go to practice or a game.”

Take note of the direction Grace is going, and where everyone else is going. Now guess where the ball is.

Thanks to my psychology minor (I totally just impressed you, didn’t I?), I know that part of her apathy stems from her belief that she just isn’t a good athlete…which stems from her fear of not being perfect at something the very first time she does it…which stems from the unfortunate strain of DNA I passed along to her. So when “Eye of the Tiger” began rockin’ our four-door sedan, I took this as a teachable moment of sorts. All Grace really needed was a little confidence to help her see all the fun that can be had playing a sport. Maybe what she needed was the eye of the tiger. It helped Rocky beat Mr. T, after all. And Grace only needed to beat a bunch of other second grade girls…fool.

Me: “Hey, G. You hear this song?”

Grace: “Uh huh.”

Me: “Well, this is probably the best song you could hear right before your soccer game. Lots of athletes listen to this song to get themselves pumped up to play. It’s got a good beat that gets you excited.”

Grace: (not even looking up from her book) That’s nice.

So much for the thrill of the fight. Apparently freckles are more thrilling.

But I bet you would never guess what happened next. Grace played the game of her life! The girl who normally does everything she can to avoid the ball was alert, aggressive, energetic…dare I say good? Maybe the “Eye of the Tiger” worked after all.

Or was it Freckle Juice? Was my daughter’s inner athlete awakened by a rousing piece of literature? I joked about the coach reciting excerpts from Blume’s books as his pre-game pep talk.

Freckle Juice by Judy BlumeThen again, Freckle Juice is about a second grade boy named Andrew who desperately wishes he had freckles like Nicky. Unhappy with the way he is, Andrew allows himself to get taken advantage of trying to get freckles only to find out in the end that Nicky actually hates his own freckles. And both boys are reassured by their teacher that they are each just the way they need to be: Andrew is perfect without freckles; Nicky is perfect with them.

Well, look at that. A story about confidence. Just what she needed. I have always believed that literature is amazing stuff.

So tell me. What story gets you pumped up?

Dr. Spock, Freud, and Grade School Soccer

Both of my kids started soccer this past week. Naturally, that got me thinking deep philosophical thoughts about life and parenting. That’s normal, right?

The world of children’s sports is one of those arenas that tests my parenting skills. I have some really strong feelings about the ways in which we school our kids in competition, and I have also found that involving my own children in sports has led to the surfacing of some lingering insecurities over never being “a cool jock” in the days of my youth. Neither of these are things I want to project onto my kids. But I have to admit, it was hard to quell the emotion I felt at Grace’s first soccer game the other day when I watched her sit on the bench for over half of the game.

I will be the first to admit I have absolutely NO delusions about Grace’s talent as a soccer player. She is not the fastest runner, she needs a heap of lessons on how to be more aggressive, she’s much better at looking like she’s doing something on the field than actually doing something on the field, and she is likely spending most of her time admiring the other teams’ hair ribbons than paying attention to the goings-on of the game. But her team is not playing for Olympic gold, where the best players should be the only ones playing. They are simply in a second grade soccer tournament.

My friend Nicole wrote a really great post about participation trophies, and how it seems we have created a climate for kids where they get rewarded for just showing up, not for actually being good at something. I couldn’t agree more, and even commented, “Kids need to experience failure so they don’t go out into the world thinking they will win at everything…and this is the perfect time for them to experience failure because we are right there to help them through it.” (I know, feel free to award me with my child expert degree.) So after feeling a little upset that Grace seemed to have landed the role as team bench warmer, the thought crossed my mind that maybe I was being hypocritical. Everyone can’t be the star after all.

good sportsmanship sign in Metropolis, Illinois

And then I remembered a photo of a sign posted at a Metropolis, Illinois little league field that made its way around Facebook earlier this summer. Maybe we shouldn’t be giving out consolation rewards to our kids when they don’t win, but we also need to teach them that winning isn’t everything. My husband and I aren’t seeking out uber-competitive select sporting teams for our kids to play on. We sign them up to play on their school-sponsored teams, where everyone can be on the team regardless of skill, where they can build camaraderie with their friends and learn about teamwork, and where they can actually have a chance to play and build some skills in the sport. Oh yeah, and where they can have fun. These words are spoken at LOT at our house: “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose. It only matters if you have fun.”

So there I was, agonizing over the fear that my child was getting cheated out of a fun soccer experience all because she is not the best player. As the game came to an end (we lost, by the way), I was trying to think of what to say to Grace when she asked why she did not get to play as much as the other kids. But she never asked that question. Instead, this is what she said to me:

“Well, we didn’t win. But I had fun anyway.”

(You can revoke that child expert degree now.) She didn’t even care that she probably had the least amount of playing time than anyone else on the team. Heck, I don’t think she even noticed. Parenting lesson learned: don’t make an issue out of non-issues.

Man, apparently being second-string on the freshman basketball team stung my subconscious more than I ever thought. This parenting thing is hard. Coach, I think I need a sub.

Addendum: I want to admit I had second thoughts about posting this piece in fear that it would be taken as a bash against Grace’s coach. It is not meant to be. He is a great guy who is volunteering his own time to teach a bunch of little girls how to play soccer. There may have been reasons unknown to me why she didn’t play much; or it could have been an accidental oversight altogether. And considering Grace’s statement after the game, he is obviously making it a fun experience for her so far. As I agonized over whether this would be seen as disrespectful to him (are you starting to understand that I agonize a LOT?), I realized that 1) the whole purpose of this post is to highlight how I was the one who blew the situation out of proportion and 2) I am not writing for the New York Times and have an audience size of about one millionth of theirs. The chances that Grace’s coach, or any other parent from the team, would read this are pretty small. So I need to take my own advice and stop making an issue out of a probable non-issue. Then again, one of my neighbors did happen across my neighbor post a few weeks ago, so just in case….Coach, you’re going a great job 🙂