My brain lit up like a roman candle last night at my daughter's water polo game.
Their team got creamed--they expected to get creamed because they are a young, tiny team of about a dozen players from a 2A school that opts up to play at level 3A; the other team, XXX, is the state champ, has about 50 seasoned players and is most definitely a 3A school.
The girls fought hard and their opponents played a really awesome game. This was all to be expected from both sides of the pool. My daughter has played with some of those girls in club tournaments and really likes them. In fact, they are practicing for the Junior Olympics team right now as I write this.
All in all, our team took the beating pretty well, and we had much to discuss on the long drive back home (the opponent's pool is about 1.5 hours away from where we live). There were some bad calls and some unnecessary roughness but, ultimately, our girls accepted the simple reality that they were outmatched. There were churros from Jack in the Box later and lots of music played on the hands free (while I opted for my noise cancelling headphones and back-to-back episodes of Alton Brown's podcast). Eventually they all crashed and had to be woken up at 10:45pm when we finally got home. Ah, sweet youth.
I needed the calm humor of Alton Brown NOT because I was driving noisy teens home from a polo game, but because the winning team's parents were HORRIBLE, and I needed some recovery time and space.
There were about 50 of their fans to our 5 fans. We were SURROUNDED. They mocked our girls relentlessly, in full voice. They repeated some of our girls' field talk, a common form of communication between players, but in condescending voices. They repeated loudly, "Well, this is a ridiculous blow out!" or "We are just kicking their asses to the curb!" with gleeful voices edged in arrogance. They laughed when our goalie could not single-handedly fend off fast breaks that our defense was not fast enough to thwart (and they were trying!).
Yeah, that's right... our 14-year-old goalie, who just learned how to swim and started playing polo officially one month ago, and who is now going to play on a Junior Olympic team this summer, which culminates in a tournament at Stanford this August. Yeah, go ahead, bash the newbie who shows MAJOR promise, why don'tcha?
It was like these people were drunk. (I finally had to look behind me to check. What did I find?
At one point, I gave one of them the stink eye. She just stared back at me innocently, shrugging "What?" with an evil little glimmer in her eye. Bi-otch.
I texted my husband: "The XXX team parents are shitbags." He texted back: "F them."
I was sitting next to one of the parents from our team, a very calm and collected individual. He was visibly aggravated and even embarrassed, but not by our girls, who were fighting the good fight (they were awesome, actually, we were all of us very proud of them, including the coaches), but embarrassed by how poorly the other team's parents were behaving.
Not surprisingly, the worst offenders turned out to be the parents of the toughest girl on the team, who was penalized and ejected several times for drowning, swimming over players, rolling and other brutality offenses. We learned later from the girls and the coaches how she was playing especially dirty and should have been removed from the game.
I am the George Costanza of comebacks (meaning I am useless in this capacity!) and could only sit there and hold my head; I even recited the words "serenity NOW!"--made infamous by George's father, Frank--in a funny voice to myself to try to settle down my brain. All those nerve endings just lit up like sparklers, the strange cellophane-crinkly accompaniment in my ears just barely muting their harsh, voices. This is what happens when I become emotionally stressed. It doesn't hurt, but it's weird and impossible to ignore.
Which, in a way, is a kind of blessing, because it's an immediate message from the universe to "let go." (Hence the Alton Brown podcasts on the long trip home.)
Anyway, as we got up to leave the game (the final score was 15-0), I saw one parent still in the stands from their team who was not part of the bully pulpit behind us.
Still, because I'm not nearly as gracious as I ought to be, I shared my text with the head coach; he gave me a conspiratorial wink. Apparently this is the reputation of team XXX. 'Nuff said.
It also helped for me to hear from my daughter that her coach had said to the girls at the end of the game, "There is a reason we don't play like that," in relation to the other team's "dirty pool" moves, and the girls left the game understanding inherently that what he was saying was "integrity matters."
It's always better to keep it classy in water polo, as in life.
This is what the coach has said repeatedly across the four-year span of my daughter's career on his team, and the fact is: it's one of the reasons my daughter has been accepted by an NCAA Division I water polo team... because athletics are never about playing dirty. They're about playing smart, and teamwork and strategy, about knowing how to play an entire game without getting relief if that's what you must do. It's about jumping back in no matter how hard you lost because who cares about a mostly losing season anyway?
NCAA water polo coaches acknowledge this can be a violent sport, but they also drive home the message that it must be played with integrity. High school players with a reputation for dirty tricks (scratching, drowning, kicking, unnecessary roughness, swearing, suit grabbing) do find themselves struggling to find a team that wants them at the collegiate level. No decent coach there has the time or energy or inclination to train these bad habits out of future players.
The only thing that matters is that, wherever we are in life, we strive for our own individual and collective excellence; this is the interior battle we fight every day, not just as athletes, but as human beings.
In my mind, our girls took home the win for the night for that reason. They get it.
As for the other team's parents? Not so much. Their loss AND their children's loss.
The message in this for MSers takes a similar vein: you can give in to the dirty pool of MS, the relapses and trips to the hospital, the emotional hijacking and all the other shitty things that MS could deliver to you, without warning, at any given moment in your life. Or you could fight back by taking care of yourself, having a sense of humor, striving to get out of bed the next day to start again, aiming to be the whole person you are as much as you can make that happen. Sometimes it's a day when the score for us is 15-0 and MS has kicked our ass, but we can still honor our own efforts to beat it. TRYING MATTERS. We can still smile and say, "I'm still here, MS. I will live to see another day and then we shall see what the score is then, hmmm?"
I found out later that my daughter, upon hearing how poorly the team's parents had behaved, sent a friendly message to one of her friends on team XXX, which said, roughly... "Hey, it was a tough game last night, but we appreciated the competition and we learned a lot from you guys. Thanks! However, you might need to remind the parents in the stands that sportsmanship counts there, as well." The girl responded very kindly and respectfully and said she would pass on that message.
They are playing polo together on the same team right now, training for JOs. No hard feelings whatsoever.
My daughter has no idea that she shared this bit of insider info with the very daughter of the shitbags who were sitting behind us in the stands last night.
Hear that sound? It's no longer the crinkling roar in my head, it's me laughing at this interest curve in the road, proud that not only am I a warrior who takes stock in integrity, but I have raised one as well.
Sorry MS, but that's 15-0, in my favor, this time around.