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For those not in the know, lacrosse is a barbaric sport. Sure there is padding to protect the arm and shoulder from whacks. Yes, there is a helmet to protect the head.

But it is a sport that involves a small, hard ball and sticks. And to be successful, there is a whole lot of whacking going on with those sticks.

It is not a game for the faint of heart.

To parent a child who plays lacrosse is also not for the faint of heart. At least that’s what I learned during the last game of the winter season.

It had been a fairly miserable season, for the most part. Filled with losses by many points. But on this, the last game of the indoor season, our team had played exceptionally well. At half-time, the score was 2 – 7, but by the end of the game, our team had tied the score, 8 – 8.

However, there are no ties in junior lacrosse.

So the ref called for the Braveheart. (You will not find college lacrosse players involved in a Braveheart; this is a play only found in junior lacrosse, apparently.)

In the Braveheart play, four boys take the field – two from each team, a goalie and an offensive player. First team that scores, wins.

On this, the last game of the season, I saw my son trot to the center line, the designated offensive player for our team. Apparently, he’d volunteered for this role. He was up against a fifth grader, a boy who was a year older, a year bigger than my son.

I was worried. Very worried. We’d seen this play just once before, last year, and it was exceptionally stressful to watch. And at that game, my son was not on the field.

Now he was the sole offensive player, THE boy who needed to score if his team was to win.

The ref dropped the ball. The fifth grader hustled and pushed and it looked grim for a minute. But my son did not give up. He pushed back. He fought for the ball.

And he came up with the ball. And he swiftly ran toward the goal. Crowd was screaming. I was screaming. He lined up the shot.

And missed.

The goalie ran out of the goal cage, got the ball, tossed it to his teammate.

My son hustled, but could not catch up. The boy threw the ball at our goalie.

And scored.

We lost.

And I realized why the Braveheart was given that name: if you lose, you feel as eviscerated as Mel Gibson’s character at the end of Braveheart, the award-winning bio pic about Scotsman William Wallace.

My son was devastated. Crushed. Feeling like he’d failed, that he’d let his team down.

He held it together until we got to the car, and then the tears came. So I said the only thing a mother could possible say in this situation.

“I’m so very proud that you volunteered for that exceptionally challenging play.”

And I was proud. I was proud that when a difficult moment came for the team, my son put himself into consideration. I was proud that he did not hide from the challenge. I was proud that the coach felt he was capable enough to be put into the Braveheart play. I was proud that he out-hustled the older boy at the face off.

For all those reasons, I was proud. But still, watching my boy lose was painful to watch.

We engage in sports for fun, for the physical activity, to pursue something we enjoy. But sometimes, we learn lessons that can be painful. We learn that showing up doesn’t guarantee a medal. We learn that even when we hustle to the point of exhaustion, the opponent can still out-hustle us.

We learn what it means to lose.

Losing sucks.

But in life, losing is inevitable. You simply cannot win every game every time.

What I want my son to know is that losing means defeat only if we decide to give up as a result of the loss. Losing should inspire us to work harder to achieve our goals and experience success. Losing us should force us to take stock of what we really and truly want out of our life, how we really want to expend our energy.

Spring lacrosse started this week. My son is out there on the field, working hard to improve his game. I know that as a parent of an athlete, there are more Braveheart moments in my future. I know that all I want is to experience the same kind of pride I felt when I watched my son during the final moments of the last game of the winter season.

I was proud because he worked hard and gave it his all. That made him a winner in the eyes of his mother.

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