My father flew into town last week on a business trip and on Saturday we were enjoying a rare moment with him on the sidelines of my son’s rugby match. Since my Dad had never seen my youngest son play rugby it was one of those moments in which I, my son and my Dad really cherished and while my Dad’s not an old man, I can’t be certain when or whether another opportunity like that will come up.
Afterwards we stopped into a cake shop to warm up with a hot cup of something and started to reminisce. Like my own parents, I never tire of recounting stories about what life was like when I was growing up and as they are still young, my sons are still (relatively) interested in hearing them.
This morning, however my son used the opportunity to verify the authenticity of one of my favourite family yarns. When I was around 10 years old my Dad decided he was going to step up as coach for me and my sister’s all girls softball team . Although we had played backyard softball for years, we had never played it as a community sport.
As occurs in most community sports, players were graded and teams were collated based on ability. In this particular softball league they had named each of the teams after birds. So there were Orioles, Cardinals, Blue Jays etc (the more elite teams were allocated “major league” bird names). Our team were named the Larks.
For the elite players, they had sponsors and proper pinned stripped uniforms. For us, the standard issue uniforms were a cap and a T-shirt. In our case that meant a cap with the letter “L” affixed to it and a plain grass green cotton shirt. Naturally any opposition we faced would use the opportunity to ask us whether the “L” stood for loser. It got boring after a while.
I’m afraid we didn’t really have much in the way of come backs though it would have been nice if our playing ability spoke for itself. My Dad being a hands-off – this is meant to be a fun activity kind of guy was pretty light on the coaching. We had drills and we did all the things we thought we were meant to do during training – but none of our effort or enthusiasm ever seemed to deliver a win.
Naturally my father was offered a great deal of advice from the parents of my fellow colleagues. Some of it was polite.
At one particular game he was offered a great deal of advice. It was midway through the season and at that stage we had lost every game we played, but as evidence of the progress we had been making, we found ourselves in the 9th inning with three gals on base and finally poised to win one. I remember being on first base visualising us winning, throwing our hideous green L hat’s into the air.
As we had reached close to the bottom of our batting order the gal who was next up to bat was hardly a St Louis slugger (in fact I don’t think she had got to base once during the season).
It was well within my father’s right as coach to sub her out – and without any discretion – he was loudly advised of that fact by a number of the parents on the sidelines. Being on first base I could hear the calls from the parents and I have to admit I felt really bad for the girl who was next up.
Throughout the season, my Dad had always stuck to one important principle which was that regardless of ability every player was to have a go. So he ignored those calls and let the next batter in the order step to the plate.
I would rather not go into the words that were used against my Dad for making that call. Particularly after that player struck out and we lost the game. Frankly I was angry at my Dad too. Like any of the other players on our team I wanted to win, I was sick of losing. I was tired of being called a loser.
As a ten year old it is impossible to have the kind of perspective one has as an adult and as a parent of two kids who are also playing sport. Back then I may have felt a range of negative emotions – but I don’t recall dwelling on them and as I look back on it, I remember the whole experience being quite fun.
So was I traumatized? No. Did I lose all my enthusiasm for sport? Absolutely not. Did I lose confidence in myself? No way!
What I learned from a season of losing was that yes winning is great – but losing – well it’s not so bad really – so why not have another go? What have I got to lose?
As for my Dad, well he only had one season as our softball coach….but he was the best coach I ever had.