Are you ready for some football?

When you were a kid what did you love?  Was it a pet or a toy? Or did you have a favorite activity you just couldn’t get enough of?

Our oldest son has recently become very interested in football. Any football. College, professional, high school, it doesn’t matter.  He asks his father if they can go outside and play football every day regardless of the weather and regardless of the amount of daylight left—there have been many twilight games.  He loves the game.

It’s always a joy for me to watch them play together and hear their conversations during the game. Our son loves to tackle and be tackled. He loves to wear clothes that make him look like a real football player, and he loves to kick the ball. Above all else, he likes to make up new rules. The rules for any game change with almost every play and almost always lean in our son’s favor.  As I mentioned in my post a couple of weeks ago, winning has become increasingly important to my sons as of late.

While watching my husband and son, a number of questions have crossed my mind:

  • Where did his drive for winning come from?  My husband and I have worked hard to not place a high value on winning.
  • How do you explain rules, what they are and why they’re import?
  • Why must he want to play football?  It’s so dangerous!  While I’ve always loved watching college football, I hoped our children would love watching it with me, not actually want to play it.

It occurred to me that all three of these questions brought to mind a different parenting conundrum.

Where did his drive for winning come from? I don’t think our son is any different than his peers. Winning is going to be important, regardless of our efforts to downplay it. What we are trying to teach our boys is that of course everyone wants to win, and that while winning may feel good, you often learn more from losing. When we win we’ll often attribute it to our hard work, practice or execution of the game on a given day. Those things may be true, but what if the team that lost worked and practiced just as hard? We talk to our boys about how temping it is to become complacent and stop pushing ourselves when winning comes too easily, and that losing can be an opportunity to learn something about ourselves and allow us to improve. Talking about sports is great opportunity to discuss with the boys the merits of learning to win and lose with grace.

How do you explain the rules, what they are and their importance? Football has a lot of rules. While I’ve always felt I had a good understanding of the game, I didn’t appreciate the complexity of the rules in football until I listened to my husband and my father educating my son on the game.  Most of these rules make a lot of sense. They are needed to keep order and ensure that the game is played fairly by both teams. Rules ensure a level playing field where one team doesn’t have an advantage over the other. However, sometimes the rules don’t make much sense and seem to only create obstacles for playing the game. There is as true in life as it is in football. Some rules make a lot of sense and are clearly in place to protect us and keep us safe. Some rules are not as clear-cut; I’m not sure I’ll ever understand our tax codes, but I’m grateful for accountants who can make sure I comply with them.

Why must he want to play football?  It’s so dangerous! As an avid fan, I suppose I have no one to blame but myself on this one, but I honestly hoped he would just enjoy watching the game with me. I should have known that if he enjoyed watching football, he was likely to want to play.  I have conflicting feelings about  this. On one hand, I want to encourage his passion and football is his passion, at least for now. On the other, I’ve always believed that one of my main jobs as his parent is to keep him safe. In light of all the reports in recent years that show the long-term damage caused by the head traumas so common in sports like football, it’s hard not to want to keep your child away from the game (or any game where the risk of head trauma runs high). My husband and I haven’t had to make a final decision on this yet, as our son hasn’t asked to play on a team. For now he’s okay with just playing in the backyard or on the playground. But we suspect his interest will only increase as his friends get more serious about the sport and at some point, we’ll have a difficult decision to make.

This coming Sunday we will celebrate one of the most watched games in televised sports.  Most of us aren’t as concerned about who wins the game as we are with the ritual of watching the game. We watch because it’s an opportunity to get together with friends, we like to watch the commercials, or we just hope to see a good game. My son will be watching too, but for one reason only—because he loves it.

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