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There is nothing more exciting in parenthood than cheering on your kids in the things they do — sports, music, dance, etc. — and seeing them have fun.

Through the years I have worn many hats from Soccer Dad, Baseball Dad, Swim Dad, Cheer Dad, Marching Band Dad, Gymnastics Dad…the list goes on.

Of course you also show support by participating and helping out the teams and organizations.

I have painted soccer field lines, timed swimmers, worked concession stands, provided video of marching band performances, washed many cars in fundraisers and produced end-of-season cheer team and gymnastic videos.

All my kids started with soccer, and I cheered them on when they were kindergarten age.

At that age, it is more like mob ball, with the majority of the kids chasing the ball with no regard to positions and passing.

It’s all fun and gets the kids moving around.

Of course there were always some kids who would rather pick through the grass or stare at the clouds.

My youngest daughter during a soccer practice drill got bored and started doing cartwheels at the back of the line. Soon a bunch of the other kids wanted to try and then she was holding a cartwheel clinic  much to the chagrin of the coaches.

During my son’s first soccer season, his team of 4-to-5-year-olds faced a skilled team that proceeded to run the score up to embarrassing levels as the opposing coach kept playing his best players and taking advantage of our team’s inexperience.

I went home that day with no voice, as I and my fellow team parents turned up the volume in cheering and shouting for our team and giving the other coaches an earful of how unsportsmanlike they were.

I am surprised we were not banned from future games.

Baseball brought new challenges to cheering for your kid especially when you have younger siblings to take care of at the game. I love baseball but it can be very boring, especially for my son’s sisters. While trying to watch and cheer for my son, we also had to keep the girls busy with snacks and activities.

I had never experienced cheerleading before and competition cheer meets were mind-blowing.

Just imagine a packed gymnasium of crazy passionate cheer teams and their families and friends cheering them on.

The enthusiasm and fervor of these kids was amazing and infectious. I was immediately hooked and I became a Cheer Dad Extraordinaire.

I wore my team shirt, shouted and cheered along and was
team videographer.

The stunts and choreography of all the teams was incredible. I have total respect for these kids and coaches. My daughter’s high school varsity team went on to win a national championship.

If cheerleading competitions were loud, swim meets were deafening! The cheering and shouting in the confines of an indoor swimming pool were crazy.

These meets were a true challenge.

The larger ones usually lasted for hours — sometimes all day — and you typically got to see your kid in the water for seconds to minutes, depending on how many events they were in.

When my son wasn’t wearing swim trunks, he was wearing a marching band uniform and playing drums.

It’s amazing how talented these kids are. I loved seeing them perform at the different stadiums, especially Met Life stadium, home of the Giants and Jets.

Gymnastics is my latest sport and two of my daughters have competed over the years. We have been able to travel to tournaments near and far, including a recent one at Disney World.

There is some real camaraderie among the parents as we cheer the team on at each meet, wear the team apparel and colors.

I continue to shoot video and have run the audio at some of the home meets and been the DJ and presented the end-of-season slide show.

I even got to meet Olympic gold medalist Laurie Hernandez when she visited the gym for a fundraiser.

Rich with Laurie Hernandez, gymnastics Olympic gold medalist and Dancing with the Stars winner.

I was humbled when they presented me with the team parent volunteer of the year last season.

It was totally unexpected.

I do all this for my kids and the rest of the team or group they belong to.

Time goes by too fast to miss any of it, and I am so glad I am able to be involved in whatever way I can.

 

Sports: Maybe It’s Not Such a Waste of Time After All

Some guys like cars.

Some guys like comic books.

Some guys like  gardening or even theater.

Many guys, however, like sports.

Me?

I was always somewhere in between.

Growing up, I was good at sports but I was more the lonesome, artsy kind of dude. I liked graffiti and visiting art museums on weekends.

To be honest, the male fixation with sports always confounded me.

Yeah, I watched the New York Mets if they made the World Series. I
knew the positions in football and even played it in middle school.

But for the longest time, I thought sports was a waste of time.

Couldn’t one be doing better things with one’s energy, both mentally
and physically?

I never understood the obsession.

Until recently, that is. And now I must say I totally get it.

The story starts this summer, when I came across a YouTube video of
Michael Jordan playing for the Bulls.

I remembered watching Jordan in the ’90s and the clip brought back exciting memories.

I had played basketball on and off when I was younger, so I decided
maybe I’d play again.

I bought a basketball as well as a biography of Jordan and I began practicing at the park. When that went well, I began playing with guys at my sports club.

Then I hit a hitch: I wasn’t really any good.

I had an OK jump shot and a decent handle on the ball, but I was 15 or 20 years out of practice.

It was frustrating.

Oddly enough, though, that’s when the joy of getting back into
basketball really began to kick up.

I came to learn the joy of getting better.

I began practicing hard – applying the kind of effort I had
applied to becoming a better writer, let’s say.

I began watching YouTube tutorials on how to improve my
game.

I started practicing moves and learning how to position my body
properly.

I looked up definitions of dozens of basketball terms.

Getting better at basketball made me like watching it on TV more.

I began to appreciate the nuances of the game. It wasn’t just about the ball going in!

Chad practicing his game. Photo by Caro Dzedzig

The more games I watched, the more I began to realize
that sports commentators weren’t full of hot air.

There is actual sense to their discussing which player is “better,” for example.

And perhaps what I liked most about my newfound hobby is how masculine it is.

When you find out someone plays basketball, you regard him as,
like, a dude. I like that.

Also, it’s difficult to call someone talking sports a sissy. In contrast, I might hesitate before telling a group of guys that I love Anton Chekhov’s play “The Seagull.”

I had been underestimating sports – how
intricate, cerebral and fascinating it could be.

I had also devalued just how much sports could increase my confidence as a man.

