Sportsmanship off the ice (anytime)

September 24, 2009

Last night at M.’s hockey practice I overheard an exchange that’s been bothering me ever since. A woman approached a man standing a few feet in front of me and said, “Did you hear that? The coach told ___ good job.” I hadn’t realized the two were together — she was sitting on a bench maybe 30 yards from where he was standing, and up to that point I hadn’t seen them conversing. Without shifting his watchful stance, the man replied that the child wasn’t doing a good job at all. He tersely explained why he thought the coach was wrong, and she retreated to her bench again.

The kids were Mites, the youngest age group in organized hockey. They’re just learning to skate and to handle the stick, and I find it pretty touching to watch them giving their darndest out there. For his part, M. left the ice last night with a huge, triumphant grin. He’s not leading the pack by any means, though he falls less frequently than some, but he thoroughly appreciates the simple joy of gliding fast on skates from one end of the rink to the other — and now that he can do it while dribbling a puck, he’s just tickled with himself.

Not that we don’t have expectations for him. It’s just that we’re more focused on things like listening to the coach and trying hard than out-skating the competition at age 6.

I wish there were a way to make them read the St. Louis Sports Foundation’s Sportsmanship Blog. Its mission is to create a positive environment where kids can have fun playing sports — at all levels — and its insightful messages about athletes both national and local really resonate with me, particularly when I witness scenes like the one above.

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