Being the Parent of a Child in Competitive Sports is Hard!

If you’re like me, and let’s hope you are, then you have a child who competes in sand castle building tournaments. And if you’re like me, you further understand the added stress and frustration of being the parent of a champion. Yes, I’m certainly proud of my son, that’s a given. But like some parents out there, I take his victories and his losses to heart just a bit too much. My therapist says I need to relax and maybe not attend one or two of his matches. He says he might help his independence and it will help me not have a goddamn heart attack right there on the beach. But I can’t disagree more. I have to be there to let my son know I will always be in his corner.

But how can sand castle building be stressful, you might ask? You can’t even imagine, my friend. The competition is fierce out there, and his opponents are hungry for victory. He may as well play for the Dallas Cowboys or Manchester United or the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics team. And Douglas has been dominating the 11-15 age bracket for years, but this is his last year in that group. And he had some flubs that may be psychologically detrimental to him before he enters the ultra-fierce 16-18 age bracket, which is the least populated bracket in competitive sand castle building. Least populated? Big surprise! you may think. But it’s not because the kids that age quit sand castle building to embrace their hormonal interests, not at all. It’s because it’s war and only the best and smartest survive.

Just to get into the 16-18 bracket, the kids have to compete in a 5-day battle royale to see who has the chops. A different project for each day. Failure to impress the judges means the kid sits out for the season and has to try to get in the following year. I try not to put much pressure on Douglas, because he seems to put enough on himself. I encourage him to be the best he can be and push himself farther than he’s ever gone. On days when he seems very down on himself and his abilities, I throw out a casual comment or two to make sure he presses on. Something like, “Your mother ran out on us because she thought we were losers. You don’t want to prove her right, do you?” is highly effective, believe me!

I strive to find the right balance of encouragement, pride, and coaching to make him be a winner. When he does well with a top three finish, I let him eat dinner that night. When he suffers a painful loss due to a stupid mistake, I tell him to do better next time and make him sleep in the back yard. But I really feel everything he goes through. When Douglas earns that medal, I share his joy. When he is defeated, I wipe away his tears with my own. Maybe it is selfish to think this, but I feel like when he knows how proud of him I am every single day, it makes each win even better and every loss a little easier to bear.

One day, when he is an old man and he looks back on his days as a competitive sand castle builder, I’m sure he will think fondly of when I was there, cheering for him at the beach. Douglas will remember me helping him by telling him that his Arc de Triomphe isn’t quite to scale as much as little Steve Goldberg’s. He will smile, remembering me clapping louder than the other parents and taking pictures of his medal ceremonies. He will remember me shoving his face in his toppled Gold Gate Bridge because he did not take into account the moisture changes throughout the day, forever learning the inherent dangers of too much cloud cover. He won three tournaments in a row after that day, and the medals kept stacking up from there. I helped make Douglas a winner.

My therapist doesn’t know jack shit about being a winner.