The Sports of Watching Kids’ Sports

Watching parents watch their kids play sport has to be quite entertaining. I count myself in as a dedicated and loyal participant in this sport of watching-my-kids’-sports-games. If our nervous faces, holding our breaths, wild clapping and loud encouragement is perceived by an outsider  I’m sure it seems as if there’s a great deal at stake. The way my heart rate goes up when a game is close turns this spectator-thing into an extreme sport itself! You’d think they were playing for sheep stations. The other day a friend of mine happened to run into me as I was sitting next to the netball court where I was scoring for Child No 3’s game and I was so engrossed in the game and concentrating so hard on my job of scoring that it rendered my multi-tasking ability quite useless and I couldn’t even make decent conversation with her at the same time! How is it that this particular type of focus is so intensely single-minded that it makes me lose my ability to converse coherently simultaneously? I was quite taken aback by my ineptness there!

Every parent wants what’s best for their kids and playing a team sport combines physical activity and fitness while having fun with friends with learning to work together as a team to reach mutual goals and most parents happily take their kids to training, watch their games and volunteer their time in different capacities to help ensure the smooth running of the sports clubs. I, for one, love watching the kids play their sport. It gives me endless joy and I don’t like missing a game. It feels like I’m missing out on something important if I do. Years of spending Saturdays and/or Sundays on the sidelines of a sports field of some sort (netball, athletics, soccer and cricket) brings to light all sorts of different behaviour patterns in us parents though and watching them becomes a sport that, I’m sure, is sometimes quite entertaining to watch in its own right, were I to be an objective bystander or able to distance myself emotionally from the game or sport at hand.

Most parents that I’ve crossed paths with over the years have been reliable and supportive, but life wouldn’t be life without the interesting encounters. Firstly, meet The Dad Who Got Forced By His Wife Against His Will Into Doing The Timing who stopped and started the timer at random times during play. Something which can have a crucial effect on the outcome of a close game of netball, where a couple of seconds is enough for a goal to be scored and the outcome of the game to be changed. Then introduce into the picture the Control Freak Mum who happens to be the manager of the team (me) who hovers over the scorecard to make sure all is done correctly and incidentally notices that the timer had been stopped. After I’d recovered from nearly fainting I had to explain to him ever so nicely to only hold the time when asked to do so by the umpire.

Secondly, meet The Dad Who Got Forced Into Doing The Scoring Against His Will. Let’s take a moment here to explain the nature of netball scorecards. There are a number of things that have to be noted on the scorecards – team and club names, age divisions, court numbers, date and time of game, player names and positions for each quarter, centre passes (every time the game resets and the ball is passed from the centre and by which team), goals scored, progressive scores at the end of each quarter and the final score. Bear in mind that in high scoring games centre passes follow quickly on each other and if you don’t pay attention it’s easy to miss something. (Thank goodness I escaped from doing cricket scoring, I don’t think even my best multi-tasking skills would have mastered that.) Then one rainy Saturday, afore-mentioned dad was tasked to do the scoring and reinvented the way the scorecards should be filled in by marking the boxes not consecutively for each team when goals were scored, but by ticking a box with the number 15 on it when the 15th goal of the game was scored irrespective of which team had scored the goal and so on. Again, enter the Control Freak Mum who happens to be the manager of the team (me) who, on this occasion, had not been hovering over the scorecard, and only discovered the horror of our messed-up-scorecard-predicament after the first quarter when I went over to check how things were going. Needless to say, my heart nearly stopped beating when I realised that we’d had to redo the entire card and then started racing at sprinting heart rate pace in my attempt to stay calm and collected as I explained to him the correct way of filling in the scorecard and he tried to persuade me that his way of doing it was actually better, regardless of the fact that his way wouldn’t show us the actual score. The fact that it wouldn’t be accepted by the netball association was a minor detail at this point. After I’d eventually convinced him to do it the correct way (and avoid a fine) and redid it – all in the space of a 3 minute break – I was able to see the humour in it all but this incident scarred me for life, forever changed the way I look at a scorecard (and scorer) and turned me into a serial scorecard hoverer. A habit not easily broken.

Over the years there have also been encounters with The Fair Weather Mum who waited in the warmth of her car on rainy days while her daughter played and the Mum Who Only Sporadically Turned Up For Her Roster Duty and you were never quite sure if she was going to be there or not.

