Moms keep it all in perspective.
And in the sports world, thank god for moms.
Dad is typically the one who teaches you the game, who shows you how fun competition can be and then serves as your pinnacle target of frustration until you can finally beat him at his game of choice.
In this sense, Dad is often the first teacher whose words you truly absorb. He's the gatekeeper to something you really want to learn - how to win.
The trouble is, "how to win" likely isn't the first chapter in any parenting lesson book; it just happens to be the most attractive lesson to intensely competitive kids like I was (and still am, minus the "kid" part).
When life is simple and external pressures are minimal-to-none, sports can mean everything. The field, the court, the pool, the track - these are the rare places in your young life where the stakes are real.
I mean, really ISD 196, EVSN? Do you really think kids buy into grading systems that practically need a sing-a-long to be remembered, let alone understood?
I can rack up enough gold stars to wallpaper my room, but if everyone else is getting them, too, then why should I care?
On the other side of things, I can sink a game-winning 3-pointer and know, as my teammates mob me in jubilation, that we won, and the other guys lost.
Call it a young kid's first experience with intoxication. Only this type is 100 percent legal.
So you want to win. And because you don't know any better yet, you act like somebody who wants to win really, really badly.
You sulk after losses, you throw clubs after bad shots, you know you committed a foul but loudly gripe about it, anyway.
This is where Mom comes into play. If Dad is the coach (as he so often is), then Mom is the referee who has a front row seat to watch all your indiscretions. And if sports need to be the vehicle for her to instill in you the proper life lessons, then so be it.
I'll never forget the day I finally understood that winning wasn't the only thing on the line when playing sports. Fifth grade was the first year of traveling basketball - the stakes had been raised. We were experiencing our first down stretch of the season but were taking it to Eden Prarie early in the first half. Myriad missed shots and turnovers later, however, we were getting walloped. Having already developed a reputation for having a short fuse, Coach took me out of the game when I yelled in frustration after a foul call.
Like any other upstanding citizen would, I strode over to the bench and kicked over one of the chairs. I sat down in a huff, hung my head momentarily, then looked up long enough to catch the look. Or should I say, The Look.
Everyone else watching the game had their eyes moving back and forth in sync with the ball. My mom's eyes were motionless. Even though I rapidly returned to hanging my head, half in disappointment and half in dread of the ear-full I was about to receive, I'm fairly certain she didn't blink.
I had the rest of the game to consider my reputation arc from the bench. Most people you encounter in life only see you through one lens, whether that's work, school, sports or lawn-mowing. Sure, you might wish everyone could see "the whole picture," but that's not reality. And like it or not, how others see you greatly affects how they see your close friends, spouse or family.
Sure, it's common sense now, but it's the stuff of wise philosophers when you're young, temperamental and short-sighted.
And if you're lucky, that wise philosopher goes by the name "Mom," and is there to teach you how to lose, every step of the way.
...even if it takes entirely too many steps.
Happy Mother's Day, Mom. From me, and from the millions of other guys out there who once needed a lesson on how to take their foot off the gas... at least just a little bit.