Ask Your Father

It’s Cool, Son. We’ve All Been On The Losing Team.

"[...] while obviously some parents support life or death thinking when it comes to sports, I just can't."

Looking for dad-focused parenting stories? You're not alone. Ask Your Father is A Plus's space for fresh perspectives on family life and some good old-fashioned fatherly advice. Because dads deserve the chance to spill the tea — or the milk — too.

I was pulling some carpet out with my 11-year-old son. I asked him how his soccer game went, and he said, "We lost. Again." We were on the stairs, and he looked back at me with a sullen hangdog expression as though because his team lost, he was a loser. I could tell that he wasn't having fun anymore.

We'd just bought a new house, and we were remodeling the upstairs. My wife, Mel, told me over the phone that he'd been pretty down about losing earlier that day when I first started tearing out carpet. Once he got home, I taught him how to use a crowbar and a hammer to pull out tack board. Well … at first, I showed him how to use a crowbar, and he assumed we were going to rob a bank. But once I showed him that we'd also be using a hammer and breaking some things, he realized that pulling out tack board was a close second to committing a robbery. Honestly, though, normally helping me wouldn't have made him happier, but for a little boy, a crowbar is pretty exciting, even if it's a small one.

He was still in his green soccer uniform, cleats, and shin guards. We looked at each other for a bit, and I felt at a crossroads. I've been in this situation a lot with him playing sports. It seems like every game, play, practice, everything, is life or death. Most of the kids on his team are like this, too.

Along with some of their parents. I see them on the sidelines, crying out to their children to "Be more aggressive," or to "Get the ball" or to "Take the shot." I can see in their faces that they view what they are doing as helping, but it comes out sideways in situations like this, when my son is sulking and feeling like a failure because his junior league soccer team, "The Krakens" isn't winning. This season had been particularly rough considering they'd lost every game up to that point.


And while obviously some parents support life or death thinking when it comes to sports, I just can't.

Courtesy of Clint Edwards

I could've said some cliché thing like, "Try harder next time" or "You need to put your head in the game" or "You need to focus on winning." Or I could've gone with the shame route that fathers often used on me, and said something like, "You need to toughen up," or "Stop being a baby about it" or "Man up" or some other derogatory thing. I say fathers because my father wasn't around when I was kid, so I heard stuff like that from other fathers and coaches. Only it didn't make me want to try harder.  It made me quit. I was strong enough to go though life without a father. The last thing I needed was for someone to tell me to toughen up because of a game. But when I think back on all that, I realize I missed out on some really rewarding relationships and opportunities because I quit sports. I didn't want that for Tristan.

So I tried something different.

I told him that I was on the worst team one year. 

"It was baseball. Not soccer. And we lost every single game."

He turned around and looked at me. He was paying attention, which, with an 11-year-old is remarkable, particularly when their dad is trying to give them a life lesson. Normally, I get a cool glossy look that seems to say, "Can I play my tablet now?"

"I felt pretty low about it," I said. "It was also ironic considering our team was the New York Yankees who were having an amazing season that year."

Tristan laughed, then caught himself, and looked back at the stairs.

I told him that I felt like a failure because my team wasn't winning.

"And do you know what happened?"

 "What?" He asked.

I shrugged. "I grew up to become your dad."

He looked confused. He asked what I meant, and I said, "In the long run, none of it mattered. I grew up, got married, had kids, went to college. Nothing changed because our team lost. Not a thing. Turns out, just because my team lost didn't mean I was a losing."

He looked at me, his blue eyes moving side-to-side, deep in thought. "That doesn't mean you shouldn't try. You should always try your hardest. It just means that all this soccer stuff, it's not that big of a deal. You don't have to beat yourself up about it. And do you know what happens when you stop thinking that losing a game means you're a loser?"

"What?" he said.

"You'll start to have fun playing again."

He nodded, smiled, and we went back to pulling out carpet.

After a few minutes of silence I asked him if he was going to quit playing. He thought for a moment, twisted his lips to the side, and said, "No. I'll keep trying."

He let out a breath. "It's not that big of a deal," he said.

I smiled and said, "Exactly."

Clint Edwards is the author of  I'm Sorry. Love, Your Husband, and the funny and insightful No Idea What I'm Doing: A Daddy Blog. He is a staff writer for the very popular (and awesome) Scary Mommy. His work has been discussed on Good Morning America, The View, The Talk, and The Today Show. Everyone from Whoopi Goldberg to Sharon Osbourne to Kathie Lee Gifford has agreed with his take on parenting and marriage. He's also a parenting contributor to the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Disney's Babble, and elsewhere. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter

Cover image via Clint Edwards and Fotokostic I Shutterstock


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