Crisp autumn days are made for team sports. Many of you probably picked football or baseball or soccer. I played on the chess team.
I can hear your mocking laughter from here. Go ahead, let it out. Did I mention I lettered in it? Got the cool school jacket and everything. Even Codex is standing over my shoulder trying to maintain her composure. Failing at it, too.
Playing chess is like playing golf but without the announcers. The room is deathly quiet, like the early phases of Extreme Reading, before the Librarians arrive. There are no cheerleaders. Cheerleaders and chess players don’t mix. Pity.
My first personal exposure to active team sports came when my daughter announced she wanted to play soccer. Parents acted as cheerleader-chauffeurs. She played in the non-competitive “fun” league. There are rarely enough teams to fill a full schedule so every year an older team will play a younger team. We are talking 9-11 years old, and that year makes a huge difference.
It was our turn to play the older girls, and we could tell it was going to be a tough game. Our team (we’ll call them the Huskies) had won a number of games, however, so they weren’t terrible. The thing we kept stressing is skill improvement. There are no playoffs, no trophies, it is for practice and camaraderie only. Naturally we all keep score. We aren’t progressives.
Game starts. Parents are more nervous than the girls. Opponents (we’ll call them the Vexans) score the first goal five minutes later. Cowbells ring from the opposite sideline.
Yes, cowbells. Three cowbells, in fact. Plenty of cheering too, but that is drowned out by the dull, ongoing, clang-clang-clang-clang noises.
Huskies set up at midfield, blow the initial pass, and Vexans score again less than a minute later. Cowbell celebration ensues.
About twenty minutes into the game, the score is 4-0. Yes, the other two goals were celebrated with cowbell accompaniment. Finally, the Huskies get a goal. We all cheer as loudly as possible. We didn’t bring cowbells, because why would we? The other teams’ coach verbally reams out his defenders for letting the other team score. Apparently Team Cowbell is used to shutouts. The Vexans come back, highly-motivated by their coach, and score, and score, and score, and score again. At halftime, the tally is 8-1. With each goal the cowbells Clang-Clang-Clink-Clunk-Clang, even more vigorously than at the start of the game.
“Maybe,” I think to myself, “they will recognize that we are so outmatched that they will subdue their enthusiasm in the second half.” By this time, good readers, you know I’m not writing this post because an outbreak of sound judgement occurred.
Our coach encouraged the girls, told them they were just a little slower and not aggressive enough in getting to the ball. I imagine the other coach reminded his team that he was holding their pet kittens hostage and that he would personally strangle the beloved beast of anyone who let a Husky “score” on them.
Goal. Cowbells. Goal. Cowbells. Goal. Cowbells. Goal. Even *more vigorous* cowbells. It is 12-1. What lesson are you teaching your girls, cowbell parents?
The carnage continued. Our team was hapless. It didn’t help that elbows and legs started flying, rarely being called. Goal. Goal. Goal. Goal. Goal. Clang-Clang-Clink-Clunk-CLANG-CLANG! That’ll show *everyone* how much we love our team!
On their eighteenth goal (CLANG, CLANG, CLONG!) I started to laugh. Honestly, what else could you do? I realize all the Vexans were headed for million-dollar salaries in professional soccer, they just had to make it past our poor little team in the non-competitive league to do it. There were, mercifully, just a few minutes left in the game.
Goal. Clang, Clang.
Goal. Clang, Clang, CLANG! The whistle rang, signalling game over. Thank goodness.
A riotous cacophony of noise erupted from the proud parents on the other side. The score had been an extremely close 21-1. The Vexans could have lost at any moment! Why, if their parents had let up on those cowbells for Just. One. Second. they could have kissed those lucrative incoming television deals goodbye!
I’m not sure what my daughter learned from that game. It took place a couple of years ago, but we played them again this year and lost 5-2. They only brought one cowbell though. Bring more next time, Cowbell Team, it obviously helps. Glyph doesn’t even remember what will forever be known in my mind as “the cowbell game.”
As for me, I now have an almost Pavlovian desire to punch every cow I see in the face. I think the lessons I learned from chess are more practical than that.
And did I mention that league rules forbid “artificial means of making noise” in the cheering sections? Sometimes being a good parent involves breaking the rules. Mostly it involves common sense.