I must admit, my heart dropped to my shoes as the realization dawned on me that my oldest son would be competing in the high jump. There were two major factors leading up to this thundering heart-drop. First of all, he had never attempted the high jump in all of his thirteen years, and secondly, he was about half the size of one of his teammates competing in the same event. I may not be an expert at track and field, but by looking at this evidence, I was confused as to why he was chosen to participate. It goes without saying, he did not make it past the first round. Shortly after, in what can only be a sign from the heavens, the rest of the meet was canceled as clouds gathered and unleashed their wrath on us.
Fortunately, through the muck and chaos as the meet disbanded, I was able to find my son. Once we were warmly ensconced in my car, he explained why he attempted the high jump. Turns out, four member of his team were no shows. This meant there were lots of gaps to be filled and while my son volunteered for several and was passed over, he gamely volunteered for the high jump. He was the only one willing to step up and to his credit, he understood fully that this would not go well for him. He did it for his team. He did it with a positive attitude and even when he failed spectacularly, it did not break his spirit.
Once I comprehended his unwavering willingness to try the high jump, the whole story completely flipped upside down for me. Where I felt confused and embarrassed for him, this turned quickly into awe and admiration. I saw clearly how much courage he had. This felt more important than winning or losing an already forgotten about event. I also appreciated the way he bounced back from his ‘failure’. He was laughing and joking even before I turned the key to start my car. I was so proud of him.
This track season has not been a shining example of external achievement for my son, yet it has proven to be a success in many ways. It helps that his coaches are patient and bravely accept each and every kid who shows up to be on the team. Imagine a world where youth sports were more about the team experience versus personal achievement. What if winning wasn’t actually the true prize, but, rather, learning how to be accountable and resilient mattered more?
“Sports are not all about competition. I firmly believe some of the greatest lessons I learned in my life came from athletics. It is not all about who is the fastest or strongest. It is about who can push through the struggle and stand victorious.” –Coach Rob Bendig (one of my son’s track coaches)
If my son never clears that high jump bar for the rest of his life, I will proudly stand by him cheering him on knowing he has already won.
Written by Diana DeVaul, MSW and Parent