The Wonderful World of Sports

In case you didn’t already know this, I am not a sports person. I appreciate what athletes do, sure, but I’m turned off by the greediness of the professional sports world, the gloss of Sports Illustrated, and the commercialism of ESPN. My eyes glaze over whenever someone starts talking about “stats,” and unless the team I want to win is winning, I’m probably going to change the channel. Shallow, I know, but since the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres are both lousy teams, you can guess how much time I actually spend watching televised sports.

I took Connor to his first professional hockey game last month at First Niagara Center (or is it HSBC Arena? I can’t keep track of all of these acquisitions). The Sabres were playing the Edmonton Oilers. I believe the Sabres are the worst team in the NHL, and the Oilers are the second-worst team in the NHL (or maybe it’s the other way around. I can’t keep track of those things, either). According to my omnipotent sports friend Jason, both teams were vying to lose the game, because it meant they’d be given the first choice in the next round of drafts for new players. To me, this makes no sense–aren’t you always supposed to play your best and try to win every game? Why would you want to lose simply for strategy? I guess there’s a lot I don’t understand about it, because when the Sabres inevitably lost, no one seemed particularly disappointed, though I suppose when your team always loses, you build up an immunity to it. Or something like that. Whatever the outcome, we both enjoyed the game, and Connor proudly wears his new Sabres cap whenever he gets the chance, just like 45.7% of Western New Yorkers.

I played zero sports when I was a kid. I went to one field hockey practice when I was a sophomore in high school and thought I was going to die afterwards. I went to the homecoming football games only because everyone else did, and the band had to play, and usually I could meet a boy at the game. I’ve attended one professional football game–Baltimore Ravens vs. Some Other Team, and it was mid-November, and we sat shivering in the stadium drinking bad expensive beer along with everyone else in the somewhat affordable nosebleed sections. A few minor-league baseball games here and there, and that’s it. Kind of sad, I know.

I’m willing to bet that my experience with sports practically mirrors the experiences most people have with music. Maybe a school field trip to hear the local orchestra play a kid-oriented concert; tickets to the ballet given by your well-meaning great aunt Esther, or suffering through a middle school band concert because your kid wanted to play the trombone. In my years as a music educator, I discovered that many families were completely ignorant when it came to the amount of time, effort, money, and energy it took to study a musical instrument successfully. I found myself constantly battling invisible team coaches who insisted that their students be present at every practice and every game, even if it meant missing a dress rehearsal or concert. Students were under the impression that missing a lacrosse game was forbidden, but missing the spring concert was acceptable.

Connor and Adrienne played little league baseball last spring. Connor used to play baseball in Buffalo when he was younger, but tae kwon do held his interest a bit more, so we made him choose one sport. When we moved to Fairport, I decided that the team sport experience would be good for him, since “plays well with others” is a skill occasionally lacking in his arsenal, and I thought he could meet some new friends. Fairport Little League is hardcore, I soon learned, and even though I asked coaches and team organizers lots of questions, we were still in the dark most of the time. I had no idea what type of equipment to buy for the kids–did they need their own helmets? “No, they’ll provide everything the players need.” Well, sure, there might have been shared equipment, but every single player I saw had their own bat, batting helmet, pitcher’s padding, etc. As I sat in the bleachers during games and practices, it became quickly obvious that these were families who KNEW baseball, dads who played catch with their sons and daughters since they learned how to walk, moms who played softball as kids. I felt as ignorant as many parents must feel when their child comes home one day and says “Hey Mom! I want to take violin lessons!”

I’m learning that there are so many parallels between the sports world and the music world. Look at the recent Olympics, and how the media latches onto the stories of incredible dedication to one’s sport, hours and hours of practice, injuries, world travel to competitions and meets, the flawless skill and execution required to be at the top of one’s field. We celebrate their accomplishments, as we should. But what about musicians? Why are our accomplishments held in such lower esteem? Professional musicians put in hours of dedicated practice, finely tuning their techniques and skills to flawlessly execute musical miracles. How often do we watch a pianist or violinist whirl through a virtuosic piece and say “Wow, I could never do that?” Many mistakenly believe that musicians require God-given talent or natural ability to success. I disagree. There is something to be said for natural ability, but unless it is accompanied by an unstoppable determination, the right coaching and instruction, and hard work, nothing will come of it.

So my kids are going to study musical instruments, and they’ll probably be pretty good, because I know how to coach them and point them in the right direction, not because they were born gifted or exceptionally talented. They’re also going to play baseball, and though they probably won’t be as good (Adrienne runs like lightning, however), I’m going to help them however I can. I can learn about the sport with them, and teach them the skills that cross into every discipline: show up, work together, work hard, always do your best, have fun, be fair, be a good sport, don’t give up, try again. Those are life lessons that work for everyone, whether you’re a sports nut or a music nut.

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