Friday, September 05, 2014

An American Sports Primer for Sports Fans Not From The US

Photo: Clint Mickel, Flickr Creative Commons

I've been watching a lot of soccer the last couple of years. Before that, I watched a lot of rugby, back before the jerks at DirecTV snatched up the American rights to basically every rugby match to ever be televised, denying me and my Dish Network service the chance to watch. Paying attention to international sports has made me realize, perhaps more so than the average American, that Americans are really weird when it comes to sports. First, we don't even play your sports. Our interest in a sport is inversely proportionate to the sport's global popularity. We only care about our distantly related versions of the sports your emigrants gave us, and the only other places in the world where our sports are played are countries we pushed around a lot back in the 1800s and early 1900s. And Canada, which, surprisingly, is not actually one of the 50 states.

Let's assume you're some rando in Slovenia who, despite learning to read English fluently and living in a world dominated by American culture, doesn't actually know anything about American sports. The first thing you need to know is that we like football best and by football we mean that sport where we carry and throw the prolate spheroid ball with our hands and only use our feet to kick it sometimes, usually when our offense sucks and he have to give the ball back to the other team or settle for 3 points instead of 6. You may have been under the impression that baseball is the most American game, but unless you're in a time warp and reading this from 1949, baseball hasn't been the most popular sport in a long while. Major League Baseball brings in a billion dollars less per year than the NFL. After baseball, you have basketball and our fourth sport is hockey, although that's really more of a regional US and Canadian thing. This ranking also ignores that college football is also a huge business and no other minor league in any other sport matters, except for college basketball one month in the spring.

Photo: Harald Kobler, Flickr Creative Commons

Being a complete newb to sports in the States, this order of importance may surprise you. After all, lots of northern nations play hockey. It's in the Olympics. The same goes for basketball, which seems to be quickly turning into the world's second favorite sport after your football (which we call soccer). Baseball is played by a few countries, but mostly just countries in the Caribbean and Latin America because of proximity and our past political meddling, and then Japan and Korea because we fought wars there and then never completely left either country. Our favorite sport basically isn't played outside of the US and Canada (although the Canucks put their goal posts in the wrong place). In other words, the more likely a foreigner is to play our sport, the less we actually like it. For example, soccer, by far the world's favorite, is only a distant fourth in the US despite the continual improvement of the quality of play in the league and its popularity.

Oh, and there's also lacrosse, a sport that has been a part of American culture long before there were any Americans. American Indians from at least modern day Georgia to Canada played the direct ancestor of this sport. It's an awesome sport that sadly only rich suburbanites and private school kids play.

Photo: Tom Beary, Flickr Creative Commons

That's not the only weird thing about our sporting culture. Going back to our favorite sport, it's actually arguable that in one region of the country, the South, that an amateur minor league is actually more popular than the top pro league. This is partly due to the fact that the South was slower to leave behind traditional sporting values that held amateurism as pure and professionalism as crass and only for the poor. (Think about the origins of the Olympics and you'll remember what I'm talking about.) It's also partly due to the fact that our weather and environment kept population growth slow until the advent of cheap air conditioners (and the eradication of most mosquito-borne diseases) in the mid 1900s. We just didn't have the cities big enough and wealthy enough to host top pro teams until relatively recently, so college sports were our only option. The NFL is increasing in popularity, but it's rare to find a football fan in South whose opinions on the main college team are weaker than those for the regional pro team. Seriously, try to find a Falcon logo before you find fifteen bulldogs in Georgia. Ain't going to happen unless you're actually in Atlanta on a gameday Sunday.

Also, I realize that in most places, college sports aren't really a thing. I'm not entirely sure why, but in the US, academics and athletics became inseparably intertwined sometime in the 1800s. Every high school in the country has varsity sports teams that play other regional high schools. The high school in Barrow, Alaska, even flies their football and basketball teams to games further south in the state because they're so remote. Colleges often take athletics even more seriously, especially the big football schools. In fact, unlike you with your youth programs run by professional clubs, the vast majority of the athlete development done in most sports will be in grade school or college with a school team and coaches paid by the schools.

