Among huddles, between sidelines, an ocean of lessons

My first season with the Nevada Youth Football League is coming to a close this week. Not mine, actually; rather, Joseph’s first season. Age 11. I’m just the dad standing on the sideline. But it’s been a wonderful ride for me, too. To quote my little sister, herself a mother of two boys, “The only thing better than scratching something off your bucket list is watching your children scratch something off their bucket list.”

I hardly know where to start with my gratitude for this organization. I hardly recognize my little boy. Truth is, he’ll never be a little boy again. He walks different. He talks different. There is a different look in his eye. He knows more of himself. He has added layers to his identity, his manhood.

When I wake him in the morning for school, suddenly he seems to dwarf his bed. In two more blinks, I’ll be teaching him to shave. Then telling him goodbye. Then saying hello to a man I’ve never met.

Before going further, I owe the Nevada Youth Football League a public apology. Ten weeks ago, I published a column about Joseph’s first practice. In that column I made no little sport of the “Parent Expectations” emailed to us by the NYFL, which we were asked to read and sign.

I found it very funny to be reminded, at age 56, not to smoke, drink, show up drunk, curse at or otherwise demean coaches, players, referees or other parents.

I was wrong. Like, not just a little bit wrong. But w-r-o-n-g. Yikes.

The criticisms I have after one season with the NYFL are these: Put some serious teeth in your rules for keeping parents off the sidelines and confined behind a designated line. Enforce that rule. And put some even more serious teeth in insisting on some minimal level of maturity and decorum. One warning, and then you’re tossed. If you won’t leave, it costs your son a suspension. These kids are kids! Between ages 8 and 13. If you want to be a boorish doofwad disguised as a grown-up, then buy a ticket to an Oakland Raiders game. Or, if you prefer the East Coast, an Eagles game.

Back to gratitude …

Night after night I watched the coaches show up and give their all for the love of this game and commitment to their young charges.

I assume these men have lives. Wives, girlfriends and their own children. Day jobs. I can’t count the hours they gave so that Joseph and boys like him might have a chance to grow, develop, mature, make friends and manage relationships.

Oh yes, and to learn the game of football.

Thank you, gentlemen. You reached inside my boy and grew him up. The drive. The focus. The self-assuredness. The confidence. The slight swagger.

It was all so good for him, and so much fun for a proud father to watch. It was like time-lapse photography, especially when I would see him with peers who still nest on couches, playing video games and eating Cheetos.

To all Joseph’s coaches and any other coaches of the other teams I watched practice, play, win and lose these past 10 weeks, let me offer you a rather self-indulgent invitation: I’ll buy any of you (or, let’s say, up to 10 of you) a beer for the chance to sit down and ask you a question about which I’m curious.

I said curious. Not critical. It’s a question about tears. Yep, crying.

Hardly a night of practice would go by (especially early on) without me hearing the ragged, passionate voice of an NYFL coach, face-to-helmet with a boy, demanding, “Don’t cry!”

Apparently that’s still the measure of manhood? Or, at least one, very important measure?

Every time I heard it, I smiled an ironic smile. Not condemnatory. Just ironic. I wasn’t worried about Joseph. My sons know when to cry. And for how long. They are shameless. They have memorized the frequent mantra of their childhood: “Tears are very important.”

At my house, tears are … well, just tears.

Do you coaches ever talk about this? Do you admonish boys not to cry so they will learn how to be men?

I’m fine with it. Really. Just struck by the picture of those boys, 20 years from now, coming into my office, where I teach men how to stop not crying.

So they will learn how to be men.

Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). His columns appear on Sundays. Contact him at 227-4165 or skalas@reviewjournal.com.

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