Monday, September 29, 2008

Competitive Genes

Recently, a friend of mine asked if I am competitive. It was a friendly question. I laughed,

“Who me, competitive?”

I was being sarcastic. We were at a party, it was one of those exchanges where I wasn’t sure how she meant the question or how she would take the answer. What I wanted to say was that there are only three types of people who go to MIT: the naturally brilliant type, the extremely tenacious and competitive type, and those who are both. Since I have met plenty of brilliant people, I know that I have to fall into that tenacious category. I did not say that. I laughed and filled her wine glass. I took it as a compliment. I try not to be competitive with my mommy friends.

On Saturday, I was at my daughter’s soccer game. She is three years old. At three years old, soccer is more of a photo opportunity than a serious game, but the kids have fun and gain the confidence of having played before. I have never been a super-athlete, but team play is important. I am extremely competitive with myself. I try to spare my children.

Gladys became one with soccer on Saturday. She was raging down the field in purple striped pants, sparkly sneakers, arms flailing, tongue lolling out, unkempt curls waving in the wind, and complete control of the ball. She would stop it heading in the wrong direction, turn it around, dribble it down the field and score. She did it again and again: eleven goals. E-LE-VEN.

I started thinking about my field hockey coach in high school. He was a 6-foot 4-inch Vietnam Veteran, a marine. When he wasn’t teaching remedial math, he was pumping iron. He ran us hard; the good kind of hard that makes your eyeballs sweat, but leaves you looking forward to practice tomorrow. He ran up and down the sidelines during our scrimmages, shouting out encouragement, pointing out errors.

“Jennifer, you should have had that one, stick down, head in the game.”

“Pass it, pass it. Kristin, you weren’t ready, keep your feet moving, anticipate the play.”

During the games, he would give us a little encouragement, here and there, but mostly he was quiet. The ref would make a call and you would see him walk towards the bleachers, turning his back to the team.

Towards the end of practice one day, one of my teammates asked him about it.

“Coach, I thought that was really a bad call in the game Saturday. You didn’t say anything to the ref. Did you think it was a bad call? Wasn’t it a bad call?”

“I’ll help you ladies in practice, but the game is up to you. The ref doesn’t make you lose a game.”


“You ladies can win the game. You play to the call. Play your best. That’s it.”

The silence remained.

“Now, what do you think it looks like when someone my size gets upset about something he cares about?”

We were all looking at our cleats.

“Go! Five laps, give me all you got, then take it in.”

We did. We all gave it all we had. He did care. He cared a lot, maybe too much. We didn’t win very many games, but we all tried really hard. I ran sprints with my hockey stick on weekends. I charged the ball so hard once, the other girl was taken off the field due to a concussion. I bet it was hard for him to watch sometimes.

“Hey coach! Look! Maybe there WAS an athletic gene in my body. Maybe she’ll be as athletic as she is tenacious. Now, wouldn’t you have just loved that!”


Indy said...

That's amazing that she scored so many goals. I was afraid you were going to write that she scored them on her own team. Good for Gladys.

Badass Geek said...

Eleven? Thats amazing! And a great story about your coach, too.

Rachel said...

Wow 11; tell her we said Awesome Job!!!

enthalpymama said...

Indy & Rachel - Yes, it really was eleven. She scored them all in the correct goal, although she did steal the ball from her own team a few times. Its tricky at this age. Fortunately, other kids were making goals on her team too, so there weren't any parents who wanted to clobber me. Gladys even passed it once or twice.

badass - He was a really good guy. And, he weighed about two hundred pounds more than most other high school field hockey coaches, so it was sort of fun walking onto the field with him. Imagine a three year old walking a Great Dane.

Lola said...

Oh, I think those competitive genes get passed on for sure. I know it's a major part of our family DNA. Good for her!