Play Nice – That Means You, Parents!

Nuts! Forgot the mouthguard! (photo by therockmom)
Nuts! Forgot the mouthguard! (photo by therockmom)

Oh, the sideline! The cheers, the smiles, the photo ops, the abuse hurled at the referee. The feeling that you’re part of the action when you’re, in fact, not part of the action at all. And the inevitable impulse to will your kids on to sporting glory, as if your shouting and clapping can make them go faster, move quicker, throw farther.

I’ve got two sporty girls and have been a spectator at a variety of games, races and meets over the years: swimming, rugby, hockey, netball, cross country, duathlons, biathlons, you name it. I try – I really try – to be low-key Mum. I try to remember to bring oranges or gummy snakes. I try to sit or stand quietly, offering encouragement and taking a few snaps. But, you know, when things aren’t going my child’s way, I start to feel her frustration as if it’s my own and before I know it, my face is red and there’s this vein popping out of my forehead and I’m raining curses down on the umpire and his first born son. Just because I want that ref to take the game as seriously as I do. Now if I were auditioning for the role of the Incredible Hulk, this wouldn’t be so bad, but generally speaking it’s not a moment to be proud of. (In my defense can I say that there was a deliberate infringement before the free hit was taken, and they should have never been allowed that goal.)

School Sports Days, however, always seem to be a much more relaxed occasion than a rugby or hockey game. I’ve been to thirteen Sports Days so far, and have had a chance over the years to view the evolution of both children and parents. In Years 1 and 2, the kids are basically clueless, in the best way possible. They’re not competitive, they look for any excuse to tumble on to the grass with their mates, and they experience pure rapture when that parachute is lifted above their heads and they can giggle in its coloured glory. At this level, parents and grandparents and helpers outnumber children approximately 3 to 1. I reckon these Sports Day newbies would gladly dress in their child’s House colors if it were required. ‘Super keen’ is an understatement when your child is experiencing his first sack race.

But then a funny thing happens. The years go by and the balance shifts. The kids grow more competitive, more demanding of their classmates. They talk strategy and keep track of their scores at every station. You see more focus and less random cartwheels, a bittersweet progression if there ever was one. And you see less of the parents too. Where once you had four, maybe five heats in the Mom’s race, by Year 6 it’s just a trickle down to the track and the teachers have to help make up the numbers.

Ready, ready, ready... ready to run (photo by therockmom)
Ready, ready, ready… ready to run (photo by therockmom)

I still have a few more Sports Days to go, but I guess you could say, it’s my turn now to pass the baton. Drawing on my Ferguson-esque years of experience, and our similar temperaments ;), I’ve put together a list of Do’s and Don’ts for parents whose future on the sideline awaits.

Let’s call it Sports Day 101:

1. No wagering

2. No trash talking

3. No doping – has Lance Armstrong taught us nothing? – and no cheating when you’re helping tally points. That was half a lap, not a whole lap. The hooter’s gone, stop counting. Be honest, people!

4. Dads – please don’t wear spandex (ever, really) as if you’ve just come from the gym. You are not your kid. No running tights, no shell suits, no compression socks, just… No.

5. Mums – you know those fire engine red stilettos that work really well at Friday cocktails? You cannot wear them to Sports Day. Unless, that is, you fancy clumping around in the grass or tearing up the running track, thus winning the title of ‘WTF Mum’! Get in to the spirit of the day and wear some sensible flats.

6. Remember – some kids can’t throw or catch and that’s okay. Don’t give them a hard time. They will probably be your bosses in 15 years.

7. Also, if you must – if you really must – you can coach your own kid. You cannot, however, coach the other six-year-olds by standing at the obstacle course start line and yelling, “Focus! We have to focus!”

(I’ve actually seen that happen. No joke.)

8. Beware the overzealous camera. If the teacher asks you to take some snaps for the school website or yearbook, great. If you end up taking 100 pics of your child and 100 more of their classmates then posting everything on Facebook and expecting everyone to be pleased, think again.

9. This being Hong Kong, we’re bound to see some helpers down at Sports Day. It’s the way of our jungle. We should not, however, see the helper doing your job – keeping track of little Ethan’s water bottle, helping Jasmine take off her sweatshirt when she gets hot, advising Nicholas on tying his shoes. You do realize, don’t you that asking a helper to do all of these things makes you look completely useless? And Sports Day is all about participating, even if you’re not good at sports (or parenting), even if you’re bored, even if you’d rather be back at the office in front of spreadsheets or surfing Net-a-Porter or The Daily Beast. The only reason a helper should accompany you is to race after little brother or sister while you enjoy your older child’s day. It only happens once a year!

10. Further to that thought, let’s not worry, for just half a day, if Ethan or Jasmine or Nicholas actually sweats. Leave the washcloths and Tempo packets in your bag. Please don’t follow them around moping their brows or necks every time you see a little perspiration. Anecdotally speaking, I’d say there is a direct correlation between kids who are repeatedly wiped down like racehorses and a severe lack of social skills. I gotta be honest here – it means you hover, you interfere and, more tellingly, if your child doesn’t swat you away, if your child accepts your actions as normal, unembarrassing behavior then, well, I hesitate to go there. But can I just mention a future of Sci-Fi conventions, chronic online dating disasters, living in your basement, cosplay subcultures and, oh well, you get the idea.

11. When you line up for the parents’ race, don’t ever – ever! – run in the first heat. The first heat is for the Type A, Division 1 parents. Not only will you get ridiculed for taking it so seriously, but you will get smoked down the track. I made the mistake one year of rocking up for the first heat of the Mom’s dash. Feeling weirdly nervous and excited at this little burst of competition, I looked down the track and felt the kids’ cheers washing over me. I visualized crossing the finish line, arms aloft in glory, and the P.E. teacher putting that sticker on my shirt: ‘I finished first!’ My daughter would be so proud. Little did I know that I was going up against a Russian mum, who in her previous life had been a competitive sprinter (she’s a lovely, unassuming person by the way). Not only did I pull a hamstring, but I had to take grief from YO about getting my butt kicked.

12. And finally – the parachute is the best part, I swear (though absolutely never, ever at the referee).

Have fun. Play nice. Goooo team!

I would've fallen from the sky / Til you / Parachutes have opened now (photo by therockmom)
I would’ve fallen from the sky / Til you / Parachutes have opened now                              (photo by therockmom, lyrics by Pearl Jam)

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