Sunday, April 12, 2009

I Could Have Been a Contender!

I often sit around and regret having never been more dedicated to some past pursuit. If only I had been more serious about tennis (I might have been able to play on a NCAA Div. III tennis team). If only I had been more serious about the saxophone, the piano, the bass clarinet, the tuba, the guitar. If only I had pursued my love of science in college, my disinterest in math be damned.

"If only, if only, the woodpecker sighed."

Maybe I could have changed the course of my life, but honestly, even as much as I whine about it, I'm not sure how much I would want to change my past. I'm also not so sure that the way I went about things was so entirely disappointing.

As a tennis coach, I hear a lot of comments from certain parents and even the other coach about how our team could get to the next level if only we could get several of our players to forsake softball, wrestling, basketball, band, Model UN, and literary competitions and focus on tennis year round. Hearing this often makes me a little sad. I love tennis and I would love to see our team be even better. I even wish I had been more serious in my own training, but not at the expense of my other interests.

One of the great things about a small school like where I went as a kid and where I now teach is that being a modern-day Renaissance man is relatively easy. Our school is pretty successful in most areas of extracurriculars as long as you ignore football, which is admittedly hard to do here. No sports team at the school ever cuts a kid who wants to play. You may never start if you aren't good enough, but if you want to be on the team (and have the grades and behavior to meet state requirements), you're on the team. The system's band program has enough school-owned instruments that even the poorest students can be a part of a very successful band program, a very good thing when the average household income in the county is less than that of what the band director makes by himself. The school policy actually encourages coaches to allow students to participate in multiple extracurricular activities. We're not allowed to punish a player for missing practice due to a school-sponsored activity, and this is a good thing.

Sure, it does keep us from being able to reach our full potential, but then reaching our full potential would keep us from doing much else. Honestly, I'd be a little ashamed of myself if I had never learned to play an instrument, experiment with poultry genetics or fully indulge my love of reading because I was too busy practicing my serve or getting ready for a new tournament every weekend.

And I plan on encouraging the same wide-reaching interests in E. I'll teach him tennis from an early age and encourage him to pursue it as far as he shows interest in pursuing it, but I'm not going to force him to choose between two interests because it keeps him from being the best in one. I'd much rather have a kid who leaves high school proficient in a hundred fields than to have a kid who's the best in only one.

Sure, I may end up missing a vicarious jackpot by not pushing my son to be the next Raphael Nadal, but the chances are so slim for being able to go pro in any sport that I'd much more likely force my child to be one-dimensional for no reason than to prevent him from making a good living at that one thing.


Mickey said...

Yeah, most of the kids I knew in high school who specialized seemed cool at the time, but they were always missing out on other opportunities and none of them went on to careers in their chosen sport.

But I'm sure their path had its own rewards.

courtney said...

I was always glad my parents encouraged me to do things outside school too. I'm a better person for having danced and played piano for so many years, and I always felt bad for the kids I knew who never had hobbies.

A Free Man said...

Well said. I hope that I can do the same thing with my kid(s). I can't imagine being one of those Dad's whose screaming vitriol from the sideline - just don't have the energy - and I'm hoping that I can be supportive without being psychotic. I'm using 'hope' a lot, because so far not a lot of parenting has gone to my 'plan'.