I love this photo. It’s how coparenting should be, in sports and in life. I believe we’ve achieved that for my daughter, minus the really cool shirts — we have to get those before she starts her next sport. But it wasn’t always like this…
The first two years after my ex-wife and I divorced were terrible. Resentment and ignorance prevented us from doing anything without a huge fight. There were constant arguments and even threats. It didn’t get any better when both of us found and married our spouses. Now we had another person on each side to complain about.
In the Spring of 2016, I convinced my daughter to play soccer. No only that, but I managed to coach her team. She had never played organized sports before, and I had never coached youth sports on any level. We were in for a wild ride, and I wondered if I had bitten off more than I could chew. What I didn’t see coming is how much that short soccer season transformed multiple relationships on both sides of my daughter’s families.
I grew up playing basketball, and I dipped in and out of other sports from time to time. My heart was always with basketball, and I loved being on a team. There’s something incredibly special about team sports. I believe the experience teaches accountability, how to work towards a common goal, respect for your teammates and for the opposition, and many other character traits so critical for the development of a young person. Aside from the player herself, family and friends also band together to support her and the entire team. Bonds are formed between the parents of the players and between the parents and their child’s teammates. Everyone participates, whether it’s cheering for the players, yelling at the referees (those poor, poor referees) or bringing post-game snacks and drinks. You basically become a temporary family for the season, and it’s fantastic.
That new family forms around the common goals and challenges of the team. But something else happened to my daughter’s families. We started to talk. Her Mom’s brothers would come to the games and talk to my parents and to me. Her Mom’s aunt and cousins would show up and give me a big hug. Grandmothers from both sides joined together to laugh and enjoy the game. My wife would sit with my ex-wife and her husband while I ran around herding the kiddos. Can you imagine being out on the field and looking over to find your spouse sitting and chatting it up with your ex-spouse? It’s nerve-wracking to say the least — like there’s a 5 gallon bucket of gasoline sitting between them and one wrong comment can serve as the match. But that never happened. Everything was completely fine. You see, we all had something in common now — my daughter’s soccer team. The team transcended any personal issues we had against each other. We may have detested each other off the field, but during practice and games, we were a united front with one goal — win! Soon, talk of the team, the players, the last practice and the last game began to permeate everyday conversation where we were normally trying to piss each other off. It’s like we had something positive to focus on and began to spend more time on our daughter and not each other.
My daughter played flag football in the summer of 2017. Once again, her two families organized themselves around practices and Saturday games. Once again, we all joined together for a common cause — WIN. This time, I didn’t coach, and so I had the opportunity to join in on the family action from the sideline. All four of my daughter’s parents sitting in our lawn chairs, each one ready with a bottle of gatorade or water or ice whenever a timeout was called or a quarter ended. We talked about everything under the sun and laughed like friends. Ok, maybe not friends but decent acquaintances.
My daughter finished her first season of Upward Basketball this past weekend (I highly recommend it by the way). Once again, I coached her team while my wife and my daughter’s mom sat in the stands, cheered and became even closer than before. Whoever got there first would save the other a seat. My wife was able to be my assistant coach for a few games. My ex-wife took care of my wife’s 5 year old son when that happened. Yes, you read that correctly. One would take still photos and the other would shoot videos during the game. Afterwards they shared them with each other so we each had as many memories as possible. After our last game, my daughter wanted us all to go out for pizza to celebrate. So what did we do? You guessed it — we struck out for the nearest pizza place and all enjoyed a couple of pies together. There was even a point during that lunch where my ex-wife was telling embarrassing stories about me. My wife laughed and poked fun at me, and I just grinned. Even my daughter got in on the action and gave Dad a hard time. I didn’t care one bit. You know why? My daughter was smiling the entire time. Her families were together. She was able to enjoy both of her parents and her stepmom and stepbrother on a very important and memorable day.
My hope is my daughter will continue to play sports. I’m excited to think about how she will grow as a person and learn important life lessons one can only find in competition and sweat. I also have no doubt my daughter will not be the only one continuing to grow. Through sports, our families will continue to interact and share a common bond surrounding my daughter and her team’s pursuits. And I think that’s pretty amazing.