January 21st, 2018

Nothing wrong with a bit of nerves

By Woodard, Dale on September 12, 2017.

How do players deal with the nerves that arrive with competition? It’s a question I always hear on big-time sports media. It’s a question you hear at the start of every season, and the players always have a ready answer. They focus on their job, playing their game and taking things one shift/play/series/period/game/week/set/match/opponent at a time.

I want to tell you what they really do. I’ve been in the concourse of enough games to see what really happens and I was reminded of it at the first day of preschool at Coalhurst Elementary School.

See, my youngest just started there and I had to pick him up Monday afternoon. It was the first day of what you could call real classes – if you can call a whirlwind of sandboxes, painting easels and block-stacking class. What it is, I cannot determine, only that this is my third child to sing, count and climb there and they are all doing fine.

As I waited outside the classroom a pair of young parents peeked into the room. They were nervous. One was relieved her son apparently finished the day without incident. The other was concerned that her child’s speech difficulties wouldÉ well, I’m not sure what she was worried about. A lack of elocution isn’t a criminal offence in a world where the American president can’t pronounce “big league.”

You want to talk about nerves, though? The nervousness hung off them like the smoke smothering Lethbridge right now. That anxious, hissing inhale of air people do? They did it. The squinted glance into the classroom.

It’s OK to be nervous, of course. The hockey, baseball, basketball and curlers I’ve seen at the top level will tell you that they don’t suppress or ignore the butterflies they feel.

These moms weren’t WHL players. There isn’t a crowd of thousands ready to watch their kids’ every move. But they are moms. It’s a big world out there, and sometimes your children are your only public relations firm. There’s no media relations officer ready to spin things if your kid paints his ears or eats glue in preschool.

“Missy, we saw Little Johnny’s brown spot as he climbed the jungle gym, do you have anything to say about that?”

“Jenny doesn’t seem to have a grasp on her ABCs and you have to think the Grade 1 scouts are going to want that to improve or her draft position could land her in a back-row desk.”

The nerves, however, are real. It makes sense. You love your kids but we’ve all had one of them come running out of the bathroom yelling “Somebody wipe my bum!” while trailing a hallway’s worth of toilet paper behind them. One of mine mowed the lawn in his underwear. Another had to pee in an empty Tim Hortons apple juice bottle because I was not about to pull off a busy road in Edmonton when the Red Robin was five minutes away.

These are kids, they embarrass us. They take our hair, our patience and most of our lives while intermittently reminding us that despite all the crap they throw at us – figuratively, I hope but won’t expect – they will give us some great moments.

In the lower concourse of the Enmax Centre, the Lethbridge Hurricanes breathe deeply and let the crowd noise swell over them. If you watch them, they hit the ice, gliding or churning before either looking way up or bending their hips and staring at the ice. They accept the roiling, nervous energy and then get on with the game of hockey.

I could tell these parents that it gets easier. You learn not to sweat an occasional brown spot, it’s true. You realize, eventually, that all kids are weird little creatures that alternate between adorable and strangle-able (not a word). The anxiousness of sending your little PR nightmares untrained into the wild never fully goes away. Even for an old veteran like myself.

I get called Grandpa a lot. As in “Are you Rowan’s Grandpa?” It gives me a false pretense of wisdom but I was right to tell these two fellow child-raisers that we all think our kids’ problems are bigger than anyone else’s. We all think pronouncing Rs at preschool needs to be fixed or we’ll get fired as parents. We can’t see that every preschooler wipes their nose on their arm. Or their friend’s arm.

It’s OK. The nerves and anxiety of being a parent aren’t paralyzing, only omnipresent.

Roll your shoulders, look way up, feel that crowd and get on with the business of parenting, the one you know you’re good at.

I promise that your kids, all our kids, will be just fine.

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