Finally, despite the fact that the US is one of the most capitalist countries in the developed world (although it's hard to match the level of capitalism you'd find in Somalia and other failed states), our pro sports leagues are among the most socialist. You know how it seems that every great player in Germany seems to play for Bayern Munich and how Real Madrid somehow manages to stockpile players in the top 5 in the world for their positions? That can't happen in any US league, except baseball, and not even there, really. The NFL has a hard salary cap and a salary floor so all teams have to spend more or less the same on the team payroll. There are ways to fudge the numbers, but even with those loopholes, once you start to get a great team together, the price for those players starts going up and you have to start making decisions on whether it's worth keeping that guy with his bigger paycheck and have to pay less for players at other positions or to let the expensive star go and stock up on cheaper younger players with upside. The NBA and NHL have variations of this that make it just too difficult to build an all-star team. The leagues want teams to be even and to make it feel like your team may suck this year, but eventually they'll have their chance. Unlike the fans of Queens Park Rangers.

Photo: Keith Allison, Flickr Creative Commons

Baseball has a luxury tax, but teams wealthy enough to pay it just stock up on stars anyway. This is why everyone hates the Yankees.

Oh, and this all happens because the clubs aren't independent entities. The teams are franchises of the leagues. They have their own owners, but they can't go play anywhere else unless the league tells them to. The league makes their schedules. The league set safety and behavior rules. The league takes in most of the money and then distributes it to teams as it sees fit. In contrast, the Barclays English Premier League has almost no real power over the teams.

Photo: woodleywonderworks, Flickr Creative Commons

Then we have the MLS, our soccer league. Despite pro soccer in most countries being basically capitalism in its purest form, Americans took soccer and made it a communist state (although, much like Mikhail Gorbachev in the 90s, they've started introducing economic reforms). While the other leagues have drafts, salary caps, and profit sharing to spread the wealth among the teams, the MLS actually owns all the players and distributes them based on a pecking order so the worst teams get the best players and the best teams have to wait their turns. The league had good reasons for this system as the previous attempt at a premier league in the US ended with bankruptcies as spending on players grew more quickly than income. The MLS, hoping to avoid the bidding wars, made sure that the teams were staying within their means. This actually could be why the league has survived and had a chance to grow in popularity instead of flaming out in a blaze of Beckham encrusted glory. It's been a long time since a team in the MLS folded. It's only happened twice and both teams folded in 2001, only five years after the league was founded. Also, both were in Florida and Florida sucks.

Photo: Francois Meehan, Flickr Creative Commons

So, dear foreign friends in sport, you now have a beginner's understanding of the bizarre world of American athletics. To sum it up, we like sports inversely proportionally to the popularity of the sport outside of our borders, we get really worked up over kids playing football for schools we did not attend, and our pro leagues are socialists functioning in a capitalist state. Enjoy. Take this weekend's break from club soccer for international friendlies and watch Michigan State at Oregon (both excellent college teams) on Saturday or Indianapolis at Denver on Sunday (the NFL's Peyton Manning, our Messi, versus his old team). See what it's like for us American having to watch commercials every 10 minutes during a game.

Seriously. It's ridiculous. If they score, it's score, commercial break, kickoff, commercial break, next offensive series. The NFL even created an special two minute warning at the end of halves exclusively so they could show more commercials. What the hell? How do people without DVRs who can watch on delay to skip commercials even live during football season?

Friday, May 23, 2014

One Step Forward and Two Steps Back

Photo: Christian Yves Ocampo, Flickr Creative Commons

First, before we get any further into this post, if you're a regular reader of this blog (do I actually have any?), could you take a moment and post a comment below and tell me what type of writing and writing topics are my best? I recently applied for a part time editing position with a publication I actually respect and my rejection e-mail included a line suggesting I come up with some freelance ideas and send them to one of their editors. It even included an actual email address to someone with an actual name for sending said pitches. The forms of writing they suggested were pretty broad (from essays and news to humor and lists), so I'm having complete idea block just coming up with something I do well.

