A group of boys plays flag football outdoors on a grass field

I may not love football, but I do love watching my son play

When my children were babies, I didn’t give a lot of thought to the role sports might play in our lives. I had never played organized sports myself, and rarely watched sports on television. As a family, I imagined we’d be effortlessly active: hiking, swimming, skating, walking everywhere we could. 

Well, that active life took a lot more effort than I’d imagined. Guess what? My kids complain bitterly about walking places. Over the years, they’ve melted down frequently while trying to get the hang of skiing, skating, and sailing. And I‘m still never sure when to push them and when to back off.  

There’s one activity, however, that my son has never complained about. At age eight, he came home from a friend’s house and told me he wanted to play football.

“You mean soccer?” I said.

“Nope. Real football.”

Football? Not what I’d expected, but I knew enough to know that if your child shows an interest in a sport, encourage them like crazy. We hustled to get him into the same Nova Scotia flag football league team as his friends. We bought the shoes and the mouth guard. Then we watched from the sidelines as he doggedly tried to become a football player.

I soon discovered that football wasn’t just something he would do on the sports field. It was an identity. One that was, frankly, alien to me. The first time I watched the Super Bowl, it was a shock: loud, commercial, male-dominated, and, for me, boring. I hung in as long as I could. 

That was just the beginning. I tried hard to appear engaged when he talked about his favourite team. I admired all the clothing emblazoned with its logo, and didn’t complain when he invited his friends over to scream at the TV during playoffs. These efforts were only partly successful. I was (still am) accused of “not caring” about football.

He’s partly right. I don’t care about professional football

But watching him on the field was something I quickly grew to love

More than that, it’s been a true learning experience.

My son’s first football season was a lesson in adjusting expectations. For him and for us. We watched him run for passes he couldn’t reach, fumble the ball at crucial moments, and be out-played by kids who were often bigger and more experienced than he was.

Those first few months, we figured out that the goal was not to win but to have at least one small victory in each game.

All it took was a good catch or throw, flagging one other player, or getting to the next yard line without being flagged. Even if his team lost, nothing could take away that little glow of achievement. 

Each season includes a few joyful victories and many losses—sometimes complete wipe-outs. On the sidelines, I rehearse what to say after each game, how to single out the good moments, how to hide the fact that I am re-living low points from my own sporting past.

The best part is I get to witness my son’s determination to keep going, even when his team is being crushed. His confidence is growing, along with his speed and agility. And I can’t help but see how these games are like a practice run for the bumps and setbacks of life.

The answer is always to keep moving, keep practicing, and focus on the good moments. 

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