The Unexpected Sports Dad

A dad and son are playing basketball, but the dad is holding the ball up higher than the child, and the boy is jumping to reach it.

I was tempted to throw a John McEnroe-sized tantrum. Is the referee blind?!

The star of the basketball team had just made a play worthy of epic poetry — only to have his moment of glory stolen by a lousy referee call. A foul? No way was that a foul! I could feel my blood pounding in my ears.

Under the circumstances, however, I decided against a courtside tantrum. You see, the players weren't NBA, NCAA or even high-school athletes. They were 3- and 4-year-olds. And the "star" player was my son, Ian.

As my emotions cooled, I wondered, How could I let myself get so wrapped up in a game played by preschoolers?

You have to understand — I am the most unlikely of sports dads.

Most of my life I have suffered from SIS (sports inept syndrome), a rare disorder that makes men utter embarrassing lines about "touchdowns" while trying to join a conversation about basketball. As you might imagine, it can be socially devastating.

The benchwarmer

I did try to overcome my disability. As a kid, I collected baseball cards, although I couldn't care less who the players were and had no idea what those cryptic numbers meant. I even owned football pads and a batter's helmet. I never once wore them to a football field or baseball diamond, but they made an awesome gladiator's costume.

In elementary school, my parents signed me up for soccer. I spent most of my game time watching clouds or spinning in circles. After five years, I had a lifetime scoring record of zero. But I did kick the ball once . . . I think.

My inglorious soccer career finally came to an end in fifth grade, and I hung up my cleats and put sports behind me forever.

Or so I thought.

When my son uttered his first word, I knew I was in trouble. He didn't say "Mama" or "Dada"; he said "ball." I kid you not. By the time he could sit up, he had a ball in his hands. Before he was 2, he was dribbling a full-size basketball.

While other dads might have been scheming a full ride to Notre Dame, I was dreading the day when my sports-loving son would realize, to his utter devastation, that dear ol' Dad suffers from SIS. How could I tell him that I don't know a TD from an RBI?

The superathlete

When Ian turned 3, my wife and I signed him up for peewee basketball. Naturally, he took to it like a Brazilian to soccer. In the first game, he scored all his team's points.

OK, it was two baskets. But I couldn't have been more proud if he had scored a 50-point game. I was immediately hooked on peewee basketball.

Not content with the team's weekend practices, I took him to the Y on weekdays to perfect his shot. At home, we practiced passing the ball and dribbling around an opponent.

Each time Ian made another basket during a game, I glowed. No, I gloated. I felt vindicated for all the times I had been chosen last for a pickup game. The fact that this athletic phenomenon came from my gene pool somehow made me less inferior.

Then, halfway through the basketball season, Ian lost interest. Instead of shooting baskets, he preferred to goof around with his friends on the sidelines. His scoring average plummeted. He was no longer the star player.

"Why doesn't he try harder?" I grumbled to my wife. Doesn't he know what's at stake? I mean, what if a recruiter from Notre Dame happened to be in the crowd?

With my pride deflated, I finally came to my senses. I saw peewee basketball for what it was — a game played by 3- and 4-year-olds at a YMCA gym. These kids weren't vying for a national championship, but they were learning valuable lessons about teamwork and fair play.

This was basketball in its purest form. Ian and his teammates played simply for the fun of it. There were no egos, no social jockeying. Ian had nothing to prove.

Fortunately, neither did I.

This article first appeared in the Parents Edition of the March, 2008 issue of Focus on the Family magazine. Copyright © 2008 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved

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