Actually, let's face it. There's a chance that the veil of self-effacing pessimism and ironic detachment that I developed in the 90s may have to do with some serious self esteem issues about my writing, this despite the fact I was accused last year of having an excessively large ego for having the gall to express differing opinions and trying to explain my positions with facts and logic.

I may also be harboring bitterness about that incident as well, it turns out.

But anyway, if I've ever written anything you like (or a type of writing that you like), let me know so I can figure this thing out. So far my only idea is about being a semipro rugby team groupie. I could write about teaching, but there are many problems with my writing on that topic, especially if I'm trying to be funny and wanting to keep my day job. You know, food costs and everything.

Insert transition that makes the sudden change in topic and tone make sense here.

This is going to seem like a weird thing to include in the same post as a light-hearted request for suggestions, but two of the guys who graduated high school with me died this week. The truth is, when I heard, I didn't really feel anything. Despite growing up in a very rural area and graduating with a class of only about 120 students, I didn't really know either kid. I actually recognized the name of the first one to die and had a vague impression of the kind of person he was in school, but the second was a name I don't remember and even a visit to his Facebook page where he had photos of himself didn't ring any bells. This is normal for me. I've never been very outgoing and unless we're close, share some major interest or you make an effort to keep in touch with me, I spend very little time thinking about you. It's not elitism or dislike. It's just that social interaction is work for me and I'm a naturally lazy person. I'm only really comfortable with relationships where I know exactly where I stand and the other person puts in at least half of the work. In other words, if I've ever e-mailed or texted you, you're really important to me. If I've ever called you without having a very specific and practical reason, then you're probably my wife. If you're not my wife and remember an actual phone conversation with me that wasn't about a specific need or question, you called me.

Because of that, I'm often embarrassed when approached by former classmates or get asked by my students if I remember their mom/dad/cousin/brother/sister/aunt/uncle/whatever. Show me a picture and I may recognize the person, but probably not the name. I don't remember them. They weren't important to me, not because I looked down on them but because I had no more reason to emotionally connect with them than I do some random dude in Syria. Sure the civil war there is depressing and I hate the loss of life it entails, but I can't get too emotionally worked up about it. I only have so much social capital and I have to be careful where I invest it. The deaths of those two guys who happen to be my age and from the same hometown feel the same to me as the deaths of a Syrian villager or a South Sudanese refugee. This may seem cold, but tell me how many tears and thoughts you've spent on specific individuals in Syria or South Sudan.

This social detachment makes it ironic that I got my feelings hurt at a school sports banquet last night. At the end of the banquet the seniors made their farewell speeches and they always make sure to thank the coaches. This year I didn't coach the high school, I coached the middle school so I was there for the middle school portion of the banquet, but I had coached those four seniors for three years before this. I liked all of them. These are kids whose names I probably will remember in four years. These are kids whose fates will be of more personal interest than random Syrian strangers. That's why when only one of them actually thanked me in their speech, it bothered me a little. Even though I was sitting right next to their coaches for this year and even though the kid who actually thanked me went first, two didn't mention me at all and the fourth only thanked me by way of showing just how awesome the woman who replaced me was.

