By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck
Years ago, my son was on his high school Freshman football team. At 4’11”, 95 pounds, he was strictly a “fifth quarter” player. The fifth quarter was when all of the kids who hadn’t gotten to play in the “real” game scrimmaged each other. The referees went home, so coaches came on the field and blew the whistles. The public address announcer packed up and the scoreboard was turned off. The parents of the starters were encouraged to watch and cheer, but most of them drifted out too, leaving the stands nearly vacant. But Kathy always stayed until the end.
The drama of the real game was over. It was more like watching a practice. Even though I wished the parents of the starters would stick around and try to lend some atmosphere, I could understand why they didn’t want to stay when their sons were done for the night. It was dark, getting cold and no one had had dinner. Yet every game Kathy sat among us remaining parents and cheered for the fifth quarter kids more than she had for her own boy, who was a star on the team. Each time one of them made a tackle, caught a pass, had a nice run or scored a touchdown, I’d hear her say the jersey number to herself and look it up on her roster card. Then she’d holler out, “Great tackle, Henderson!” or, “Way to go, Bowman!” Her voice echoed across the empty stadium. I know the kids heard it.
For many of them, this was as close as they came to glory. They never got to hear their names called over the stadium PA or experience the roar of the crowd as a result of something they did. But Kathy wanted to make sure that, as much as she could help it, they received recognition and cheers for their effort. With so few people in the stands, parents were too embarrassed to yell out loudly for their own kids. So she stepped in and filled the void.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if more of us – all of us – could be like Kathy? If instead of only being concerned with the good of our own children, we sincerely wished for others to do well too? It reminds me of the nine promises to ourselves that the saint-like John Wooden said would ensure happiness. Number four was: Promise to be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own.
Boy, that’s easier said than done. I know from experience. If another kid does well, that might mean less playing time for your son or daughter. It’s a struggle that I imagine is shared by most parents with children playing competitive sports. That’s what, to me, was so remarkable, so selfless, about Kathy.
Fast forward three years. If anyone had had a reason to quit football and just focus on baseball where size isn’t as much an issue, it would be my fifth quarter player. But he hung in there. He got to play on special teams as a JV Sophomore, and his Junior year he made Varsity and played special teams again. Finally he began to grow and fill out. Then, as a Senior, he won the starting cornerback position and had a fantastic season, earning honorable mention All-League honors on a team that went 10-2 and came within a whiff of winning the city championship. In his final home playoff game, in front of a raucous, fully-packed house, he intercepted a pass at a crucial moment, throwing the fans into a frenzy. He didn’t hear his name over the loudspeaker this night either, because it was drowned out by the crowd.
How many kids from that year’s Senior crop had been fifth quarter players as Freshmen? How many stuck with the team, at least in part, because they were made to feel special on those long-ago nights after most everyone had gone home? I know of one, for sure. Every team, from high school on down needs more parents like Kathy. And the best way for that to happen is for each of us to try to be a little more like her.
Brian Gotta is a former professional youth baseball coach and volunteer Little League coach and board member. He is President of Help Kids Play, a collection of companies whose mission is to further the development and enjoyment of youth sports.