By Laura Simon
When I was coaching swimming – many years before I got married or had kids – I knew exactly what kind of sports parent I was going to be. I knew I’d be supportive and present at the games, that I’d bring the cute and clever snacks, that I’d cheer at all the appropriate times, and that I’d generally chill out and let the coach do his or her job.
Go ahead and laugh at my stupidity.
My two oldest children are currently in their second season of swimming – “second” is a term I use loosely because they spent their first summer learning how to swim. Last summer, I was happy if they made it to the other end of the pool still breathing. Not getting disqualified was a bonus. I failed at the cute and clever snack thing, but I was definitely mostly a chill sports parent. I was so proud of myself.
But this summer, when my kids are actually sort of competitive and I’ve invested a lot more time on a steamy pool deck? It turns out I have zero chill. Zero.
I had no idea that a kindergartener’s two-second time drop could put me in euphoria for a whole day. Or that the same kindergartener’s inexplicable increase could ruin my week. I’ve spent way too much time stalking the results website, clicking “refresh” again and again because I wanted to know if my kid did, in fact, pull out the win. I’ve become the mom who pulls her kid aside right before the race to remind him to make big arm circles and reach all the way out to the finish. Because, yeah, my kids are still so young that sometimes that left arm doesn’t completely clear the water.
I have a job. I have a full schedule. It’s not that I need to get a life. I’m just a deeply competitive person, and I don’t like it at all. When I finally walked away from my own swimming career, I remember all the sadness being wrapped up in a sort of relief. My life wasn’t going to be defined by a stopwatch and a heat sheet anymore, and it felt like freedom.
My own kids don’t seem to be wired that way; they want to win, they’re excited about medals, but they aren’t losing sleep over second place. I AM! And I while I want them to have the joy of working hard and seeing big results, I don’t want them to go to my own ugly head space every time they race.
I deal with my own competitive spirit by avoiding opportunities to compete. I steer clear of board games and I run in races so big that I can’t possibly dream of being a top finisher. As much as I love watching my kids swim, I’ve found myself tempted to skip their swim meets. If I send them with a friend, I can just avoid the whole uncomfortable look at my own issues. But they WANT me there, and I know enough about teenagers to realize that won’t always be the case. So I go. And I breath in a box. And I try to remind myself over and over that their value – and mine – doesn’t hinge on a personal best or a blue ribbon.
Friends, I need your help. How do I do this sports mom thing and hang on to what’s left of my sanity? How do I encourage a competitive spirit without letting it ruin their fun?
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