“If you make every game a life and death proposition, you’re going to have problems. For one thing, you’ll be dead a lot.”
- Dean Smith
My eight-year-old daughter participated in her first Taekwondo tournament this weekend. She confirmed she’d do her forms, but she didn’t know if she’d spar. Sparring has been a challenge for her because it’s against the kind of person she is.
From an early age, I’d describe her as: Generous. Fair.
As a toddler, if someone asked her for a potato chip, she’d hand out a big one.
If she has food or toys to split for a game, she made sure everyone had the same amount.
She lets her playmates get first choice.
If playing a board game, she lets the other person go first.
In soccer, she had a hard time with the concept of stealing the ball from an opponent.
In sparring, it was hard for her to be aggressive. But Taekwondo has helped her harness her inner-fierceness into competitiveness.
We sat in the middle near a group of women with girls about my daughter’s age. I noticed one girl about my daughter’s size shared my daughter’s name. I forgot about it.
My daughter did her forms to the left. She was nervous but did okay considering it was her first tournament.
One of her coaches convinced her to spar. Buoyed from doing her forms, she agreed. Her first match went well. She won. I was so proud of her and she was beaming.
Here and there, I noticed the women near me shouting for their girls louder and more aggressively than any of the other parents. The mother of the girl who shared my name was particularly vocal. It reminded me of when I was a kid playing soccer, and there was always a parent or two who cared way too much. I’d feel sorry for those kids because they were under more pressure than me. And my dad was the coach!
My daughter rose to spar in the second round.
So did the girl who shared her name.
The mothers shouted the girl’s name. When they realized both girls had the same name, they added “D” for her last name. My husband, two other parents from our Taekwondo place, my son and I all cheered for my daughter, even adding “M”. We used her nickname “Bee”.
But we were drowned out.
My husband went closer in hopes of being louder.
The women stomped their feet.
When my daughter got a point for a kick, the mother shouted, “That wasn’t fair. I’m going to speak to that judge.”
My daughter was clearly thrown off. The other girl a stronger opponent and the crowd was against her.
Then the girl gave my daughter a kick, and she fell to the floor.
I knew my baby was holding it in. As soon as the matched was called, she went to the sidelines, sat down, and cried. Her coaches came over. Her brother came over after them. She calmed down.
I felt helpless.
I wanted to run over and hug her.
I wanted to YELL at those women.
During the final round, those mothers were just as cutthroat. The girl with the same name lost. Her mom clearly disappointed that she only received a silver medal.
“Nobody said my name,” she said.
(My heart breaks here.) “We did. You couldn’t hear us because they were louder. I even called you ‘Bee’ but it probably sounded too much like ‘D’.”
“I heard the woman say she was going to talk to the judge when I got the point.”
I sighed. “I’m going to tell you something, and I want you to remember it. There are parents who care a little too much about their kids’ games. It becomes their life. They forget that there’s another kid out there whose feelings are being hurt if they lose. You have to learn to tune them out. You want to win or lose based on who you’re up against. Not the audience.”
After a few minutes, she smiled and said, “My strategies for sparring in the first round didn’t work on her. Next time, I’ll have to use different strategies.”
Just like that, she was over it.
She wants to spar in another tournament.
What did I expect from a girl who can kick clear through an adult board?
Since then, she hasn’t mentioned the match, and she’s back to her sunshine self. I’ve thought about it. A LOT. It’s hard to let our children go out in the world and get hurt. We can’t coddle them each time something is hard. And the older she gets, the less I’ll be able to shelter her from life’s kicks.
Good thing she’s got inner-fierceness.