Mother's technique in child development vs. a coach's way

July 25, 1995|By SUSAN REIMER

Let me go on record right here as saying that I think self-esteem is a fine, fine thing, and I have always wanted my children to have their share of it and maybe some extra to call on in hard times.

I have stroked my children and praised them for everything from godliness to not tripping over their own two feet, and I have never doubted what a good thing I was doing.

And I must be doing a pretty serviceable job, because I have noticed my children have all the self-esteem they need plus some, because it appears to rush out of their lungs and roll over their vocal cords and come flying out of their mouths when I least appreciate it, such as in public or when I've had a tough day.

On those occasions, I swear my children's self-esteem is going to cause them to sit funny for several days except that my better self knows that would be bad for their self-esteem.

I say all this to let you know that after cultivating my children's self-esteem like a rare orchid, I don't appreciate spending hundreds of dollars to send them to a sports camp where all my hard work is plowed under by some twentysomething soccer coach with big thigh muscles and a bigger mouth.

"You can't kick, you can't pass, you can't trap and you can't shoot. What the hell can you do?" the soccer coach asked as my son tried what I'm sure was some version of his best in 100-degree heat.

Let me say right here that all of that might be true. My son might not be able to trap, pass or score, and I have often wondered myself what the hell can he do. But I have never asked that out loud because of what I thought such hard talk would do to his self-esteem.

As you might guess, I wanted to march right up to the coach and flash my former sportswriter credentials and my former sportswriter bad language and let that childless man know that if anybody was going to demoralize my son and cripple his self-esteem, it was going to be me, and I wasn't paying my hard-earned money to have some amateur do it.

My son told me to stay out of it. I should explain that my son is at that awkward age where he still wants his mother to cuddle him when he's had a bad day, but he doesn't want her marching up to anybody and poking her finger in their chest and yelling like he was some delicate little flower who couldn't take it -- which, of course, he is at this age.

So I had to bite my tongue and restrain myself, which, as you might imagine, was very difficult for me and damaging to my self-esteem. Which, by the way, I am getting used to. Damaged self-esteem, that is. It seems to be the lot of us women in general and mothers in particular.

My husband tried to soothe me by explaining that this was the way of the sports world -- as if I'd never been there, thank you very much -- and my son would get used to it. My husband said his high school football coach ridiculed players for their general pansiness and called them by their mother's names, which was particularly hard on my husband, because his mother's name is Viola.

It is not as if I didn't know this. I have covered my share of sports, and I once heard a baseball coach at a Catholic -- if you can believe it -- boys' high school call his players whale excrement (he used a more impolite term) because he said they were the lowest thing in the ocean.

And, after all, I covered the Baltimore Colts when Frank Kush was head coach, and he made a very nice living brutalizing players on the practice field and then telling reporters that the very same players had no spine, not to mention skill.

And I have male friends who served in the military tell me that when you are beaten down so low that the bottoms of your boots look like up to you, you become a much stronger person. But this "bone never breaks at the same spot" theory of personal development is lost on all the mothers who have had to deal with a hysterical child with a broken bone, metaphorically speaking.

I'm willing to go along because I was raised among women and I have no real working notion of what it takes to make a man, and I'm sure it is a long and difficult process. I mean, you can see the results all around you, right?

But just let me say this, because it will help my self-esteem: Don't be asking me to pay good money for soccer shoes and stay up washing sweats every night and get up at dawn to pack his bag so you can send him home hurt and angry and with his self-esteem stuffed in his gym bag like a smelly old towel.

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