When my son Dylan joined his first sports team this past fall, there was nobody more worried about their kid’s acceptance with others than us. He was one of the younger kids on the team, had zero prior experience in sports, and was born on the autism spectrum.
My wife and I cheered him on at every practice and game, and tried to coach him from the stands as most parents do. Many days were tense just hoping he would do something that resembled playing basketball. Most of our cheering was just trying to get him to pay attention and follow the other players up and down the court.
We let the coaches know of Dylan’s ASD condition from Day 1. We felt we needed to explain why he might mentally drift off often. They were completely accepting of Dylan and cheered him on through the entire season. And there was that other small detail where he couldn’t shoot the ball even close to the hoop yet. They would sometimes “assist” the ball into the hoop during practice and it made Dylan’s day.
His coaches were a father & son coaching team, and their son and grandson were on the team too. You could tell they brought that care they give their own family members to their entire team. That’s something I think about too now that I coach my son in our FitKids classes at FitTown Jupiter. I want to treat every kid like their my son or daughter and support them the same.
We are so lucky Dylan joined the most loving, welcoming, and diverse team you could draw up. This league was hosted in a Jewish Community Center, and they didn’t ask what religion you were in order to join the league. It welcomed kids from all religions and ethnicities.
Dylan came away from that first season of sports absolutely idolizing his coaches, and thinking the world of his teammates. Part of the way he learns is through delayed echolalia, meaning he will repeat things often, sometimes hours, days, or weeks later because he’s still processing it. He talked about his teammates and coaches weeks after the season ended. And had a giant smile across his face every time he did.
When I hear people nowadays demanding you have a conversation with your kid about prejudice and racial injustices it’s hard, especially at this age. He’s six, and a half.
He doesn’t know anything different than loving his black coaches, admiring his black teammates, and wanting to be like his black friends. I don’t know why I would say anything to jeopardize that.
He often chooses the black avatar when he plays his video games. He will imitate the accents of his black friends, and his teacher from pre-school. His imitation is the ultimate form of flattery. He wants to be just like them. He talks about his friends from school constantly who he clearly admires.
My son sees color but he doesn’t judge it. One of the many sensitive statements out there currently relates to this subject of seeing color vs. not seeing it.
You see color. Everybody sees color. It’s whether or not you judge it, and how you judge it, that matters.
So much of my writing comes from the lessons my kids teach me. I’ve learned there is no purer love than that of a child.
Their hearts are enormous when they are born, and only shrunk by the judgment of their parents and peers. I’m not going to bring judgment into my son’s life where there is none.
Sports have always been that place of racial non-judgment in my life. Teammates were teammates and opponents were opponents. ZERO concerns were given for the color of your skin.
When it came to racial prejudices, sports were a level playing field. If anything, I saw myself as an inferior athlete to my black friends... but I loved it. I loved every second competing with my brothers...black, white, and in between.
If you have a faith, you believe God over everything. If you have a loving family, you believe family over everything. If you’ve ever played team sports before, you know what it’s like to believe team over everything.
When the horn sounded or the whistle blew to end the game, we didn’t stop being teammates. I still feel that camaraderie when I run into old teammates today, and I’m lucky enough to have some of them as members in our gym. It’s a pretty cool feeling to be part of a team still, and work hard alongside friends I played sports with over 20 years ago.
You don’t need a tryout to be a part of the FitTown Jupiter team. We openly welcome everyone to our team. As long as they are positive and work hard, they easily gain the respect of their teammates.
Hard work respects hard work. That’s all that has ever mattered on the teams I grew up on, and that’s all that matters in our gym now. Race, sex, age, all be forgotten.
This is why I believe next to a strong faith, there is nothing like team sports to help shape great people. People who give respect rather than pass judgment.
I will always encourage my kids to take on new sports, and will provide a supportive team environment in our FitKids classes. We just started our newest season of FitKids classes two weeks ago and my first message to them was “we are a team.” We talked about what it meant to ge a good teammate and lift others up.
Being a good teammate means you help others come together. No matter the differences or perceived differences, you find common ground and a mutual purpose. Every conflict is an opportunity to unite and make the bond even stronger.
Our FitTown Family has been through a lot these past months and will continue to meet adversities in the future. Our state will continue to meet adversities, as will our country.
But at every level of life, let’s remember one thing…
We are ALL on the same team.