I interrupt my son and a bunch of his friends unwinding after a hard day’s school, lounging all over the grass like beautiful wild colts, playfully running around and taking swipes at each other.
“Your mom’s here,” one of the boys calls out to my son. I know that boy, I think, squinting for a better look. In fact, I know all of these boys, but they only remotely resemble the little children who once played on my lawn.
Thirteen is almost an unrecognizable age. Faces morph, becoming more angular, bodies lengthen, voices change, along with dress, hairstyles and personalities. When they greet me these days, I always need a second look.
They have grown, not only in stature but socially—most have or have had a girlfriend (I know!); all text, post to Instagram and use Snapchat. My son isn’t there yet, lingering a bit on the outside throwing free shots, cruising ’round their savvy on a ripstick, dashing through their long legs like a pup. At times, I worry that he doesn’t quite fit in, but he has something in common with all these boys that links them tighter than their years of elementary friendship.
He is an athlete.
Even though they play a myriad of sports—baseball, lacrosse, basketball, football, whatever—they are all competitors who play hard and play to win. They respect that in each other, as friends, teammates and rivals.
There’s been a lot written lately about youth sports, about die-hard coaches exceeding the limits of responsibility, about parents and their crazy antics from the sidelines, about kids pushed to be too much too soon.
Of course, all that stuff exists. There are assholes out there both on the field and off. I’ve seen them white-knuckled and pacing and heard their megaphone shouts. But they are by far the minority.
With three boys, I live sports, Little League baseball especially. My husband coaches, and he wears his cap with pride. I watch him on the field with all his boys and am in awe. The way he brings them up but doesn’t baby. The way he unites them as a team but works with them individually. The way he volunteers his time to instruct, guide and encourage. The way he shows up for the games and practices, even if it means his wife might be waiting in the bleachers in a pretty dress to go out for their anniversary (or something like that). The way he supports them emotionally and watches out for them physically. The way the boys all look at him, and whether they say, “Thank you, Coach” or not, I see the gratitude in their eyes.
As I am leaving with my son from his friend’s house, the ice cream man’s merry song fills the street. Hypnotically, all these king’s horses rise and start a slow gallop toward the sweet promise. They laugh and shove each other, almost tripping over their new limbs.
They are beautiful boys, and I am so thankful for them and for the coaches like my husband, who give them a positive, productive and life-learning experience that bonds them at an age when everything is changing and growing, including their characters.
Because as enigmatic as they now seem, I know that these young athletes, these young men, are my son’s team, his tribe and his friends—that they have his back, and that for years to come, I’ll be seeing them in each other’s backyards and lives, and out there on those fields of dreams.
Youth sports brings kids together. #thankyoucoach #lovethegame