Except that's not an accurate portrait of what happened. It's an accurate portrait of what that emotional intuitive part of my brain felt and I've always been extremely skeptical of that part of who I am. My feelings were hurt, but I have trouble ignoring multiple sides and explanations for things. This makes me annoying if you're trying to talk through your feelings with me and it's even more annoying when it's me with the stupid emotions. This slight can easily be explained away. First, these are kids. I know from ten years' experience how tactless and accidentally mean teenagers can be. (They're rarely capable of being this subtle when they intend on being mean.) I also had almost no contact with these kids this season. I went to a couple of matches, but I don't teach seniors and never went to practices. They probably thought about me no more than I thought about them and that would be fair. Second, being used as an example of how great the new coach is shouldn't be insulting. The girl's entire point was that having another woman there who could understand her better was a nice change from the all male coaching staff she'd always had before. It's an entirely valid point. I am not a woman. I don't think I come off creepy, but it probably was nice for our girls to have someone of their own gender in a leadership position for them. For any kid looking to personally connect with their coach, I'm not the best candidate. I understand that. I don't go out of my way to make connections with people. I stay in a social comfort zone, and don't reach out to them. When I was coaching the high school, I was just about tennis. I didn't concern myself with their social lives. When I talked to them it was always related to the team and the sport. Because I don't talk about my personal life with them, they're not going to come to me with theirs.

I should be immune to feeling this way. After all, I understand it's my fault. If I'd been more outgoing, more personal, more open with them, they would have liked me better and thought of me more when I left. But I think this taps into something that was part of why I left the high school team to start with. The other male coach is just like me in his social connection with the team, but he sits higher in their thoughts. Why? He's the tennis expert. I was a competent coach by small-school standards, but I wasn't the expert. I never played or coached at the levels he played and coached at before retiring to be a part-time high school coach. The kids knew that. I knew that. I was okay with that. The problem is that the only way to make up for that deficit is to be more parental, the guy who shows true warmth and caring and makes them feel a part of a greater group, but I'm not that guy. I actually did feel that way about most of my players. I cared about their success on and off the court, and that's why I think this hurt a little. The feelings weren't mutual because I wasn't able to make them mutual.

Luckily, at the lower level where I coach now, I am the expert. I don't have to be the daddy. The other guy can do that. I just have to coach. And if you're worrying about my kids, don't. I have no trouble being open and warm with them, no more than I do with my wife, but then they make it easy. I know what a dad should be. The aloof, reserved man my athletes have always known will always be a stranger to my own kids. That's the way it should be.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

I Like Sports

Photo: Nic Taylor, Flickr Creative Commons

I'm not exactly sure how I ended up discovering today's topic. I started the day looking at random Minor League Baseball caps. (By the way, if you want to buy me this, this, this, or this, I'll gladly accept the gift.) I think it started out with me realizing that there are two minor league teams with Burlington in their name, neither of which turned out to be from Vermont. Then I went to Wikipedia's page for Burlington, VT, to see what sports teams they did have (turns out their baseball team is the Vermont Lake Monsters). Somehow that turned into doing the same thing for Jacksonville, FL. They have a bunch of teams, although only one is in a major league. The Jaguars are probably the worst franchise in the NFL, but they also have a minor league baseball team, an Arena Football League team, a semipro basketball team, and will have a minor league pro soccer team next year.

They also have a semipro rugby team and one that is apparently pretty good as they went undefeated in their first season in 2012 and lost in the league final last year. The Jacksonville Axemen play in the US Rugby League, which plays under the Rugby League code as opposed to the Rugby Union code most of you will be more familiar with (if you're familiar with rugby to start with). Basically, the rules in Rugby League result in fewer chances to fight over possession for the ball, meaning the gameplay is faster paced and supposedly a little safer. For people more familiar with American football, the pace of Rugby Union is already ridiculously fast paced. League just takes that up a notch.

Now, I already love rugby. If I were able, I'd watch a lot more of it. The problem is that DirecTV has locked up pretty much every rugby competition worth watching on private deals for their personal rugby station and I have Dish Network. I'm also a lot more familiar with Rugby Union. The international competitions that got me into rugby in the first place (Tri-Nations, Rugby World Cup) are Union. There are comparable competitions in League, but they don't get any coverage in the US. When rugby returns to the Olympics 2016, it'll be the sevens form of Union. I have never actually watched a League game.

