“Dad?” my son asked, “Is it ok that we don’t get a medal today?”
It was the last day of soccer camp. We came for the tournament that involves playing against teams from another school.
“Yes,” I replied, “Three things are important for your dad: one, that you do your best; two, that you play fair; and three, that you have fun.” “Ok Dad,” the three replied in unison. They zoomed off to join their respective teams.
The coach said that today, a team from the all-girls school was coming. Don’t worry, he said, it’s an age-matched team. What the coach probably didn’t realize is that sometimes girls grow up bigger sooner, especially in the 9- to 10-year old group. When these girls walked in, they were bigger, heftier, and probably stronger too.
“Those girls are too big!” a boy exclaimed.
I called over my son and reminded him of the three things. I also told him that the bigger they are, the slower they probably are too. “You can use your speed to get past them!” I explained.
It was a tentative start, as the boys were unused to playing against girls. The girls came out to play, roaring like tigresses. They were aggressive, hungry, and focused.
I am proud of my son. He is fast. He thinks on his feet. When the opposing team gets the ball, he automatically triangulates his position to a place between the ball and the net, acting as the first-line goalkeeper. He frustrated several goal attempts by just being where he is. I call him Barracuda. He waits and watches outside the action, then swoops in to grab the ball, then flashes to the goal.
Halftime wasn’t looking too good. They were down 0-3.
“Dad,” he told me. “I haven’t played like this before. I’m so tired.”
And I smiled, hugged him, and reminded him of what his father expects of him. I also managed to give him water, as it was hot out there.
“They’re not only bigger,” he said, “They push and shove!”
“Why not push back?” I asked him.
“But Dad, if we do that, that would be considered a foul!” he exclaimed.
And almost as a whisper, he said, “they are fast too!”
They went on to lose the game, settling for second place. It was a good match, I thought, mostly because of the lessons my son learned that day.
We are all wishing for that world where men and women would be treated as equals. We equip our girls with the motivation to claim their place in the world. Which is nice. I am all for empowering anyone, irregardless of their gender, to be the best they can be.
Aren’t we holding back our sons, though? We teach them to act as gentlemen by being kind, considerate, and mindful. They lose their place when a child more assertive than they are — one who sees pushes and shoves as a way to get ahead — race ahead of them?
I guess what I’m trying to find is a balance. I wish my sons to grow up with integrity, with the principles of fairness, justice, and concern for others ingrained in their souls and psyche. But I also wish them to be at their best without putting another down. Is it too much to ask that these virtues be taught to our emerging tigresses too?