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SANDY BANKS

It's Rough Being Coach and Mother

November 29, 1998|SANDY BANKS

We are rolling toward the end of soccer season, and I'm not sure who's more relieved, me or my kids.

For me it means no more shivering in the windy darkness while they practice, or hustling to the soccer field for early-morning games. No more laundry loads of stinky socks and sweaty shinguards.

For my kids, the payoff is even greater--no more cringing at the sound of their overwrought mom hollering at them from across the field, in a voice so shrill it could shatter glass.

"Wake up, out there! . . . Move to the ball! . . . Kick it again . . . harder!"

It's become a bit of a joke among spectators--how my mild-mannered Mommy persona disappears when my daughters take to the basketball court or soccer field.

But I've realized lately that my frenetic sideline performance is driven by a not-so-funny truth: It's hard to strike a happy medium when you're raising kids in single-parent land.

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If it embarrasses my daughters when I yell at them . . . well, sometimes it embarrasses me too. I've let passion overrule good judgment; I've yelled at them so loud and long, I've left games feeling sheepish and ashamed.

I try to pass it off as enthusiasm; I say it's just the motivation my young athletes need. But the truth is, when my yelling makes my daughter cry, I've gone over the line, good intentions aside.

I'm not sure what comes over me--why I find it so hard to just shut up, enjoy the game, let the coaches coach and my children play. My kids are hardly superstars; there are no college scholarships on the line.

Still, it's hard for me to rein myself in. I want so badly for them to play well . . . to play as if their dad were here.

He is not, of course. That is, I suspect, part of what drives me. If he were alive, he would have coached his kids--taught the soccer player to run without flailing her arms, the basketball player to drive the lane.

When I yell advice--"Hustle down. . . . Be aggressive!"--it's not just their performance I'm trying to critique. It's their status--girls without dads--I aim to obscure, by being just like the other fathers I see.

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I started down the road of youth sports guided by a mantra most mothers know: "I just want them to have fun. . . ."

But my time on the sidelines has transformed me. Like an anthropologist immersed in a foreign culture, I've absorbed an ethos unfamiliar to me.

I understand the mother's role, and it comes naturally to me: Encourage them, praise them, applaud effort as well as accomplishment.

The father's role--taskmaster, instructor, critic, coach--I assume less easily.

I watch the dads as they watch the game, conspicuously critiquing their children's play.

"Post up. . . . Center the ball. . . . Don't shoot from that far away!" I hear them yell at the coach, harangue the ref, curse under their breaths when their girls blow the play.

From the mothers I hear "Nice try, honey. . . ." I watch their halftime ministrations--a hug, a cold drink, a quick repair of a ponytail.

There are exceptions, of course--mothers who rant and rave and berate their kids, dads who applaud their children's every move.

And there are parents like me, who feel compelled to do both, and wind up doing neither well.

Now I understand how difficult it is to have it both ways; why my dual roles sometimes leave my children bewildered, angry, dazed: It is hard to accept a postgame embrace and consolation from a woman who, just moments ago, was haranguing you up and down the field during your game.

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So I vow this time, as another basketball season gets underway, to let the coach do the coaching and to be content just enjoying their play.

And I've enlisted, as a sideline aide, my youngest daughter . . . the one who once refused to cheer for me when she watched me play basketball in a Moms' League game.

"I just didn't want to embarrass you," she explained to me after the game. "Like you always embarrass my sisters."

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Sandy Banks' column is published on Sundays and Tuesdays. Her e-mail address is sandy.banks@latimes.com.

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