Thursday, August 25, 2011

In or Out?

There's a scene in "A League of Their Own" when Tom Hanks finally steps out of his drunken stupor and decides to start managing the team.  He and Genna Davis simultaneously give "Marla Hooch" conflicting hand signs from the dugout about what she should do at the plate.  Marla steps in the batters box.  She steps out of the batters box. She steps in the batters box.  She steps out of the batters box.  Finally, she swings away.

I was reminded of this film clip, not because I just saw the film again the other day AND cried at the end again the other day (so sue me) - - but because the whole concept of stepping in and stepping out of something- - or more precisely WHEN to step in and WHEN to step out of something was I've been wrestling with these past two days.

The story goes like this.  George the Younger texts me on his way home from soccer practice on Tuesday night with these words, "mom!  I didn't make the team!"  I text back casually, "Which team?"  Not that I'm an idiot - - of course I knew he was at soccer practice so I was referring to A SOCCER team-- but the question was more of did he not make the Varsity team (a looooong stretch since he is first a freshman and second he's no Pele) or did he not make the JV team?  He texts back "I didn't make any team."

I found the context of this text confusing.  Why, you might ask?  Kids get cut from sports teams all the time.  And didn't I just say he's no Pele?  This kid is a baseball player.  He only plays soccer every summer at camp.  End of story.  The basis of my befuddled state was the advertised "no cut" sports policy his newly attended high school.   The basic philosophy is that the boys get to try lots of different things.   It means your kid gets on the team.  It doesn't mean he gets to play in games, in fact he could ride the bench hard all season long - but he does get to attend practice with the team and if in some weird "Rudy" moment he actually triumphantly takes the field, more power to him.

So George the Younger gets home from soccer practice thirty minutes later.  He walks in the door with devastation embedded in his very being.  He's shell shocked.  This boy is an athlete.  This boy has never before been cut by a team.  He just got named MVP of Color War at camp for his athletic contribution by his fellow campers.  He didn't know what to do with himself.  So, the face of this terrible news, combined with the emotional stress of starting a new school, exacerbated by the lack of sleep given his new schedule (no red-blooded human teenager should have to get up at 6:00a.m.) - - and well dang, I had a living breathing basket case on my hands.  He didn't understand how he had been cut.  Cue the tears.  "I picked this school so I could try different stuff."  Giant angst.  "I'm not going to play on the baby team!!!"  What baby team?  What was he talking about??

As it turns out, there was going to be a "baby team."  The non-upset-wounded-pride-14-year-old title for this team is technically the "Developmental Team."  How did I find this out?  Well, here's the stepping IN part:  I sent a very nice email to the director of athletics and the head of school.  [Yikes!  Was this the first step in "helicopter parenting" during my son's high school years???  Egad, I hope the hell not.  I hold distain for those kind of parents.]  But, I needed to understand if we misunderstood the school policy - - its sports philosophy - as it were.  Kindly, the school responded quickly - first a nice email from the athletic director (containing a forwarded email that had been send out the weekend before describing how they needed to have a 3rd developmental squad because they had an unprecedented number of boys go out for the soccer team this year.  I didn't get this email because George the Younger gave them the wrong email address) and then I had a nice phone call from Shuja (not the head of school, but the admissions guy who we knew from applying) - - swell guy!  All was well  - - no philosophy changes.  All good., except I still needed to deal with my son's disappointment on being assigned to the "Development Team" - - a team that would still play a couple o' games, and who's members would be able to move up to the JV as their skills increased.  But it's still a bitter pill to swallow when you're the only boy in your carpool not to have made the JV or Varsity teams.  That stings, but he would survive it.

Now for the stepping OUT part.  I told George the Younger I was going to ask the school about philosophy -- which I did.  But, to get the answer to the "what the heck happened to me and why didn't I make the team???" question - well, that was something only the coach would know.  The coach conversation was something he needed to do.  I don't talk to coaches.  He's not my coach.  He's his coach.  If players have questions or want to talk - - the player needs to do it  The mom (or dad) needs to stay the heck out of it.  He said he would do it at the next practice.

Yesterday, I head to the school for a meeting on an entirely different subject.  George the Younger is waiting there in the courtyard - - still looking a tad dejected - - but now he's obviously been bolstered up by his new group of homies who are similarly incensed that George did not make the team (I'm beginning to "get" the whole boy-brotherhood thing.  They're like tiny little packs of wolves they way they already hang together).  I told him what I had found out from my research and we talked about how he was going to couch his comments to the coach (i.e. don't be a whiny baby - ask what skills you need to improve to make the team - find out what he's looking for - be mature about it).  Just then his phone buzzes.  And seconds later a smile the size of the world appears on his face....

Why?  The text is from a fellow freshman soccer player currently getting ready to start the first JV game of the season out at Treasure Island (where George the Younger is NOT since he didn't make the team).  What does the text say?  Something to the tune of "WHERE R U???  You're supposed to be starting!!!" (I'm sure the full words were not spelled out- - but I got no skills in text-ish.).  My reaction to the text?  WTF?  (non-verbal of course)

Turns out that the coach had meant to put George the Younger's name on the list.  He just forgot.  He didn't transfer the names correctly from one sheet of paper to another.  So at 4:15 we head across the Bay Bridge to Treasure Island.  The normal 15 minute ride - - stretches to 40 minutes or beyond with traffic - - but we're pretty lucky and make it in 30.   George the Younger has no soccer gear with him, he cannot play in the game.  But he's there to talk to the coach.  Which he does.  Which makes him smile.  Cause yes, he was on the team.  The world, in his estimation, had righted itself.

I remember now - - this High School parenting thing.  The still-having-to-step-in for the "administrative stuff" and the needing-to-step-out while they learn to take care of their own business.  All of this would have been a non-issue if George the Younger had simply "stepped-UP" the night the team announcements were made and talked to the coach right then and there.  A little life lesson learned.  He still might have gotten the news that he was on the "developmental squad" - but he would have had facts to deal with instead of his imagination gone wild ("I will prolly NEVER be able to play sports at SH until my senior year when they HAVE to take me even if I SUCK", "I'm not going to have any friends since ALL my friends are on the team and I am NOT!").  But that is hard to do.  Hard for an adult.  Especially hard for a 14 year old faced with bad news.

So, my time in the batting box begins.  Step in.  Step out.  It would be a whole lot easier if I were getting hand signals from the dugout.


Molly~ said...

Excellent Post. This one is a keeper. Print it out and put it in his "baby book."

fin said...

Oh I am in such trepidation of things to come! :)

Vika said...

Great post, I have been waiting for something like that