Friday, April 19, 2024

On Winning

 For one, brief this moment...I feel like I'm on top of things.

This is not a very common feeling for me; so much of the time I feel like I'm running I'm constantly trying to do the bare minimum to tread water or stay afloat or get just enough done so that things don't completely fall apart. It's like the pressure (I imagine) of going into the 9th inning of a ball game with a one run're winning, but it's a struggle to make sure you don't give up the tying (or go ahead!) run, knowing that you'll be batting the bottom of your order against a really good closer if you somehow screw things up.

Or something like that.

At this moment, I'm feeling comfortable. To continue the baseball analogy, this morning feels like we're in the 4th inning and have a five run lead. Yes, there's still ball to be played...several innings worth...but for the moment, we're taking a breather, cruising a little bit. It's not so imperative to press at the's not so necessary to hold on for dear life. 

I savor these moments: they're few and far between, and they don't last. Tomorrow, for example, is Saturday and we have a soccer game at 9am (Sofia), a playoff volleyball game at 2pm in Bellevue (Diego), and 5pm Mass in Shoreline for the anniversary of my mother's death. On Sunday we'll be hosting Sofia's birthday party (I'll be picking up cupcakes at 10am), Diego's golf at 11ish (unless he skips it for Sofia's party) possibly another playoff volleyball game at 1pm (if we win Saturday), plus a flag football game at 5pm, and (hopefully) dinner reservations in the evening. And sometime between now and tomorrow, I have to pick up supplies and such for the party, and it would probably help to get her a gift of some sort...tricky since the kids get out of school at noon today.

This moment is simply the calm before the storm.

Sometimes, I wonder at how games like Dungeons & Dragons...complex games that take time and effort to master...were ever invented, let alone became popular. Because they WERE popular when I was a kid; popular enough, anyway, that most kids had at least heard of D&D (and, thus, their parents), even if they hadn't played the game. We had sports and school and church and stuff, too, back in the 1980s but we seemed to have far more time for playing D&D then we do now. Hell, we had more time for a LOT of stuff that my kids don't seem to have: bike riding and camping trips and, I read so many books in my youth. So many.

But I know what's different now: we live in the Age of the Screen. The television, the game console, the laptop, the smart phone, the streaming services...all things the eat up the time. 

Yes, of course they offer plenty of convenience and time-saving: my wife only needs to go into an office twice per week, I can write books while parked on my couch, birthday parties can be stocked via Amazon orders and bills can be paid without needing to write checks and place them in the mail. No need to take cooking classes or higher handy-people when How-To videos abound for free on the internet.

And, yet, the screen is mesmerizing, hypnotic, consuming. I can waste hours over the course of the day reading wikipedia entries or streaming useless videos on worthless subject matter. My family can (and does) spend hours of our "free" time watching television shows in the evenings and filling "empty" moments on the weekends. My kids will (when allowed) blow hours of their childhood lives playing nonsensical video games, rather than exercising their own creativity and imagination...and they fail, so often (so, so often) at any sort of self-direction outside of using a game console or screen device for game play. 

At least the weather is getting nicer and I know they will (of their own volition) spend more time in the yard, playing football and baseball and badminton. But indoors, when the sun goes down or the rain comes out? It's back on the screens, more often than not, rather than choosing something NON-screen related. Unless I am there and available for them.

This was not the case in my youth: we had only one screen (the television) and it had less than a half-dozen channels. When my parents were unavailable (which was MOST of the time), my brother and I were forced to entertain ourselves: reading, playing, gaming, or just making shit up. I feel like we even talked more...with each other, with our friends...but perhaps that's a false memory. My kids certainly talk with us (parents) a LOT, if not each other, and there were plenty of times I was absorbed in some book or other rather than engaging with my brother. 

Yeah, that one's probably inaccurate. 


I sat down to write an article "On Winning" and its turned into the usual Old Man Yelling At Clouds post. I am getting to be a geezer, darn it...just in case there wasn't already enough evidence of that. Mm. Let's try to salvage something:

With regard to volleyball, I wrote back in February that youth sports are a wonderfully safe way for kids to learn how to fail, building character calluses that will give them some durability against the future blows life deals out. I also wrote that I expected a lot of failure this season and hoped that it would still be both fun and useful.

Well, it turns out we've had much less failure then I anticipated. The players have been eminently coachable, and the amount of effort and athleticism they've squeezed from their bodies is simply remarkable. We have, for the most part, been under-sized and under-manned in every single game we've played (the sole exception was against a team comprised entirely of 7th graders playing up a year) and still managed to roll out enough victories to be playoff eligible. Every single player on our squad of nine is lacking in one or more key areas: size, speed, skill, confidence, discipline, jumping, serving. And yet they compensate for each others' weak ares and they are scrappy as hell; even the games we've lost (with one exception) have been "tough outs" for our opponents. 

I am immensely proud of them (in case you hadn't guessed). They are playing their best volleyball right now, at the end of the season, and they are excited and eager to play more, to win, in the playoffs. 

And this is the other wonderful thing about youth sports: when it's working, it should be building kids' confidence and sense of self. Team sports, especially, are useful as players find ways to contribute to the team's overall success: yes, some players are stronger than others, but everyone gets their moment to shine. Everyone can celebrate their teammates' individual victories; everyone can be there to support each other in hard moments (and know they have that support). It is so easy to get kids...young, impressionable gel as a cohesive unit, when you give them an opportunity to play and have an objective for their focus. School pride, for example, or a championship run.

Again, old edition D&D is much like this. Players are a team of disparate individuals, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, and yet each necessary and valuable contributors to the team's success. And when they are successful...working with and for each other, picking each other up, doing their own part...that success breeds enthusiasm and energy, eagerness and engagement. All rallied around - and directed towards - a common, shared goal or objective.

Coaching and DMing aren't all that different. In both cases, my work mainly consists of opening my players' eyes so that they SEE what it is they're doing and why. To help them understand the value of both themselves AND their teammates. To FOCUS them so that they can be successful, together, despite their differences.

There is, sadly, not enough of this in our world today (yes, yes, the curmudgeonly opinion of one old geezer). For my own kids, it's important (to me) that I wring out every last drop...for their sake.

Happy Friday, folks.
: )

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