But I get it now. I’m 35 and I’ve finally just gotten it.

But better late than never, right?

Super Bowl? What Super Bowl?

I have a friend in Phoenix who posted a photo of a huge billboard touting the 2015 Super Bowl.

When I commented on her post, I said I thought “Super Bowl” was a salad-making contest.

I was only half joking.

Some men bond around pro sports teams or NASCAR or outdoor recreational sports. Not me. I am the anti-hero of all things sports.

When I was executive editor at The Pocono Record in Stroudsburg, Pa., I would joke with the staff during high football season: “That’s the sport where they score baskets, right?”

They knew I was kidding (mostly) but they also knew that when it came to sports stories, be it wrestling, basketball, football, tennis, cross-country, swimming, etc., I had a million questions so I could better understand the rules and the significance of what was at stake.

It’s not that I hate sports; it’s just that I am indifferent to them.

I never engaged in a competitive athletic event in my life.

Dodge ball in gym class doesn’t count. And high school speech and debate club contests don’t qualify either. And chess club, though cutthroat, was hardly a contact sport.

(I did one afternoon in high school run in a Freshman Field Days event in which I ran a 200-yard dash, finishing well ahead of the other racers. Problem was that I quit where I thought the finish line was and it turned out it was still ahead of me, so instead of being first, I was dead last.)

I have huge admiration for athletes and their dedication and training and how hard they are willing to push their bodies for the sake of their passions (or a paycheck).

For instance, I can get interested in watching some of the winter Olympics, such as the skating or bobsledding competitions, which go by quickly and have a defined time limit.

Games that can drag on, like baseball, with sometimes little to show for it, tend to bore me. And other games I just don’t *get* in terms of the objectives or the rules.

Take American football, for instance. Downs. Rushing. Quarters. It’s all some foreign language that I don’t speak.

My wife has expressed gratitude more than once that I’m not one of those guys who is all wrapped up in sports. Yeah, it’s likely I will be watching an episode of “Downton Abbey” the night the Super Bowl is on.

That’s not to say that I’m a cultural snob or that I look down on sports fans. It’s just not my bag, which I guess makes me different from a lot of guys.

But just to show you that I’m not all indifferent to the Super Bowl, let me wish my favored team good luck.

Go Yankees!

Super Bowl photo 1

 

Photographs by L.J. Thornton

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“Hey, Coach…”

“You got a second, Coach?”

Ughhh. The most hated sentence a volunteer parent coach can ever hear.

Why?

Because nothing good ever follows it. It is always some sort of complaint (my daughter didn’t play enough time), unreasonable request (my daughter should play the whole game) or unsolicited “technical” advice (my daughter should play center forward to beef up your weak 4-3-3 formation).

The only thing I can hope for as the coach is that at least the tone is civil.

I have been a sports coach, mostly soccer, since before I had kids of my own. Having been born in Argentina and with a dad who played some professional soccer in his youth, it was a matter of time before I started chasing and kicking “la redonda” (the round one).

I cut my teeth as a coach while as a young adult serving in the Argentine army. Yep, military conscription was still a thing when I was 20. I filled my off hours by volunteering at the Catholic parish youth soccer league.

In Argentina, soccer is an ingrained part of the culture. Children learn to play even before they are able to walk.

Parents rarely are present during formal coaching sessions and many times absent from games entirely. So I had the great opportunity to learn from experienced coaches and to freely coach a team of 9- and 10-year-old boys, all very talented and skillful little players.

After returning to the U.S. and getting married, it wasn’t until we had our own kids that I returned to coaching. It had been 16 years since I had last run a practice, so I signed up as an assistant coach because I wanted to see how things were done in the U.S., now my naturalized home.

By week No. 2 into that, my rookie season, the head coach suddenly had an out-of-town project to work on, and just like the plot of a bad sitcom, I inherited a team of uncoordinated, uninterested first graders to play a game I had learned to play structurally and properly. After setting up some drills to run, it did not take long for bedlam to ensue.

After a few weeks I started to get into the rhythm of the players (know thy audience) and scaled down the drills to more fun games that happened to involve a soccer ball.

Kids were having fun and I managed to sneak in some soccer drills disguised as fun. During their matches the team scored some goals and won some games.

Hurray!

Until…

My first encounter with an upset parent. Fortunately for me, this one didn’t go as it was playing out in my head. I had just finished getting the kids set up for a soccer drill when I saw out of the corner of my eye a mom dragging a red-headed boy by the hand and in my direction with a very determined look on her face.

The boy was one of my talented players but not good at following directions. I was expecting the worst from his mom. What occurred was unexpected but very welcome. After dragging her son, who was struggling against her, in my direction, she stopped short of coming straight up to me.

Instead she dropped to a knee, grabbed her son by the cheeks, pointed at me and without breaking her gaze into his eyes said: “This is your coach and you will listen to and do as he says. Do you understand me?!”

Then she shook my hand without saying anything else and walked away.

In the following years I became very adept at coaching a recreational team of players.

“Recreational” meant that you always had at least four players who were more interested in playing in the dirt, viewing cloud forms or chasing a passing butterfly than in the ball being kicked toward them.

As their coach, my hands were raw from clapping and my throat hoarse from yelling encouragement to a player running in circles far from where that ball was being played.

It is a part of the mantra of recreational sports. All children play regardless of skill, and they should all be encouraged enthusiastically and equally. It can be very tiring for a volunteer coach, but very satisfying as well.

And then it started. “Coach, you got a second?”

Sure, I thought, as I turned with a big smile. What would follow would always be, my kid isn’t receiving enough playing time, etc. etc. In my head I would reply, “How could he? He is too busy digging up ants as the opposing team barrel through your kid’s area on the field!”

Instead, I would smile and think back on that first parental encounter.