Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Teachable Moments in Sports

As a father, when I watch sports with my sons, I seem to have an instinctual desire to turn certain key moments into valuable lessons.  I know that they will watch the action jumping out at them in high definition, lifelike color and if I don’t pair their observations with my own thoughts on certain key matters, they could end up admiring and glamorizing the wrong aspects of the game.  My feelings on trying to control and spin to my own liking any sensory input they receive is akin to China’s Internet policies.  Hey, my house, my rules and sports these days seem to be chock full of teachable moments.

My sons and I have had long talks about steroids.  Not only have I taken the whole “Say no to drugs” stance, but the intolerance I have for cheating has been made clear.  A line has been drawn regarding cheating in sports and my sons realize that performance enhancing drugs lie miles on the opposite side of it.  Once, when asking me who my favorite play as a child, Mark McGwire, was, I responded, “Who?  That guy?  That is a coward, boys.  A coward who is dead to me.”  It confused and possibly distressed them, but I felt a lot better.

Last year, when Jim Harbaugh and Jim Schwartz had their little encounter after a game, I made it clear to my sons that a certain coach was being a sore loser.  We watched video, complete with John Madden like pausing and rewinding in order to get my point across.  Last week, the Buccaneers and Giants final play controversy turned into a lecture about the difference between giving up and accepting a loss gracefully.  Of course there are also countless other small events throughout any game that provide teachable moments.  I find myself pointing to a play and telling my sons things like, “You have to keep playing until the whistle blows,” or, “You shouldn’t celebrate too soon,” and, most importantly, “See, that’s why you must always wear your cup.”

Monday night’s Packers/Seahawks game immediately seemed like an opportunity to teach a lesson.  I watched it live after my boys were in bed and couldn’t believe what an amazing mess it was.  However, as I watched near constant coverage over the following twenty-four hours on any station that even occasionally mentioned sports, my feelings on the matter only became more confused.  My initial sentiment was jealousy-fueled (I admit it) exuberance that the Packers had lost.  Next came frustration over the final play overshadowing what had otherwise been a real nail-biter between the two teams.  Soon I became angry with the parties involved in the labor disagreement that has the replacement referees making such questionable calls that seem to affect the games’ outcomes more and more often as the season progresses.

I attempted to reason through it.  Sure, the Packers had ample opportunities to put that game away and could not.  Yes, both teams were the beneficiaries of some terrible calls by the referees.  And what about maintaining a respect for the review process?  If we decide to go back and call every missed penalty and make every aspect of every play eligible for correction, do we not damage the integrity and pace of the game just as much?  When it comes down to it, certain aspects of the play were reviewable and others just plain weren’t.

But no amount of logical thought could bring this to a conclusion.  Thus it was that after dinner, as the play was replayed on the television for the eighteen billionth time, my oldest son finally realized a lot of people were talking about it (he’s a perceptive one, he is) and turned immediately to his old man to filter the pertinent facts of the debate (a precedent I would like to see continue throughout his life).

“Dad, what’s the big deal about that play?” he asked me.

“Well…” I eloquently began and paused both for dramatic effect but more to try and come up with a good answer.  The lesson this could teach him had still managed to escape me.  “Who do you think caught that ball?” I finally asked him.

“The guy on the Packers,” he answered without hesitation.  “Why?”

“Because the referees said the other guy caught it and that made them win the game.”

“That’s stupid,” he added, “you can see the guy on the Packers caught it.”

“People make mistakes sometimes,” I said.  The words just slipped out and I realized then what the lesson from this ridiculous moment was.  “We all make mistakes,” I spoke now with Buddha-like calm as I prepared to deliver my enlightening life lesson.  “Never be afraid to make a mistake in your life, son.  Because no matter how bad you mess up, it will never piss off as many people as that mistake did last night.”

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