Peaking too soon
Our team just got back from a big weekend at the races, where we experienced a rollercoaster of high expectations and low moments. At the end of the weekend events conspired to create some truly valuable perspective, both on the weekend and on the general purpose of our relationship with this sport. Bear in mind, this scenario could have played out after any junior sporting event:
After the awards ceremony and an excruciatingly lengthy raffle, our family headed for home, with two kids who had achieved their goals for the weekend. As good as they felt for themselves, they also felt badly for their less fortunate teammates who had worked just as hard, dreamed just as big, yet gone home disappointed.
One topic of conversation in the car was about the “big winner” of the weekend’s events, and how he thrust his arms in the air as he crossed the finish line after each run. At the awards, he brought the first trophy along when he went up to receive the second, and hoisted them both overhead in victory. Certainly, he had earned the right to celebrate, but something about the rock star act had made all of us cringe and we didn’t really know why. Was it jealousy? Undoubtedly a bit, but it was also something else.
Half an hour later we stopped for dinner with a small group of kids and parents from our team. The kids were seated in a separate room, but within sight and hearing distance. Our exhausted kids sat quietly, talking and laughing with each other and practically licking their plates clean. Partway through the meal another group of kids came in, and were seated at an adjacent table, stuffed in the back corner. They were loud and boisterous, running around the restaurant, spitting the paper ends off the straws that came with their kiddie cups (our kids were all given regular glasses), ordering piles of food that was left uneaten.
Every time we parents looked over to that zone of the restaurant, and saw that the noise and flying objects were not emanating from our kids, we reminded ourselves of how proud we were of our kids for the manners and respect they were showing towards the other diners, the servers and each other.
When we got back in the car I found out that the other table of kids included the “big winner” from the weekend races.
“Why do you suppose they had kiddie cups?” my son asked.
“I think the server sized up those kids pretty quickly and knew how much she could trust them with real glasses.”
“Yeah,” he laughed. “I think she was right.”
We proceeded to have a conversation about the bigger picture of sports and why we do them.
“If you think we do this so you can win races and get trophies you are dead wrong,” I assured the kids. “We do it so you can learn to push yourself, to test your limits, to set goals and work towards them. We do it so you can learn to be good teammates, who genuinely support and most times respect each other. We do it so you can get beyond kiddie cups and the back corner of the restaurant that much faster.”
It was a great conversation that we picked up again the next morning on the way to school. I shamelessly used it to yammer on about the many lessons we learn through sport. Among so many other things it is a vehicle to becoming the type of confident, self-reliant, well-rounded person we all hope to be. It’s a long road there, filled with high hopes and disappointments, victories and failures, but always driven by the instinct to get back up and try to do better next time.
Somewhere along the line I realized what was so troubling about the arm-pumping and trophy-waving. It seems that whenever someone feels the need to tell the world that he or she is the greatest, he or she may have just peaked. I think I can safely assume that none of us really want our kids to peak at anything, except maybe video games, at 12 yrs old.
The lessons these kids are learning, just by getting up and coming back for more, are the ones that best assure them long term success. They are growing steadily and at their own pace as skiers, as athletes and as people. They, and we, have a lot to be proud of, even on a bad day.