See that bench? It’s where I sit.
Every Sunday my kids and husband go skating and I sit on this bench and watch them. I sit here when my kids take skating lessons as well. And when they’re playing baseball and soccer and karate. I sit on the bench when they’re at the park and bouncing on the trampoline.
I’m a ever-present bench sitter.
I’ve spent my life wishing I could participate in athletics. Believe me when I say I have tried and I have tried hard. I tried soccer and gymnastics and basketball and volleyball. I tried tennis and golf and skating and cross-country. I joined a curling team and failed miserably. I joined cheerleading and didn’t make it out of two practices.
It’s not that I have a physical need that does not allow me to participate. It is that I physically cannot keep up. And because of that playing any sport feels like torture to me – it is never, ever fun and it is never, ever easy for me to do anything that requires even the most basic athletic skill.
If I told you that I’ve been a runner since I was 19, and then you saw me run, you would laugh. You would think I was joking because I channel a 2 year old who has just learned to walk/run while I’m moving. I always look like I’m about to topple over (and I have, more times than I care to admit). I’m a mess, and yet I have been trying to be a “runner” for years. I’ve never gotten better, no matter how much I run. In fact, I had a running coach for an entire year and my time and form did not ever improve (that running coach, who I paid for by the way, said he had never had a client who tried less than I did. I can’t tell you how demoralizing that was for me).
If I told you that games like foosball are hard for me because they require hand-eye coordination you would probably not believe me but it’s true. I was once on a date at a bar when my date insisted we play foosball. I felt physically sick because I had tried before and knew I was going to be a mess, but I liked him and didn’t want to make a fuss. He destroyed me in the game (I don’t think I scored once) and then proceeded to go on and on about how he can’t stand girls who are too prissy to try. Needless to say we never went out again.
What bothers me is that people, much like my running coach, automatically assume that I’m not trying when I am a disaster at anything that requires athletic skill or coordination. People say “get up and try”, “of course you can’t play you never try hard”, and (my personal favourite) “why don’t you put your best effort in?”. But what they don’t know is that I do. I try so, so, so hard when it comes to sports and athletics and have tried for so many years.
Those are just two examples – I could write a novel on the number of times I tried my best at something even remotely athletic and was told it wasn’t good enough.
So why do I tell you all this? Maybe deep down I want some sympathy or something, but I also want to give a bit of a reality check.
There’s a huge shift in expectations put on parents to participate in athletics with their kids. We tell parents they need to be present and active with their children. And, be honest, we judge those parents who are not.
We’ve all seen a parent on the bench. We’ve all seen a parent taking pictures from a waiting area, or saying no when their kids ask them to join in. We’ve all seen a mom who stood in the warming area when the rest of her family skated, or a dad who stood on the sidelines when his kids were bouncing away on a trampoline. We have all seen it and we have all judged.
So, maybe take a pause when you see a parent who isn’t participating. Maybe assume that for that parent – the one who is sitting on the sidelines, even at the park – athletics are torturous and maybe even physically impossible. Maybe the sheer act of being there with their kids and supporting and encouraging them with their presence is the absolute best they can do. Maybe they’re spent a lifetime much like me, trying so hard and never being able to keep up.
Give them some grace, cut them some slack, and assume that they are doing the best they can do.