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Dad in Progress: Sports Mad

Unknown Saturday, April 17, 2010 ,
Surely, this is what fathers are there for. Sport that is. Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m all for passing down the fundamental values of life – love, hard work, honesty, respect and the such - but in all honesty, few things excite me about raising my two children as much as the thought of sharing with them my passion for sport.

I say sharing but deep down I know that what I really mean is imposing. Especially as far as football is concerned they don’t have a choice. They have a free reign in their choice of religion, politics, sexual orientation, anything. But not in sport, and certainly not in football: I don’t think I could bear it if they were to start supporting a team other than those which I follow.

Now, I realise that as far as first impressions go, the one that I’m giving here probably isn’t the most positive. So let me try to paint a clearer and, hopefully, better picture.

I consider myself to be a ‘normal’ fan in as much as normal a fan one can be. I don’t go around wearing football kits all the time nor was it ever a temptation of mine to name my kids after some player (even though my son’s name has an uncanny resemblance to a leading player, I swear that it played no part).

Then again, a significant number of conversations that I have are about sport, most of what I read is about football and I do spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about the game. But that is what fans do and anyone who tells you differently is either lying or doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Anyway, being a fan means that to a great degree you are helpless – no matter how much you pray and how many lucky shirts you wear, nothing you can do will influence the outcome of a game – so we look for comfort in numbers. If you’re sharing your joys and pain with others it starts to seem more worthwhile, that devoting your time to watching twenty two young men kick a piece of leather is not that crazy after all.

This feeling of community cannot be artificially created. My wife, bless her, tried to get involved when we started going out together but I could see that she wasn’t going through the same emotions that I was. For me watching a game meant excitement, for her boredom. And, believe me, nothing drains away your excitement more than having someone alongside you who is simply going through the motions. In football as much as in anything else. So, slowly, we came to a tacit agreement that it would be better if I continued enjoying my games without her.

That, however, hasn’t diminished the desire to have someone close to you with whom you can share your emotions, expectations, hopes and fears. Which, I guess, is where my children come in: if I do my job well then their passion will be as real as mine. And it is why I can’t afford them ending up supporting anyone other than my teams.

At least I know that I’m not alone. In a study outlined in his book ‘The Social Significance of Sport’ sociologist Barry D McPherson revealed that over half of the fans cited family members as the source of their team allegiance, with thirty five percent attributing their team selection to their father, more than any other single source.

Watching sports, however, is one of half of the equation. Although I’m not the best example – or perhaps it is because I’m not the best example – I want my kids to play sports not only now that they’re young but also as they grow older. This has to be qualified: I don’t want them to be brilliant at any sport – I’m not hoping that one of my kids turns out to be the white Pele – but I simply want them to feel comfortable enough with themselves to enjoy playing a sport.

There is, of course, a reason why I feel so strongly about that: I sucked at sport. Worse than that, I never enjoyed sport – actually, I never really tried to play any sport - because I felt that I would suck at it and the messages that I got was not to ridicule myself by trying something for which I wasn’t built physically. So I gave up. Even today, I can’t go out for a run without wondering what anyone who sees me might think of my ungainly movement or my lack of breath.

I don’t want my children to be that way which is why last year I enrolled my eldest in the brilliant initiative that is Skolasport. For me, there is no better introduction to the world of sport than this: the sporting equivalent of a sweet shop where the kids can get a taste of a wide variety of spots.

That does not mean that it doesn’t have its own challenges. There is a particular kind of fear in seeing your kid run, that urge to run alongside them in order to be there if they fall. Or to run to their side if indeed they do trip up. I don’t know about you, but for me it takes a lot of strength to shout a couple of words of encouragement for her to get up rather than go there and actually pick her up myself.

It is also difficult not to let your competitive urge overcome you. Over the years I’ve seen some shocking behaviour by parents: shouting insults at opposing players – which in this case happen to be seven year old kids – or telling their own offspring to ‘break his leg’ being some of the most despicable of examples. But even those who don’t go to such extremes tend to unknowingly pass on pressure and an unhealthy desire to win to their children. With the result that when they don’t win, the kids feel as if they’ve let their parents down.

So I’m trying to play it cool. Yet it is harder than you would think. All it takes is a meaningless race for you to start feeling the urge to start pushing your kid to win.

Yet it is not all sacrifice. Seeing the pure, unadulterated joy on their faces makes as they run around on the grass makes it all worthwhile. And then there is the comfort of knowing that sport will end up making my job as a parent easier. For there are few things better than sport that can help teach you those fundamental values in life: loyalty, honesty, teamwork...you name it and it can be taught through sport.

Which, after all, is probably why it is at the core of my love for it.

This article appeared in the Spring issue of Growing Up magazine.

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Copyright 2010 Paul Grech: Writer