Despite this, I'm seriously considering going to a few games. I'll probably be in Atlanta when the Axemen play the Atlanta Rhinos. Jacksonville isn't far from me at all by local standards of distance to a city. Going to a few of their games this summer could be an easy excuse to get out of the house, especially since we're not really going on vacation this year. The games are cheap. The normal season ticket is $30. The most expensive is $75. Single games are $8 and kids are free. I wouldn't mind the excuse to go back and revisit Aardwolf Brewing and Green Room Brewing.

Those two breweries are incredible, by the way, and you're basically not going to get to try them unless you go to Jacksonville. Intuition Ale Works and Pinglehead weren't bad either and neither seem to have very wide distribution.

There are some catches to this idea of following a Jacksonville rugby team, though. First, there is the aforementioned Atlanta team in the same league and I have a strong tendency to default to the Atlanta team in any league where an Atlanta team exists. It makes picking a team easier (and picking a team makes following a sport easier), and Atlanta is a city where I actually spend a lot of time despite living a couple of hundred miles away. Jacksonville is closer, but they don't have a lot of teams in sports I care about and I hate Florida. I really, irrationally, hate the state of Florida. The only place I'll root against more than Florida is New York City and the New York thing is less about hate than it is my tendency to prefer the underdog over the favorite. New York is the Yankees of cities.

I actually just hate the Yankees.

Despite my strong dislike of Florida (its weather and speed traps are what I imagine inspired the creation of Hell), I've mellowed on Jacksonville in the last two years. Sure it's the epitome of urban sprawl. Sure it has crappy weather in the summer. Sure it's in Florida, but it's not the crapfest I'd always assumed it to be. They've got good restaurants. They've got good beer. They have interesting neighborhoods. Plus, Jacksonville really, culturally, should be the spirit city for where I live much more than Atlanta. I think I could manage one team in Jacksonville without feeling too dirty.

I'm still going to Jacksonville Armada games next season dressed in full Silverbacks gear, though. Screw Florida.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

I'm Nervous

Tomorrow is my last day of work this week. This after last weekend went from a scheduled 4-day weekend to a 5-day weekend because of weather (rain, not ice). Friday morning, I'll be driving to Alabama to get ready for the Cheaha 50k trail run on Saturday.

I am very nervous about this race.

Why? Part of it is the distance. I've run 26.2 miles before. Well, I ran about 20 of those miles and then started taking occasional walking breaks after that. 50k is the same as 31 miles. Thirty one miles is longer than 26.2. Thirty one is 11 miles longer than 20 miles, which is the farthest I've ever run without stopping. I think I'm more nervous about the terrain. This race is in a slightly mountainous region of Alabama where you run up to the highest point in the state. There's a lot of climbing. I'm not good at climbing. I'm a big guy, over 200 lbs. I also live in a place where it is impossible to train on similar terrain on a regular basis. That's not ideal training.

There's also the fact that I ended up with a serious chest cold this weekend that still hasn't completely dissipated. I got winded walking up a single flight of stairs on Sunday. Add to that the fact that something weird happened to my foot on Saturday when I stepped on the threshold of my front door on the way outside and twice had a sharp shooting pain that felt like a wasp was stinging me from inside the bottom of my foot. It felt a little bruised a day or two later.

Luckily all of that is passed or passing. I ran again yesterday and my foot is fine. My chest is clearing up in a hurry, partly because I went to the doctor to speed up the process, although I'm still not 100 percent there. I spent a lot of yesterday's run trying to figure out how to run through coughing fits. It's harder than it sounds.

Despite these worries, I'm really looking forward to the challenge. I'm not sure I've been as excited for a race since my first Peachtree or my first triathlon. We'll see how things turn out.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Debates Are Stupid, But...

