Eddie had his first lacrosse practice this week, and it left me rattled. He seems unfazed by his newness to the sport, trailing amiably after the pack of 6- and 7-year-old boys with his stick dragging the ground. I, on the other hand, am worrying how I’ll ever help him get comfortable with playing sports in a way that I never am.
I’m not looking to produce a scholarship-winning athlete – though I wouldn’t complain if that happened. I hope to raise a child who’s not afraid to join a pickup game of basketball, toss a football around with his college buddies or sign up for his office softball team as an adult. The thought of doing any of these things myself makes my stomach do flips. I even feel anxious during multifamily snowball fights on our block because my aim is terrible. (I’m trying to do better — I got football throwing tips recently from my wife’s 11-year-old twin boy cousins.)
At the first practice yesterday, we wandered for at least 10 minutes trying to find the right field. I settled down when I spotted some boys with jerseys the same color as Eddie’s. Then I spent 10 minutes getting him into all the gear, trying in vain to adjust his helmet. It mooshes his ears, and he can’t reach in to push up his glasses. (This reminds me of being the only boy in my elementary school class who wore glasses.)
Helmet adjusted and gear strapped on, I asked another dad if this was the field for 7-year-olds. But I’m such a newbie, I didn’t know if we were looking for “clinic,” “Tyker” or “soft stick.” Then I noticed the dad’s kid looked a lot bigger than Eddie. And I realized all kids in the league wear the same color jersey.
We were in the wrong place.
After another 10 minutes of wandering, Eddie shuffled onto the field amid his fellow first-graders. He looked bored. But he perked up when his coach picked him to do the faceoff to start play, where opposing two players kneel facing each other with the ball cupped between their sticks. The whistle blows, and you try to get control of the ball. Riding home later, I asked Eddie how he liked it. He gave the universal and inscrutable first-grader’s response: “Good.”
At practice, I overheard another parent remarking how talented one kid was. “I played with his mom in high school, and she was quite the lacrosse player then,” the mom told her friend. Sheesh. This is what I’m up against?
Nobody played lacrosse in Virginia where I grew up, so I’m nearly useless as far as helping learn the sport. I don’t even know the names of the positions. I don’t know fine points of technique, but I do know you have to twist your stick back and forth so the ball doesn’t fall out when you’re running or another player whacks you with his stick.
Here in Baltimore, lacrosse is ubiquitous. Anybody who grew up here played it, and heard about perennial powerhouses Johns Hopkins and University of Maryland right in town. Kids in Eddie’s league have fathers who grew up playing and probably put sticks in their kids’ hands from the time they could manage a grip. I figure the dads relive their old lacrosse days through their children, who also pick up skills from big brothers and sisters.
Now if you want someone who can explain the difference between which and that or can use they’re, their and there correctly, then I’m your man. I even know when to use a semicolon (almost never – only to link short sentences with parallel structure). I even fancy myself a possible ski instructor, knowing how to plant my poles correctly, how to demonstrate a stem-christie turn and how it takes lots of practice to handle moguls well.
I could even pass on some tips in soccer, which I played as a kid in the county rec league. I made it onto the high school team, but so did anybody who wanted to play — it was a small school. And the sports I like best – skiing and swimming – are solitary and expensive. Nothing compares with the exhilaration of shussing down a mountain, which Eddie liked when we tried it in January. But when’s the last time you heard of a pickup game of super-G slalom?
I’m not truly wallowing in this, however.
My piano teacher Mr. Roberson made me realize I’ll never make it as a concert pianist. But he instilled in me a lifelong love of music – I played trombone in high school and college, and I sang in a church band for several years. With Eddie and sports, I hope for kind of the same thing.
What I can do for him is make it fun and easy. I can get him to practice on time. I can try not to snap at him about dragging his gear through sand pits (he played next to the high school track and the long-jump area). And maybe I can buy a used lacrosse stick for myself. Until he starts throwing the ball in the street on purpose (and I start losing my patience), we can toss the ball around in the front yard.
Maybe we can learn together.