Absent the Killer Instinct; Present a Heart
My daughter finished the swim season last year with an announcement that she was joining the school’s water polo team. She had never played water polo before but with most of the swim team opting to play during off-season, I encouraged her to take on a new sport if she was interested. A week later, she came home and announced the coach asked if she wanted to train to be the team’s goalie. Seems the current goalie was a senior and graduating so a slot was opening up. Given her freshman status, her height and long arm reach, she was the ideal prospect and took to the sport with a total sense of commitment.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, water polo can be a vicious sport, not unlike hockey except in water polo, a big part of the game is played underwater and consequently not easily visible to the observer. Fouls are constant all in the name of preventing or scoring a goal and players strive not to get caught by the referees. Before every game, the referees check each girl’s hands to make sure nails are clipped short in an effort to minimize scratching.
Most people will say water polo is not a game for the faint of heart and it isn’t – watching a teen get head-butted, elbowed in the eye, or pulled underwater is not pleasant. And watching my daughter dislocate a shoulder trying to save a goal almost made me jump over the spectator railing to go after the “beast” that sensed an opportunity and was on top of my offspring. Size, strength, speed, and a competitive instinct matter but so does parental restraint.
The season continued and my daughter was either practicing 2-1/2 hours a day or going to a game. Towards the end of the season over dinner, my daughter announced “Mom, the honeymoon’s over.” I looked at her perplexed and she told me the coach was going to put her in the game the next day as goalie and he would probably be yelling at her. The coach is a passionate guy, not unlike Tom Hanks in “A League of Their Own” and so I reminded my daughter the coach yelled sometimes because he cared so much; it was his way of blowing off steam. I told her to focus, be tough and do her best…and try not to cry. I also explained how some athletes channel their anger into sports making them more competitive but she said “I’m not angry at anyone.” She thought for a moment and then remembered the opposing team displayed bad sportsmanship a few months prior when they stole her winter jacket and some personal belongings of other teammates at a home game. My daughter decided that she would channel those feelings into her game.
My daughter’s team won the water polo match and my daughter did just fine playing goalie for the first time. Afterwards, I was complementing her on how well she played and my daughter told me that she really tried to be angry at the girls on the other team but said she couldn’t. In her words “I looked at their faces and I knew they had friends and family that loved them so I couldn’t hate them.” In fact, she thought she could be friends with them if they weren’t on the opposite team. I wrapped my arms around her and told her she has a heart of gold.