Photo: Anant Nas Sharma, Flickr Creative Commons

Before I get to today's post, I remembered this week that I created a blog last year that is not connected to this account so I could keep my running/biking/triathlon stuff off of this blog. I like to keep this blog semi-anonymous so I can be a little more open with what I write about, and it's annoying writing about all of that anonymously. No one will be offended that I'm a middle of the pack runner, so that stuff deserves its own spot. If you want to follow me there, leave a comment below and I'll get you the link. I don't want any direct connection between these two blogs.

As for today, I've watched/listened to about half of the debate last night between Bill Nye and Ken Ham. I may listen to more of it after work if I'm out of podcasts. Listening to it, I was reminded of something I'd read an hour earlier while teaching Thomas Paine to my 11th graders. "Yet it is folly to argue against determined hardness; eloquence may strike the ear, and the language of sorrow draw forth the tear of compassion, but nothing can reach the heart that is steeled with prejudice."

That basically sums up the debate and that basically explains my title for today's post. Ham has decided that a very literal interpretation of Genesis is the only option, and he freely ignores any evidence to the contrary. The irony in Paine's statement is that judging from his tone, he was at least as guilty of being set in his opinion as the Colonial loyalists he said should be kicked off the continent and whose property should be confiscated to finance the Revolution.

I don't think that specific irony applies to Nye and many like them. I believe them when they claim if that they were given real evidence to support the claims of Creationists that they would change their minds. After all, that's how science works. The modern understanding of evolution and natural selection is not exactly the same as the idea that Darwin set down in the Origin of Species. Since the publication of that book, new evidence has been discovered that has led scientists to modify the theory. True, Darwin and his most famous book are still taught and often revered in scientific circles, but, like Nye pointed out, any scientist would love to disprove such a foundational theory as evolution is to biology. It would make his career.

Besides, Ham never really made any real points. He has three main arguments (at least so far). His main argument, the one he keep coming back to is that we weren't there, so we can't know that things worked the same way throughout history. This is technically true. In fact, assuming systems like climate and ecosystems are unchanging would lead to bad conclusions. The problem is that his point is even more valid when attacking his own position. We weren't there when the Bible was written. How should we know whether to take the creation story literally or figuratively. When your only guide to the authenticity of the evidence is the item of evidence itself, there are obvious questions left unanswered. At least with science there are ways at looking at other things and seeing if they support the evidence.

He also kept referencing scientists and inventors who are creationists. It is true that some scientists are young earth creationists, but these are fringe scientists or people in unrelated disciplines. Trying to convince the public that these guys are more legitimate usually results in creationists having to resort to conspiracy theories, which is ridiculous. Like mentioned earlier, if these guys had good evidence, they would be stars in the fields of physics and biology and not outcasts.

His final main point is that if we allow science to go unopposed, religion dies and that's bad for kids. I think that people like Ham do more harm to belief in religion than any science textbook ever written. After all, what are intelligent children expected to do when faced with a preponderance of evidence suggesting an ancient universe and evolution through natural selection and religious fundamentalists claiming that their religion says the truth is some crackpot idea unsupported by the facts? I think that if I had grown up in a religious environment where the science was acknowledged and a figurative reading of the creation story was accepted that I would have never been driven away from organized religion. People like Ken Ham try to force believers to make a choice between reality and faith when the choice does not have to be made. While it is true that mainstream scientists to to be atheist and agnostic at a higher rate than the average American, that doesn't mean that there aren't completely mainstream Christian scientists. They just aren't Ham's scientists.

And this is why I hate myself. I just spent all this time writing this post about something not even Bill Nye should have given the time to validate by arguing the point.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Jamie Casino: Master of WTF Advertising

Unless you live in the Savannah television market like I do, you probably didn't see this advertisement. It was the first commercial that ran at the beginning of halftime during last night's Super Bowl. It's insane. It makes no sense. It's full of Orthodox iconography and a sledgehammer that makes dirt burn. It definitely made me obsess over who Jamie Casino is and just why he smashes his brother's gravestone with the aforementioned hammer.

