I leave work early. I am excited and nervous for my son to play his first handball game at his school. It’s the first team sport that any of my children have participated in. My husband and I settle on the bench next to all the other parents. We’re ready to cheer.
Our principal, (who is also the coach) explains the spectating rules. I read three sets of approved encouraging words on the wall that are suggested cheers. One poster states: “Need more effort.” This phrase annoys me. Are we encouraging or offering negative connotation with this phrase? It is bordering on constructive criticism. Should parents cheering really be giving feedback as a coach would?
The game begins. I don’t know the rules, but we learn along with the kids about how many steps are permitted and pivoting. I embrace the positivity of “Good try” as my standard cheering words and clapping for both teams. There are also lots of “ohhhs” and “ahhhs” and “so close” yelled from all around us.
The game is intense. We are getting slaughtered. I learn we are playing against a Grade 5 team, but my son and his teammates are in Grade 4. They will only play Grade 5s due to a lack of coaches for Grade 4 teams. An extra challenge for our team. The other team is also much taller than our team and they are fast at intercepting throws.
Handball reminds me of basketball because opponents are blocking you as you try to shoot. However, the net is lower and similar to a hockey or soccer net.
Oh no, the pressure. My son is suddenly in goal. That is a tough position. Some shots go in, but he looks like he is having fun. I’m nervous for him. I would not want that position, but this is not about me. I offer an encouraging smile when he looks my way. I guess the teammates all take turns in playing every position. That’s good.
As the ball reaches the back of the net again, the parent next to me snidely comments: “I think we need a new goalie.” I’m appalled. My son is in goal, but even if it wasn’t my son why would you say such a thing? Is this how some parent spectators get out of hand at children’s sports games?
I say nothing. I don’t like confrontation. My husband offers a supporting look in my direction. I decide once this parent realizes who my son is he will likely feel bad and that is enough for me. I continue to watch the game. My only comforting thought is that there is no way my son would have heard the comment over all his teammates and the opposing team shouting “I’m open,” and “Pass to me.”
It’s the last few minutes of the game. The score is discouragingly high for the other team. We have no goals. Some of our players can’t take their eyes off the scoreboard. They are distracted. They are not blocking their opponents anymore. I think they have given up. One player starts crying. I feel bad for that player. It’s an emotional rollercoaster playing sports. None of this matters though. They are out there to have fun and exercise.
After the game, I tell my son the score does not matter. They are getting a great workout, learning how to pass the ball and learning about sportsmanship. My son can’t wait for the next game. I’m glad he has taken the whole game in stride. He lines up with a smile on his face and completes his elbow bump sportsmanship with each player on the opposing team. I’m excited for the next game too.
I think back to the only team sport that I played in elementary. I was on our 4 x 100m relay team. I was a nervous wreck. I ran too fast. I did not pass the baton in the passing zone. It was my fault our team was disqualified. I was devastated. I knew the rules, but in the moment and with the nerves, I was just too fast before the pass. My son knows this story and that it’s okay to make mistakes and fail.
My son’s team finishes the season with three goals in total. They were close to scoring goals many other times. More importantly, my son had fun. He played all the positions. His coaches were great. He even made each coach a bracelet and we wrote them each a thank you card. He enjoyed a great workout and improved his throwing and catching skills. He’s looking forward to playing again next year, and I am looking forward to watching. I feel I’ll be better prepared and ready to empathize with all the emotions that come along with sports too.