The email was as clear as a Steve Waugh stare at a steaming Curtly Ambrose. Parents are encouraged to enjoy the many excellent local coffee shops and do some shopping at the nearby not-Westfield mall and return to collect their son at the end of practice. Their child was otherwise in the capable and professional hands of the excellent coaches, so there was no need to hang around and watch.
Enjoy your Sunday morning!
My wife was the one who picked up the polite but less than subtle message. All I read was ‘Congratulations, your son has been invited to trial for this year’s Under 12 representative team and we want you to be there for every step of his nerve-tingling journey, so please come along and obsessively watch his every shot, bowl or throw at the stumps. Feel free to interrupt if you feel he is not getting a fair share of opportunities and even take one of the coaches aside if you believe they have not recognised your son as the next Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc or Nathan Lyon.’
I even went to the trouble of explaining to my wife that the email simply meant we were welcome to stay but that we might want a short recess (ten minutes, max!) during the hour and a half he was practising.
Wrong again! Wrong, wrong, wrong.
They (the coaches) didn’t want us near the place. ‘You’re outta here! Your son can manage without you for an hour and a half. He might even learn to organise his own gear, if he’s been allowed to.’
This was not what we were used to.
For the past two years we had been to every cricket, basketball, Oztag or football practice, trial and game our son and daughter had played, whether for their school or at representative level. We had stood or sat on the sidelines for hundreds, even thousands of hours, pouring over every bowl, kick, hit or pass, cheering, clapping, grimacing or smiling in rapid rotation.
Now we were being told, ‘Don’t bother coming. Your son can cope. You’ll have to!’
They were even expected to carry their own cricket bags in to the training centre! WHAT IS GOING ON ?!
The day’s session was the first of four over consecutive Sunday mornings. We had explained to our son that we wouldn’t be staying for the entire thirteen million nano-seconds because the coaches wanted to kidnap him and the other boys and take them to Mars. He understood, although he did ask, ‘But you will be there for some of it ?’ I told him we’d come back once Hell had thawed. Otherwise, the coaches wanted the boys to manage on their own.
Our son was in the second group of hopefuls from 10:30-12:00, so, with 12 year old “not-interested-in cricket-but-nothing to do at home” daughter in tow, my wife and I delivered our son to the black hole in which he was to be apparently sucked and permanently lost to the dark side. Parents from the first group had already arrived to collect their recovered sons, standing among the sprawl of cricket bags, arms folded, watching junior Bradmans and Lillees go through their final few minutes or, for those who didn't fear that there son was to spirited away by demons, chatting with other parents.
Our son stepped inside warily, set down his equipment and immediately spied teammates from last year’s team. I was filled with gushing sense of relief. ‘Yeah, ‘bin here before’, I heard myself thinking. Other boys, perhaps because it was their first time trialling for the team, seemed a little toe-tapping nervy, eyes darting anxiously, but at least our son had walked into the warm embrace of familiarity. Maybe we could leave him for an hour or so without feeling we were sacrificing him to the coaching devils.
Gradually the first group, after a stretch and debrief from the coaches, shuffled out with their parents, some talking excitedly about the morning, others more businesslike, leaving just our son’s group to take in instructions from the coaches about the session ahead.
My wife, daughter and I stayed long enough to watch our son bat impressively, but for being bowled by one excellent delivery from a young man named Alex, who had also played on the team last year, then we (reluctantly, me) decided it was time to retire to the small shopping centre across the road. By this time we were the only families left. We didn’t want to embarrass our son, at least any more than I had already managed to do in his short sporting career.
We killed time comfortably enough, especially as my wife had “things” she wanted to do, which is a euphemism for shopping, also one of our daughter’s favourite past-times, especially as it involves spending our money. Throw in a coffee break and before I could shout ‘Howzat?’ we were back at the cricket centre for the last ten minutes while the boys were warming down.
Unsurprisingly, our son and his fellow trialists did not appear to have spent the past hour or more being abused and insulted by their coaches. They were practising earnestly and fervently, but appeared to be having fun. A quick glance at his neatly zipped up cricket bag, moreover, showed no evidence that he was hopelessly unable to manage himself.
In fact, it appeared that he got along without us very well, to paraphrase a well-known jazz standard of long ago.
As the session ended the boys each shook the coaches by the hand and thanked them before gathering their cricket gear and leaving with their parents. As we were leaving I asked our son if he enjoyed himself, but I knew the answer. ‘It was great !’, he replied, and then went on to explain the drills they had gone through.
‘And the coaches ?’ I asked, because a coach can make sport a child’s dream or an absolute nightmare. Some coaches forget that while competition and winning are important, outcomes in junior sport are often governed by whether or not kids feel as if they matter.
‘Fantastic, really nice. It feels like a team already.' At that moment, our son's coach of last season, Matt, wandered by and beamed. 'Great session today J; looks like you've picked up from last year.' His outward conviviality was both disarming and deceiving though. He was a tough mentor.
Our son smiled back. Matt was his hero.
Of course. Just below the surface of my parent anxiety, I knew he’d be in good hands and he wouldn’t have to hold mine. He was becoming a young man and I would have to start letting go, as gut wrenching as that would be.
So who was really on trial ? Turns out it was me, us, we parents, even the coaches, whose job it was to enrich the experience of the boys we had entrusted with their care. I think most of us got a pass mark. Certainly it was the hardest earned B- I've ever earned. Can and will do better in the future.
Next time, we would repeat the routine of the first day, but I might just pop in, just for a glance, you know, to see that he hasn't been carried away by screeching demons, like the character Carl in Ghost. My son looked relieved but added, with wisdom I wished I possessed, ‘Just don’t stay too long.’