When I was a youth, I was consumed with sports. I poured over the sports pages and soaked up statistics. I spent countless hours with my older brother throwing the football or having a catch with a baseball. In ninth grade, I remember having to write in my English class what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I wrote, “professional athlete”. Afterwards I noted that when all the aspirations were read aloud, I was the only one in the class who had written such a dream. (The one kid who actually had a chance of becoming a professional athlete wrote “sports writer.”)
Two years later, I walked away from sports on any kind of organized level. A combination of factors led me to become disillusioned with the world of sports. First, and probably foremost, I didn’t experience the kind of success I had hoped for. Having not yet had my growth spurt, I took a particular beating as I wallowed away as third string quarterback. I switched to soccer goalie but over time lost the competition for the starting varsity position. In baseball I pitched, developing a sore arm from throwing too many curve balls early on in my development. My brother was off at college so he wasn’t there to encourage me. In both baseball and soccer I ended up on J.V. rather than the varsity, and frustrated and fed up, I left it all behind in my junior year.
During this time I was trying to shape an identity, as is the task of adolescence. (See previous post “Rorzak Test and wondering who we are”.) I began to carve out for myself a self-image as “sensitive soul who strives to bring healing to this wounded world.” I became overly serious. The Vietnam War was still going on, and it now seemed to me that sports were too trivial to devote time to, particularly in the face of a world that had so much pain in it. So I quit the sports teams and spent time volunteering at hospitals and nursing homes and in tutoring programs for disadvantaged children. Later, I would discover a gift for theater, as well as consciously enter into a spiritual quest as I became a religion major in college. It was around such things as these that I developed my identity. Over time I became estranged from my brother whose life headed off in quite a different direction.
For the most part, I left sports behind, though I still would read the sports pages in the newspaper to relax — a closet sports junkie. Over the years I would have a reoccurring dream at night in which I’m back in high school, going out for the team. In the dream in its various forms I would never actually get very far; I would never actually reach the point where I got out onto the field to compete.
At 31 I had a son. At age 5 he was on a soccer team and the woman to whom the position of coach fell was clueless, so I offered my help and became the assistant coach and Andrew had fun even though we lost all our games. When Andrew was 6, my offer to help wasn’t taken up, and coaching Andrew fell to some macho types who snarled a lot. That did it for Andrew and sports. For the most part he did fine without them; Andrew is gifted in music and theater and art.
My marriage to Andrew’s mother was very short lived, and at 39, I had a second son with my wife Sarah. Bobby was a quite different child: big, strong and innately competitive. This time around, with Sarah’s encouragement, I got more involved in my child’s coaching, volunteering my time to coach both Bobby’s baseball and soccer teams.Â Bobby really enjoyed sports, and gradually his sports passion and identity became focused in the position of a soccer goalie. I spent many, many hours playing soccer with Bobby, and for the most part these hours were very enjoyable time spent together.
Over time Bobby became very good at being a soccer goalie. Last Spring I concluded my time as Bobby’s soccer team coach as he was recruited to be the starting goalie on a more elite, highly competitive travel team. This Fall Bobby entered middle school, where he tried out for the school team as well and made it as one of their two goalies, a significant honor for a 11 year old playing with boys as old as 14. I’m proud as punch of his accomplishments, and the success he has experienced has been very good for him.
On rare occasions I still have the old dream, but when I do it takes me further. I actually get out onto the field and play. It’s fun.
Another thing that has happened in the last two years is that I’ve reconnected with my older brother, who also has a son who plays goalie. This has been a wonderful thing. We don’t have a great deal in common in other parts of our lives, but we do have soccer and sons in common, and that’s no small thing.
There have been times I’ve had to monitor myself in regard to caring too much about my son’s soccer success. I think it has been helpful to give up being “the coach” (he listens better to coaches who aren’t his dad, anyway.)
This little essay is about a healing in my soul. Perhaps you got that. There is more to me than was contained in the image of “the sensitive soul that strives to bring healing to this wounded world”, although that is a part of who I am. There is also a part of me that enjoys the thrill of competition — going out onto the playing field and trying to kick some butt. There’s more to Bobby then that as well, but for now he’s having fun with this part of himself. This Saturday his team plays their second game in the State Cups. Oh, the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat.