My Kids Play Sports--But I'm Definitely Not A 'Sports Mom'

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 
Rachel Garlinghouse/Instagram

In middle school, I was determined to join an athletic team. The problem was, I had zero athletic ability. I was tall, thin, and uncoordinated. Not to mention, I didn’t know anything about the rules of any sport. I was always among the last picked to be on the kickball team in grade school.

But I desperately wanted the community that came with being part of a team. I was in eighth grade and on the cusp of moving to the high school. Kids on teams automatically earned some popularity and prestige. They had uniforms, decorated lockers, and all-school pep rallies held in their honor.

I chose to try out for volleyball. Much to my surprise, not only did I make the team, but I was told by our head coach that she would like me to be captain. Now before you think this is some sort of underdog success story, you should know I was captain of the C team. As an eighth grader, I was put in charge of the sixth-grade players—all of whom were equally as untalented as I was.

I was a terrible captain. I couldn’t call the proverbial shots—because I didn’t understand the game. I was kind and encouraging, but I had zero experience to pull from. The season came and went, and I didn’t join the high school team.

Now that I’m a mom, I’m back in sports-are-where-it’s-at world all over again—times four. And I’ve made some observations—ones that intimidate me. Apparently, I’m supposed to go-big-or-go-home. AKA–I need to eat-breathe-dream all-things-sports.

I see other parents yelling at refs–and their own kids–like those faulty calls and missteps are the end of the world. Some of the parents wear glittery tee shirts with their kid’s name and number on them. They hold pom poms and banners. And they are loud. Like toddler-throwing-a-tantrum-in-a-candy-store loud. Others are adamant that the the rain storm isn’t bad enough to cancel the game–yes, a four-year-old’s baseball game.

Young athletes aren’t just participating in practices and games or shows. There are pictures—both individual and group. There are parades. There are award ceremonies. To me, it feels so over-the-top and foreign. I grew up in a household that treated sports as what it literally is: a game. It was not that serious.

But now I’m a mom. And there’s one thing for sure. Sports parents are that serious. They are not playing (pun intended).

Yes, my kids have played—and still play—sports. Sometimes it’s been one-and-done. Soccer, tennis, martial arts, hip hop class, gymnastics—each were tried and the kids labeled them as OK. I’m all for trying new things and not locking children in to a single activity—especially if they don’t absolutely fall in love with it.

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Currently, I have one child playing basketball and another is cheerleading. Though I’ve been a “basketball mom” for almost six years—I don’t really know what that means. I still, to this day, do not understand why some shots earn a point while others earn three. Like where is the magical line? I don’t understand the refs’ gestures and calls. When other people boo or cheer—unless it’s for a basket being made—I have to play catch up, leaning over to my husband and making him explain to me what occurred.

Cheerleading is brand new to me. I didn’t realize cheer uniforms were so complicated—with a leotard, a top, spankies, and a skirt. I didn’t know there was such a thing as cheer shoes until last week. I thought cheer shoes were just all-white sneakers you found on sale online. Then there’s a custom-made, color-coordinated hair bow, a boggling game and practice schedule, and dozens of cheer routines to learn.

What am I supposed to do? Cheer for the cheerleaders? Smile and nod? Clap? Yell? Wear a “cheer mom” tee? When my daughter is on the basketball court during halftime, should I mutter the cheers under my breath or proclaim them from the stands? I’m picturing Amy Poehler’s character in Mean Girls when her daughter is lip syncing on stage—and Mom is videoing and booty-poppin’ in the auditorium aisle. Or maybe I’m supposed to just sit still and be quiet? Be seen and not heard, you know?

It’s like being a sports mom, when you really don’t understand sports, means having some sort of adult identity crisis. Who am I? What’s allowed? What’s not? Where is my place?

Oh, and almost always, the teams want volunteers. I can practically hear my thoughts aloud, begging the coaches not to make eye contact with me. Since my sports education stops at knowing the difference between a football and a baseball—I’m not exactly fit for the job. I’m not being lazy here. I legitimately do not have a sports bone in my body. I’ve learned some of the rules and regulations—but I’m overwhelmed by them and absolutely feel ill-equipped to lead. Just like when I was in middle school volleyball.

I try to do the little jobs that don’t require athletic competency. I sign up to bring the snacks—but I question if the snacks are traditional enough or if I’m being weird by bringing carrot sticks and apple slices. I can help the cheerleaders adjust their sparkly hairbows, I guess. I profusely thank the coaches for their time and energy—but not too much, because no one wants to be the “too much” parent.

I’m already bracing myself for the next three months—when our lives will become one continuous basketball game. One daughter will be playing on the court, and the other will be cheering at other games on the sidelines. There’s a skirt to mend, photos and basketball shoes to order, and dozens of practices. I can already hear the buzzers, shoe squeaks, and cheering fans.

I know it sounds silly. I should just show up, right? Because going to our kids’ events matters so much to them. I absolutely plan to do that. But I’m already awkward—uncertain of what to do and when and how. It’s like I’m back in middle school all over again—in a world I don’t feel that I belong in.

I’m going to stick to what I know. I’ll be in the stands, with snacks and water bottles, cluelessly clapping and asking my husband, “What just happened?”

I’m definitely not a sports mom. But I’m always a proud mom.

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