The Good Life: A Parent As Sports Spectator

The Good Life: A Year of Thoughtful Seasons by Sarah Mattison Buhl

Will They Be Okay?

Watching your child enter the world of contact sports can rankle the nerves.

I am not athletic. I am not competitive. I do not have a favorite sport. I married a man who duped me into believing he was a moderate baseball fan. He was boycotting major league baseball during their strike close to 20 years ago when we met. It turned out that when the strike was over he was not a moderate fan. He was a fanatic. It was too late for me to run the other way; He had me at “hello.”

We made a family of three, then four, then five. As our kids started choosing activities, my husband was very clear that he didn’t want them to feel like they had to play his sport, or any sport for that matter. He offered them the freedom to explore, and I wholly supported and appreciated his efforts.

In sports, our eldest, Sam, tried wrestling, soccer, and t-ball before coming to football. We knew that every sport came with risks, and the one that we were the most afraid of was head trauma. My husband played football in high school, and was taken off more than once and diagnosed with serious concussions. We watched the documentaries on football and head injury, and the sobering interviews with broken ex-NFL players and their families. We knew football was risky, and successfully avoided it until Sam was in the 7th grade. He wanted to join the team.

We called doctor friends, talked to coaches, and discussed our hesitations with Sam. Through it all, my husband would follow each foreboding comment with “but…football is such a great sport.” I could not fathom why, but I likened it to the general mysteriousness of things I don’t know about, like horseback riding and NASCAR racing. I thought, “Meh- (insert shrug here) some people like it.” Sam started to train in August, and gained confidence every day. He loved everything about it. He loved the drills, the coaches, and the games, but most of all he loved the team. He wore his jersey to school every Friday like his teammates. People noticed. Adults asked him what position he played. He grew bigger. Stronger.

Fast forward to 8th grade. Sam was good enough to start this year, and like his teammates, he routinely earned stickers on his helmet for valuable plays and assists. This season, I actively resisted the urge to tell him to be “careful” when I would deliver him to the field on game days. Instead I swallowed hard and said, “Knock ‘em dead.” I once came to his game late, and followed the ambulance through the gates. I offered a silent prayer before asking the sickening, but inevitable “Who is it?” in regard to the boy lying still on the field surrounded by his silent teammates. It wasn’t Sam, but it was someone else’s child, just as sacred as my own. That player was okay that day. The team later advanced to the finals and grabbed a spot in the “Super Bowl.”

We stood in the 40 degree, rainy weather and witnessed our team’s heartbreaking loss last Saturday night. The players stoically left the field, but cried with their grim-faced fathers at their sides as we walked to our cars. Being part of that team changed Sam for the better, but it also changed me. I saw how being part of a hardworking team made a 13-year-old-kid want to show up for practice early every day regardless of the weather. I saw how it changed his self-image and ultimately changed how others saw him. I saw a smart, well-read, polite kid describe himself as an athlete, and that confident assertion will have positive repercussions for him well into adulthood. I want to keep my children safe, but I also want them to live the lives they design for themselves. Will they be okay? I hope so. Will they live fully and authentically? Yes, they will…if we can let go.

[Photo Credit: (cc) Rubbertoe (Robert Batina]


Sarah Mattison Buhl

As a mother of three, Sarah appreciates the extraordinary beauty of the ordinary. She makes her home with her family in Northampton, MA.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: