Old Dog, New Sports

Fatherhood is frequently an exercise in living outside of your comfort zone and as kids grow, new situations keep kicking you out of the zone just when you think that you’re finally in it.  Much of that is due to the variety and prevalence of youth sports. 

Kids want to try new things and with only a few guidelines – you start the season, you finish the season whether you like it or not – that’s what we encourage.  There are a wider variety of sports available now than when I was in high school and that means that more than a few fathers are on a learning curve as the nascent high school programs begin building rec league feeder programs to develop a pool of upcoming players with skills.  Those few fathers with experience step up and help coach, both the kids and the other fathers who don’t have experience. 

This was the case this weekend as we trooped to a high school in another county to watch MIddle participate in a volleyball tournament at the middle school level.  Because that level is only a club sport in our area, there are few teams and in this particular instance, we entered the high school gym to find that the other two teams were the individual grade teams for the host school district.  Each was composed of the same number of boys as Middle’s team while Middle’s team also includes several very talented upper elementary school boys who are already developing wicked serves.  My own previous experience was limited to smacking a ball around with neighborhood kids and in my twenties, watching female beach volleyball on ESPN.  I’ve at least expanded my knowledge base since – unlike with women’s beach volleyball –  I’m actually watching the course of play and have managed to puzzle out certain rudiments of the game such as general positions and why net serves can actually be playable.  It’s also refreshing to see the kids slap hands and buck each other up when things don’t go well, a far cry from my own scholastic days of Helen Keller could’ve caught that pass, you dumbass.

As the small cadre of families entered the gymnasium and sat down, we were able to look at the various sports history banners that decorated the walls as they do at every high school.  The Boys Volleyball banner revealed that this school had championship teams back to the early 1960s, when they still had to inflate the balls with blacksmith bellows, and I wondered whether I’d have to find a local pharmacy to purchase first aid supplies for what promised to be a ritual bloodletting.  As boys and families watched this volleyball machine run through it’s clockwork drills, one father commented that they needed to start since our guys were getting psyched out watching this display of efficiency and I could only concur.  It was like watching the visiting University of Nebraska football team warm up prior to gametime with your kid’s team at Hooterville Community College.  As one midwestern university student pep club banner once read in the early 1990s, Maintain Dignity Against Nebraska.

The first game was a walkaway and a clinic for Middle’s team but as play continued, gears began to mesh and actual volleys took place as players found their groove and began playing as a team.  Adjustments were made after the first two games and suddenly, scores became respectable and games were actually won as the other side proved that they were middle school boys as well.  Man, that girl in the third row is smokin’ – what ball?  By the end of the afternoon, there was grace and fluidity on both sides of the net and as one father commented to me, you really have to watch it to appreciate and understand it. 

So I’ll go outside the comfort zone again, as I did with basketball and baseball.  I won’t pretend that I can handle the physical and coaching side of the house, which is what often happens with so many sports as fathers step up to spend their evenings watching instructional videos and reading Idiot Guides.  There are other opportunities to help and one of those opportunities will be filled somehow.  Rules will be learned and games dissected as happens already with soccer and baseball. 

Who knows?  Perhaps someday, Middle will find himself helping drill rudiments into a pack of small kids, slapping their hands when they smack the ball in the direction of the net. 

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