Seriously. Watch it.

For a little context, Casino is a personal injury lawyer in Savannah and his brother was murdered in 2012 and he claims he was misled by police. After a little research, it turns out that issue was that the Police Chief said there were "no innocent victims" during a press conference and the families of the victims took offence. The police chief issued a statement saying that Casino's brother and girlfriend weren't suspected of any wrongdoing related to their deaths and the murderers were later arrested. Later, the police chief retired while being investigated for sexual harassment unrelated to the murder case. Still, Casino's a personal injury lawyer, not a prosecutor, so I'm thinking he's just cashing in on his brother's death. He's not really putting villains behind bars or even hunting them down for vigilante justice like the ad makes it sound. Despite all that, the ad is still insane and fascinating. Here's an interesting piece that appears to be written by Jamie Casino on CNN's citizen reporting site. That's his side of the story.

Here's my interpretation of the ad:

The guy is a personal injury lawyer whose brother is murdered. Casino realizes it's an interesting story that he can dramatize for a Super Bowl ad and create something that will really stick his name in people's minds. It sounds sleazy, but this guy is a personal injury lawyer who advertises heavily. When has that type of lawyer ever not sounded sleazy? I'll even accept that he was really ticked off about how the murders were handled.

And if you have any idea what the actual point he's trying to make in the ad (beyond "I'm a lawyer and I'd like your money"), please fill me in with a comment.

Because I still have no idea what's going on.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Wrestler

Photo: Alvaro Tapia, Flickr Creative Commons

It's difficult for me to know how best to teach my son to be tough. On one hand, a certain type of toughness, tenacity, is an incredibly valuable trait for a person. It's something I wish I had more of. On the other hand, sensitivity isn't necessarily a bad thing. Not only that, I want to be careful not to cross the line from trying to help the kid become the best he can be and being a total jerk.

This is part of the reason we signed him up for youth wrestling. I thought it would be good for him to do something that wouldn't come easily for him and have to really fight to succeed. Of course, that wasn't the only reason. He also really loves play wrestling at home with me, so I thought it would be something he'd enjoy. I was right. He looked forward to practices. He talked about going to tournaments after the team season was over. His first match impressed us with the toughness and fight he had in him. After all, he's like me. We're both gentle souls and neither of us are really all that driven to beat other people. We both like to win, but beating others isn't the motivation. Despite that, here he was doing everything he could to not get pinned (he never did) and try to pin the other kids (he did a couple of times).

The problem was after that, the matches didn't go so well. First, the kid is only 6. He was the youngest kid on the team, just like he's usually the youngest kid in his grade. This is easy to forget with his size (he's usually one of the biggest kids in his grade) and his vocabulary, which surpasses that of some of my high school students. He's often tired after school, especially on the days he goes to gifted, which happened to be the same day as the matches. Like his mother, he doesn't always handle being tired with the most grace. He tends to get emotional and let things gets blown out of proportion late in the day. In two of the matches this season, he spent half of the evening crying about little things that he'd normally be able to brush off. It took me until the second of these matches, one last week where we actually took him home early because he couldn't control himself, to realize the problem. He was frustrated. In the regular season matches, they don't weigh in. He would often wrestle kids who were older, more experienced and 10-15 lbs heavier. He wasn't winning. When he was trying, he was holding his own, but he couldn't win. This frustration led him to freak out because someone stepped on his foot or got him in a hold that was too close to his neck. Never once did he actually get injured, but he didn't have the emotional strength to fight through it. It was frustrating for us too. He was the only kid there who cried. Trying to talk to him at the time didn't seem to help. He just wasn't rational enough.

