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Lesson from the sidelines

Published June 15. 2018 10:34PM

It’s baseball season, also known as my least favorite season of the year. Out of all the sports my kids play, baseball season has always ranked last for me as far as enthusiasm. Over the years, I’ve tried to figure out why I was grumpy when it came time to dig out the bats and gloves, and I have never quite been able to figure it out.

Certainly, the white pants are a factor. Combined with spring’s temperamental weather and the boys’ love of rolling in the grass, perpetually having a pair of white pants soaking in some combination of OxiClean, hydrogen peroxide, bleach, Dawn, etc., is a real downer. Constantly having to nag kids about remembering their athletic supporters also tends to sour a mood.

Inevitably, between three kids, someone is always in a slump, which usually coincides with someone else being on a streak, so it’s a constant roller coaster of emotions. In the past, we’ve always come to the end of baseball season and everyone declares that there is no way they’re playing again next year. And, expecting a different outcome from the same insanity, we sign up again next year.

I’m always reading articles about how to balance parenting and coaching, since I love doing both, but know that being both to my own kids is a recipe for disaster. I’ve had the occasion to find a few articles corralling the thoughts of successful professional and collegiate athletes who reflect on their parent’s involvement in their early careers.

One common thread among many of these athletes is that after a game or a practice, what they wanted to hear from their parents after their performance was that their parent enjoyed watching them play. “I love to watch you play” is actually the title of one of the blogs that I follow that has plenty of tips on how to be a better sports parent.

Over the past year, I’ve really tried to put aside my tendency to coach or to critique my kids when they play anything other than swimming. For me, swimming will always be a different animal. When we’re in the pool, I’m always going to have a hard time keeping constructive criticism from coming out of my mouth. The kids and I have compromised in that they let me know when they’re ready to listen to what I have to say and then I can let them have it. For the rest of their sports, I’ve tried hard to just focus on watching them play and enjoying the experience of watching them in action. A funny thing has happened: I’ve really started to enjoy watching them play, regardless of the sport.

Once I stopped trying to memorize every little thing about how they played and how they could play better, and started focusing more on them, I started noticing little rituals that they followed. I started noticing how A could shake off a strikeout or a bad call and rally in the dugout to cheer on his teammates.

I started noticing how after G would get a hit and get on base, his face would take on a look of sheer determination, his eyes peeled and his ear pricked for every nuance on the field until he made it safely home. Only then would he break out into a smile and his shoulders would relax.

The boys have definitely had their best baseball season ever, and E has made the transition from baseball to softball and is loving her “new” sport. As our seasons start to wind down, I’m a little bit sad rather than having the usual “thank goodness it’s over” attitude. The kids are also feeling like baseball season went way too fast this year and are already looking forward to playing next year.

So, what changed? We’ve certainly had our share of tears this year. That wasn’t much different from previous years. We’ve also seen some major improvements that have been a long time in coming. For A, contact lenses and maturity have finally brought him some hand-eye coordination that has been sorely lacking for years. For E, a purple uniform and a nifty visor made softball her most favorite sport ever.

G has earned a well-deserved spot on the All-Star team, which caps off a season that saw him moving up to play with an older age group. It was initially a struggle for him, but ultimately raised the bar for him. All these things have made for a great season, but I don’t think they’re the answer.

I think backing off and appreciating the process, including both successes and failures, has helped me be a better sports parent. I don’t have to explain why it feels good when your kids win, but when I stand back and look at the process, I realize that all of their failures in the past have helped them become more successful today. I won’t necessarily enjoy them, but I can appreciate them, too.

Even after a terrible game or an upsetting defeat, I can see my kids learning from the experience, and I can truly say that I love watching that happen. Enjoying and being present in the moment, while appreciating the journey, has made me a better parent, and it may even help me be a better coach. In the meantime, as much as I still don’t love baseball, at least I can love watching my kids play it.

Liz Pinkey is a contributing writer to the Times News. Her column appears weekly in our Saturday feature section.

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