I’m ‘Utterly Clueless’ About Sports, But I Love Playing Hockey With My Son
By Susan Goldberg
PHOTO © Sergey Novikov/123RF
Feb 14, 2018
A confession: I’m not big into team sports.
Those of you who know me well just snorted your coffee out of your nose. “Not big into,” you see, is a euphemism for “utterly clueless and entirely disinterested.”
In other words, team sports are [my son's] passion, his language. And that means that if I want to communicate ... with him, then it is in my best interest to learn that language.
My friends Mike and Kevin once had to sit beside me as we watched our respective sons play at a soccer tournament. During the second half — look at me, using fancy sports language like “second half” — I mused out loud that the opposing team’s goalie looked an awful lot like our goalie. They both stared at me, incredulous. “Susan,” Mike said, slowly, “the teams switch sides each half.” Kevin just buried his face in his palms.
So yes, my name is Susan, and I am utterly clueless about and entirely disinterested in team sports. It’s not that I dislike them. It’s that they don’t even register, the way, say, quilting may not register with a diehard football fan. (And before you start commenting, I’m sure there are many, many diehard football fans out there who are also obsessed with quilting. It’s just that I haven’t met you yet.)
Growing up, I was the outlier in my nuclear family, where both my parents and my brother were rabid sports fans. A game, any game, was always on TV, or dialed up on the car radio. Weekends, my parents dragged me to my brother’s hockey games. Fortunately, the public library was housed in the same community centre as the hockey arena, which was a win-win scenario: they got to watch a game, and I got to bury myself in Beverly Cleary classics.
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I loved my parents dearly and yet I always knew, somewhere deep in my soul, that one day I would grow up to find my own people, and that those people would also not care about team sports. Mostly, I succeeded in this particular quest.
And then I had children.
Apparently, love of sports skips a generation.
It’s not that I dislike [sports]. It’s that they don’t even register, the way, say, quilting may not register with a diehard football fan.
My older son, who is now 13, would have fit right into my childhood home. When he visits my father, they watch sports together. If there’s a ball around, he needs to kick it. If there’s a sign-up sheet for an intramural team, his name is on it. For years, the question we heard most was, “Can I take shots on you in the backyard?” He has taught me how to throw a football and a Frisbee. (I do neither well, but I am better than I was because of his persistence.) These days, some of his best hours are spent playing pickup hockey at local outdoor rinks.
In other words, team sports are his passion, his language.
And that means that if I want to communicate — really communicate — with him, then it is in my best interest to learn that language.
And so, I’m trying. For instance, I now have a favourite hockey team! It’s the Winnipeg Jets, in honour of my parents’ hometown. My son also gives me homework. “You have to be able to name three Jets players by the end of the week,” he’ll tell me, and I will get to work online: Wheeler, Byfuglien, Laine. His (slightly more legitimate) favourite team is the Blackhawks, and so we have committed to watching all Jets-Blackhawks games together this season, which works out to about one game a month. And now I know what a power play is, although I still don’t get offsides. But I have time.
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Also, we bet on the outcomes of these games. If the Jets win, then he has to go on a 5 km hike with me. If the Blackhawks win, then I have to play actual ice hockey with him.
I always knew, somewhere deep in my soul, that one day I would grow up to find my own people, and that those people would also not care about team sports. ... And then I had children.
Which is how I found myself, on Sunday, at an outdoor rink with a too-small, left-handed stick, learning some basics from my son on how to pass a puck.
And you know what? It was kind of glorious. I love skating, and it was fun to try to figure out how to manoeuvre the puck along the ice. What was even more glorious was to be outside on a mild winter afternoon, to watch as my son inevitably got caught up in an all-ages pickup game, where the teenagers and older guys (and one woman) were gentle and affable with the younger kids, how they all skated around the toddlers (and me), how everyone made room for everyone else. It felt more accessible than I thought it would be, and way more fun. It was even more glorious to be able to spend some time outside with one of my kids, to begin to learn his language.
And just when I was thinking how much I hope the Blackhawks win again, he said to me, “Now that I know you can play, I’m going to make you play hockey with me all the time.”
I didn’t protest, didn’t say that he was greatly exaggerating my skills. I just nodded and said, “Any time.”