We did keep talking to him for the rest of the week, however. We kept telling him that it's okay to lose. It's going to happen sometimes, but as long as he keeps trying, we're proud of him no matter what happens. We even made a deal that we'd buy Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 if he'd be tough and really try at Monday's tournament. The tournament was the real deal. Instead of the refs just keeping the matches fair and safe, they'd actually be keeping score. Instead of a pin resetting the match and having the kids get up and start over, a pin would end the match automatically. The kids had to be weighed and put into weight classes. The winner got medals. This was the entire point of the whole season. I wasn't sure if that'd get him to really try or cause a freak-out.

In warm ups, I lost a little hope that he'd do well. While sparring with another kid on the team, he started crying. We're still not sure why, but after my wife talked to him, we knew he wasn't hurt. Luckily for him, the high school wrestlers who run the team and coach the kids have surprised me all season with how well they handle my son and the various other problem behaviors of the young kids they coach. They talked the boy down and by the time they lined up at the mat for their age and weight group, he was fine.

Then came his first match. The kid was shorter, but broader and seemed to be possibly stronger than E. The match started off not going in his favor. The short kid was controlling the play. E was taken down and never managed to take the other kid down. The score was close (4-6 before it ended), but all of his points came from getting out or reversing the other kid's moves. This kid kept going after E's head and neck, a trigger for his freak outs in previous matches, but I could tell he was really fighting to keep it together this time. He was also doing the moves we worked on with him on for the past week to give him more of a sense of control when the other kid had him locked around the neck or head. It was the last time that the other kid had taken him down, E on his hands and knees and the other kid locked around his neck that the match changed. E grabbed the kid's wrist, pulled away and reared back. The kid fell off onto his own back, E pounced, and within seconds, he'd gone from losing to winning by a pin.

I went down to to congratulate him and it seemed like his win hadn't registered yet. His response to my congratulations was, "I want to cry, but I'm not." He had been getting frustrated and it was that emotion that he still felt. The pin came so fast, joy hadn't had a chance to take control. It was a little sad to hear, but it made me proud. We've been trying to teach him it's okay for things to go wrong. It's okay to feel bad, but you have to keep fighting. Last week, he would have just quit and let the kid pin him, but instead, he kept working and got a win because of it. A few minutes later, I noticed he finally realized what had happened and he was grinning and celebrating with one of the teen coaches.

Of course, he didn't win them all. He lost his last match of the night. The other kid was closer to his height and after E deflected a few of his charges, the kid managed to get a hold on him and take him down. Instead of landing on his stomach, which would have given E a good chance to escape because he's hard to roll over, he landed on his back and the other kid was quick to attack. After an extended struggle, the other kid managed to get the pin. Oddly, he seemed less upset about this outcome than he had earlier, but I think the win helped ease the frustration of this loss. I went down to tell him how proud I was of him for working so hard and gave him a hug. After that, it was just a wait for the awards ceremony.

Turns out that he got second place. He's gotten medals before. He's gotten them for the reading program at school. He's gotten them for his running of the mile at local races, but this one seemed to be a bigger deal to him. He grinned like a madman on the podium with the other medalists. He ran up to us to excitedly show of his medal and then did the same to the coaches (who treated him like a star). When we got home, he demanded to be able to wear it to bed and he did (although under his shirt to keep it from tangling on anything). I think it's because he recognizes that this one was harder to get. Reading and school come easy for him, too easy, probably. Running the mile is almost as natural to him as reading. This, however, was hard. Things went wrong. He got upset. He fought through and was rewarded. That why it's important to him.

When I went in his room to see him this morning while getting ready he looked at me and said, "I don't deserve the medal or the movie."

"Why," I asked. "What did you do?"

"I just don't deserve it." He sounded dejected. We'd gotten home after 10 pm last night and his bedtime is normally 8. This is the moodiness I mentioned earlier. I worried that today was going to be a bad day.

"Yes, you do. Didn't you work hard for that? Didn't you keep fighting even when it was hard? Isn't that exactly what we wanted you to do?"

"Yes." He looked at his medal and paused. "Look at the cool flames on the ribbon. They're blue! Can we do those tournaments in Atlanta the coach was talking about?"

"We'll see."