I’m reading a book about the art of watching American football called Take Your Eye Off the Ball.
The author, Pat Kirwan, says that if you’re watching football by following the ball around, you’re missing the whole game. (Whoops, totally guilty of that.) It’s the opposite of what young athletes are taught, Kirwan admits, but if you really want to be a knowledgeable fan of the sport you have to understand what everyone on the field is doing during each play, not just the quarterback and the other ball handlers. Apparently, there are blocking and play-calling strategies, pre-emptive positional moves and shifting formations plus all sorts of faking techniques going on all over the gridiron.
I suppose I should have known, since I learned the same lesson about baseball years ago.
A co-worker who pitched for his college team sat me down at a Cleveland dive bar during an Indians game and over a few beers taught me how a pitcher watches baseball. He went over all the considerations a hurler goes through before each pitch – what’s the count, what’s the batter expecting vs. what he’s hoping for, which pitch is working today and which one isn’t, who’s on first (seriously) – and showed me how baseball is a pitching strategy game with periodic spurts of hitting and catching. And all along I had thought it was an action sport that lacked a whole lot of action. Baseball’s much more fun to watch now because I consider the pitcher’s strategy.
Hmm, maybe I should start looking at my kids that way.
Instead of assuming that they’re running around and bumping into each other because they’re destruction-enjoying drunken little penguins, maybe there’s actually a deeper way to look at them. Perhaps if I tried to spot and evaluate their strategies, it might be more fun for the whole family. It’ll be tough to spot the rhyme let alone the reason of their randomly devastating actions, but I am totally willing to give it a go.
Let’s try it out on my five-year-old son.
Basically, he’s a backwards t-shirt wearing wrecking ball. Since birth, wherever he goes he likes to jump and push and lean on things. Not surprisingly, a lot of these things end up scratched, dented and broken. When I watch him work a room, I don’t see my son anymore. He’s a waist-high grinning hooligan who thoroughly enjoys vandalizing stuff.
But maybe I’m not watching him correctly.
Instead of only seeing him ‘with the ball’ (or, more accurately, ‘smashing things with the ball’) maybe I can try to imagine his higher-level strategies. You know, begin to see his overall tactics instead of just focusing in on all that destruction. See him not as an unhelpful little ruffian but more as a brand new player in this world, which is a confusing game for all of us to learn.
My son is a fifth year human out of the University of His Momma’s Belly.
He’s an aggressive player who disassembles and breaks things, but maybe that’s his new guy strategy to see how things work. He wedged and pulled the bottom pin out of the door hinge when he was a baby probably because he was trying to understand the enter/exit contraption that controlled his movement. He broke into the zoo janitor’s storage room and began operating the mop-squeezer only because he was trying to understand spring-loaded technology. He pulled the pvc pipe that connects the washing machine to the drainage sink so he could understand how water flows cause flooding. He’s not smashing the crap out of stuff – he’s just testing their strength limitations.
Wait a minute – my son’s not a future criminal, he’s a potential engineering genius.
When I look at it that way, he’s not so frustrating after all. Learning how to play something – football, baseball, life – takes a lot of trial and error in the beginning. My son is essentially a fresh ex-rookie who’s still trying to comprehend the playbook. But his strategies, his curiosity about how things are built and work, are what I should be focusing on in order to help his life skills get up to speed.
Much more interesting watching the game this way.
- Mike Lukas