I sometimes wonder what us parents look and sound like to our kids on court/field. I wonder if they can even hear our encouragement but since they’re concentrating on the actual sports game being played I can’t imagine they really do and every now and then I have this mental image of the court/field being inside a soundproof shield so they can see us and our mouths opening and closing but can’t actually hear us, and then I just keep quiet and watch the score card.

Dedicated supporters on a very wet and stormy netball semi-final day

Dedicated supporters on a very wet and stormy netball semi-final day

Rugby, Refs and the Conciliatory Dog

It’s rugby season again. Weekends are devoted to watching most of the different matches, starting on Friday afternoon, continuing through Saturday with some on Sunday as well. No-one is allowed to touch the remote control for the television when a particularly important match is going to be screened, just in case we make a mistake and cancel the recording of the match – yes, the important ones are all recorded for replay later, and also for detail and in depth analysis of player genius or refereeing decisions so the game can be paused at any point, rewinded and replayed and paused at the exact moment a brilliant try, pass, alleged offence or non-offence occurs. Said remote control has been known to get hidden when the man of the house is going to be away during an important match, just to protect the rest of us against ourselves, should we make the dreaded mistake of causing something to go wrong with the recording or worse still, if he wants to watch the game delayed live –  purposefully making sure not to hear the score of the game if it’s already started, shutting off from the outside world, turning off the radio and making sure not to watch the TV news, and not looking at text messages from mates in case they’ve decided to share a progress report of the match until he’s had a chance to watch the game in full as if live – and we happen to have the match on the screen as he walks in the door, which renders the TV out of bounds for the rest of us for the duration of that time.

Luckily I enjoy watching rugby as well, although I don’t watch all the matches every weekend. Other sports such as footy (Australian football) and cricket are watched in our house as well should they be on TV and not at the same time as the rugby, but rugby is the one sport which is followed with the most passion, commitment and dedication one could ask of a supporter. Ever since I can remember the volume produced by rugby spectators at home has always been a barometer of the quality of the refereeing. It’s also an indication of how well or badly a much loved team is doing, of course – especially if it’s a nail biter the excitement levels and decibels will be sky high when our team does well but by the same token I can tell without looking when things are going badly just by how quiet the room has become – and here I count myself in because I get equally swept up in the emotion.

We’ve organised our social life around rugby matches, turned up late to a wedding reception because of a rugby test match and my husband has extended his stay in overseas cities after work conferences because there happened to be a test match being played there the following day. It’s fair to say (and it might be a slight understatement) that rugby is important in our house. Over the years I’ve come to realise that it’s impossible to watch a rugby match quietly and one night a few years ago my husband and one of his friends were watching a match in the early hours of the morning –  it was one I wasn’t going to stay up for – and I was trying to sleep to no avail, until I decided that I had two options: either get up and march into the living room to ask them to turn down the volume and give poor Friend the shock of the picture of me in my pyjamas, or send my husband a text message from the bedroom asking them to keep it down a bit, and since the bed was nice and cosy and I didn’t want to put Friend off coming to watch rugby at our house for life I opted for option 2. They thought it so hilarious though that their laughter kept me awake for the next half an hour anyway.

Some days there won’t be a break in the rugby for the kids to be able to do anything else in the living room so on a typical Saturday afternoon we’ll have the rugby on TV at full volume, child No 2 playing the piano loud enough so she can hear it over the top of the rugby commentators and the other two kids playing table tennis just outside the door vociferously voicing their opinions about the other’s shots and tactics.

The atmosphere at home while a game is on depends on who is playing and if it’s a match between two teams that we’re not really supporting but my husband is watching “because of the rugby” it’s generally quite relaxed but when “our” team plays it’s charged and electric and we get caught up in the moment, sitting on the edge of our seats biting our nails and not daring to look away from the screen. Surely this is routine for all fervent sports supporters, regardless of the sport? The kids might look at us askance and ask: “What difference is the score going to make to your life?”, but if it’s a close game Ironman moves further and further away from the TV the more the tension grows. It’s almost like the tension would be more bearable if he was further away. If the game is in the hands of a good ref all generally goes well but if the ref makes some bad decisions, incorrectly accusing a player of an offence or worse still: letting an offence by an opposing player slide, all hell breaks loose. If that happens we’re called to witness the injustice of it all and we solemnly shake our heads collectively in shock and agreement and berate the ref in unison. If only the ref could hear us.

