I ripped this title from a song called Beach Zombies by Skye, with the lyric, “ooh, I’m tryna be a f***ing villain.” The Beautiful South is a great band who writes songs that are sometimes very, very dark but always sound like angels (Woman In The Wall, for example.) Beach Zombies sounds like a sweet love song, except for the lyrics. I’m not tryna be a villain, but I’ve at least got to consider the possibility that I am. Do villains usually know they’re the villains, or is good and bad a matter of the perspective of the one with the pen (or keyboard or Twitter or TikTok account)?
As you already know, I have a complicated relationship with youth sports. There are 2 ways to look at a successful coach. A wrong way, measured solely in wins and losses. And a right way, where the athletes are mentored in a sport by well-meaning people with character and integrity. They are taught sport and competition, but they are also shown the connection between this specific sport and a beautiful life off the field/court/pitch/etc. We have not had awesome luck with either. And I drift in and out of that dad in the stands, complaining and pointing out the obvious deficiencies.
I also coach baseball and I do not win games too often, but I bet you’d like to trust me with your kids for an overwhelming amount of time in season. And once, last year, a previous coach walked up and down the line of parents/fans loudly detailing my every flaw (through his eyes). It was disappointing and embarrassing, until he spent a whole inning informing MY WIFE, the Angel, of my ‘mistakes,’ at which point it became hilarious. A, it’s my wife and that seems like some kind of societal code violation. And B, if you want to talk about my flaws and mistakes, the Angel is already very well aware.
Am I that guy, embarrassing myself as I loudly expose my insecurities???? Am I the villain in this story??
Yes, of course these coaches aren’t doing any mentoring (well, not any particularly good mentoring – they are certainly showing a kind of example), and aren’t winning. They are obviously, publicly, having a very rough time navigating the tremendous responsibility and wonderful honor of the position.
Do you know what the main feeling I had for that guy, walking up the sidelines trashing me? Yes, of course, I felt anger, indignation, embarrassment, shame, and the need to fight in relatively small amounts, but the biggest portion by a long shot was sadness. I wanted him to be ok with himself, to not have his inadequacy the keys to his behavior. I was sad that he looked so foolish. I wanted to hug him and tell him he was enough, and that I liked him.
Why don’t I feel sad for these coaches? I know it’s because the sideline guy was attacking me, these guys are hurting my son.
But as much as we can learn from a positive sports experience, we can learn an equal amount from the inverse. How do we respond to adversity, to unfairness, to frustration, rage, and broken hearts? Can we still relate with class and dignity in our pain? How do we lose well?
We’ve been discussing these questions and ideas in my house, I’m trying to guide him on this treacherous path. But then I am sitting in the stands with my big mouth and open wounds. I think I probably am a villain, but I think we probably are all villains at some points, in some spaces.
Today is a new day. There’s a game in a few hours and it’ll drive me crazy, but it is a new opportunity to answer for myself the same questions my boy is facing. How will I respond? It’s only youth sports, but it’s an awful lot more. It’s always, always, a variation of “Who am I?” Sure, sometimes we forget, but the truth remains, and every circumstance is another chance to affirm the beauty of that answer,