Peter Chianca: A dad with no sporting chance

Peter Chianca

When I was in the second grade, I went an entire Little League season without making even incidental contact with the baseball. By the end of the year it was obvious to everybody involved that rather than swinging, I’d be more likely to get a hit if I just got up to the plate, stuck out the bat and stood very, very still.

So it’s probably not surprising that by the time my daughter, Jackie, now 8, joined soccer and basketball a few years ago, my team sports career was a long distant memory, like booster shots and the taste of paste.

This led me to a dilemma as I prepared to attend her first soccer match-up: Would I be able to muster enough interest to follow the games, much less show the sideline fervor expected of parents these days? If I didn’t care enough to berate the ref, would my kids love me less?

At first, my mind did wander to points unknown as the soccer games bounced along, with the girls running this way and that, kicking the ball, or not kicking it, sometimes doing cartwheels or skipping, occasionally stopping to braid each other’s hair.

Other parents, including my wife, didn’t seem to have any trouble getting verbally caught up in the action (“GO SUZY GO SUZY GO SUZY GO!” etc.), but my participation was pretty much limited to polite applause and furtive glances at my watch.

But a funny thing started happening a few games in: It turned out Jackie was good. She could run down the field with the best of them, maneuver the ball around the defenders, even kick a goal.

Suddenly, something clicked; I couldn’t place it at the time, but I realize now that those Little League at-bats — which had always occupied a bleak area in the back of my mind, along with puberty and every gym class I had ever suffered through — were melting away like so many old cobwebs. Was my moment of redemption at hand?

Suddenly a voice screamed out, “BOOT IT! BOOT IT!,” and lo and behold, it was mine. So this is why grown men beat each other up at Pee-Wee hockey games, I thought.

Now I was hooked, and I had found the pipes to prove it. Unfortunately, my lack of sports experience still restricted the breadth of my sideline chatter, limiting it mostly to general-interest bromides like “Nice try!” and “Get it out of there!” It’s especially tough in basketball, not knowing a fast break from a foul lane — usually I just keep screaming “Rebound! Rebound!” because it seems like it’s somehow always relevant.

But as Jackie gets older and the games get more competitive, I admit I’ve been getting concerned that even my meager sideline ministrations could cause undue pressure. After all, it’s not really about the sports glory I never got — and more to the point, is it tough on an 8-year-old athlete to get bombarded constantly by the overly caffeinated parents on the sidelines?

So I went to the source. “Do you hear all the stuff we yell during the games?” I asked Jackie the other day after a particularly tight contest caused no end of grunts, moans and interjections from the bleachers.