by Gregory Tapler
My son is at an age where he likes to (and actually can) play organized sports. We decided to move him towards basketball for a number of reasons and he seems to be enjoying it very much. He’s an only child and when he’s at home playing, he commentates his own games. He changes teams, players and keeps score. It’s really enjoyable as a father to listen to his creativity and spirit.
When he plays, he has this competitive spirit about him – not with the other players, so much; more with himself. He often puts himself into a situation when the clock is counting down and he ends up taking (and making) the final shot to win the game. Every boy’s dream, I guess (or at least it’s his).
Recently his team played a game – complete with a scoreboard and buzzer. I, as a helping-out kind of dad, at times end up playing with the kids (it helps to have an adult on each team at this age). This particular day I was assigned to my son’s team. Cool.
We started playing – running up and down the court. Running with the ball. Dribbling on occasion. Falling down. All the good things a young basketball team does. I think the score was 4 – 2. We were down. My son ended up with the ball. As the time began to run out, the kids on the sidelines started counting down – 10, 9, 8, 7, 6…
The look on my son’s face was priceless. He found himself in the very situation he’s been imagining at home. He was very well aware of the score and knew he needed to make it to tie the game. He approached the basket and prepared for the shot. What he didn’t anticipate was the defender who wanted nothing to do with him scoring. He pressed him. He reached for the ball. He knocked him around. I watched as my son grew frustrated, scared and worried. I watched as his anxiety grew while he heard the other boys and girls count – 5, 4, 3, 2, 1….baaahhhhh. No score. Time’s up. Game over.
He immediately started crying. He walked down the court to where I was and, through his frustration, hit me. He was that upset.
I instantly remembered being a boy, finding myself in similar situations and having the adults in my life say things like ‘don’t cry’, ‘stop being a baby’, ‘just suck it up’, ‘you don’t have anything to cry about’. I’ve been down some roads, learning some things along the way. I knew that was not the way to approach this situation. It was time to try something different.
I knelt down to him and told him to look at me. I told him I understand how he would be frustrated. I reminded him not to hit and told him I watched him try really hard and sometimes we just don’t make that shot. He was done. He wanted out. He wanted to walk away and who knows really? He probably just wanted to get out of there and forget about what happened.
We had another game to play. I told him I wanted him to play – if for any reason, to not give up and not walk away. He said no. I said yes. We went back and forth for a bit and through some miracle (or maybe because he was just doing what his dad said), he stayed on the court.
The next game began. He reminded me how he wanted to leave and I reminded him how he was going to play. I passed him the ball. He started dribbling down the court, tears and all. He passed it to one of his teammates and they shortly turned it over. He made one last plea to leave the court. I said no – you’re playing this game.
angryNow I’m not sure if it was a combination of him being mad at me or still being frustrated at that defender or simply his inner voice telling him ‘you got this’. Whatever it was, he grabbed the ball, started dribbling down the court, found a lane and with a look of pure determination took that lane, stopped in front of the basket, took the shot and made two points. His smile said it all.
From then he seemed to forget the disappointment of his missed opportunity and again started to enjoy the game.
I do know being a boy at his age is difficult. It’s hard for him to understand the emotions he’s experiencing. All I could do as a parent is watch, listen and suggest. I’m not going to take credit for anything that happened to him through this experience except maybe telling him to not quit and not walk away.
His experience, his emotions, his take-away is his alone. I’m not clear on what he processed and what, if anything, he actually learned. I do know, however, being his father and being witness to what I’ll call his growth in emotional maturity, was priceless.
In this world of tough competition, good sportsmanship and teaming, I was reminded the toughest battles are the ones we fight with ourselves. I am so grateful I had the opportunity to support my son through one of his.

Greg Tapler

Greg is the author of “Dad 101“, an on-going meditation on developing a conscious and compassionate approach to parenting. His experience as a father and dedicated husband, long-time member of the ManKind Project, and extraordinary passion for helping others informs his moving stories and profound personal insights into the most important of all duties – raising our children. If you acknowledge the significance of mindful parenting and care to expand your experience, give him a moment of your time; it’ll be worth it.