One member of the family doesn’t take it very well at all when refs make such bad decisions though. She’s always eager to please everyone else, can sense the mood, keeps a keen eye on all her family members to make sure everybody is safe, well and happy and when someone is unhappy she takes it upon herself to try and make that person happy by running over to them, looking into their eyes intensely and then licking their feet while keeping eye contact. None of us particularly likes having our feet licked but we just can’t stop her from doing it. It’s the only way she knows how to fix the problem of an unhappy human. Poor puppy Tess just can’t for the life of her work out why she can’t make dad happy when the ref is being unfair, and the more his annoyance levels rise at the unfair reffing decision the more ferociously she’ll lick his feet until she finally manages to draw his attention away from the TV – purposefully but not for the placatory reasons she wants (the licking in itself doesn’t make anyone happy) –  only because the licking is actually more annoying than the ref and he starts laughing and she’s managed to break the spell even though her methods aren’t our favourite. She’ll be satisfied and content because she’s managed to make dad happy again so off she goes to lie back down in her spot until the next time she decides that her mood-changing skills and special services are required (which could be a minute later or next week, it all depends on the ref).

Placatory Tessa (photo taken by Child No 3)

Placatory Tessa (photo taken by Child No 3)

Getting Scorched

Sunny Southern Hemisphere climates offers such freedom of lifestyle. Only for a relatively short period of time does one have to rug up with cumbersome, warm and weather proof winter clothes (and even then we get over it pretty quickly and dream of the warm sunshine to come). There’s something relaxed about an outdoor lifestyle, to have picnics in the sunshine and enjoy beautiful clean beaches, to walk out the door, get in the car and go places never having to shovel any snow, to be able to exercise and play sport outdoors basically all year round and to fiddle in the garden almost year round. I love the sunny climate, blue skies, being outside in the fresh air, balmy summer nights and to feel the warm sunshine.

Growing up in Cape Town with its moderate climate we had beautiful summers but nothing extreme in terms of heat. When I spent a couple of summer holidays in the Kalahari on my sister and brother-in-law’s farm in my university days it was a different story though. With temperatures rising to above 35°C most days it was tough working outside but the work doesn’t wait for the heat to subside so onwards and upwards we went. One particular stinking hot day a herd of cattle had to be mustered and moved from one paddock to another, some kilometres away. We were on horseback following behind and on the side, swallowing the dust the cattle kept kicking up but they were a difficult bunch and every few minutes when we thought we had them moving along nicely, one would break away to the side and one of us would have to canter off in pursuit and bring it back quick smart before any of the others noticed and decided to follow suit (which they inevitably did if you weren’t quick). One breakaway playing truant was manageable, definitely not half a herd. Others would keep in line but sneak a look to see if they could escape and if you weren’t onto them straight away either showing them that the only way is forwards, they’d make a dash for it. And every now and again one would just inexplicably stop right in front of you and if you weren’t paying attention you’d have passed it before you knew, and then it’s turn around and go back around it at full speed before it gathered pace. All of this through relatively thick bush and trees so it was a challenge to keep them in sight and not lose one or two amongst the bushes. We’d counted them before we took off and had to count them again afterwards to make sure none got left behind somewhere. Passing through gates from paddock to paddock was interesting – if the gate was open it would be relatively simple as long as we could gather them together again quickly on the other side before they dispersed and spread out into the veld, but if the gate was closed someone had to ride up ahead without scaring the herd and causing them to scatter in every direction, hop off and open it and get out the way before they got there. It was hot, dry and dusty, it hadn’t rained for a while and we were in the thick of it for about 5 hours doing some good old hard yakka but it was so much fun. It was so good to do some hard physical work. I’d done it many times before but this particular day was so hot and we were in the saddle for so long that by the time we’d delivered them to their destination, counted them through (and thank goodness they were all there as it wasn’t a small herd either) and got back to the farm house all I could do was change into my bathers, jump into the dam and float in the cool water for about half an hour. The ice cold beer after that was the best medicine and although the heat of that day has been burnt into my memory forever I’ll always remember it very fondly.

Beloved Kalahari

Beloved Kalahari

When we moved to Dubai we anticipated struggling with the heat but we were spoilt with houses, shops and offices all being properly air conditioned and our villa’s windows had double glazing which meant that the temperatures only ever affected you as you moved between air conditioned areas such as unpacking the groceries from the car and doing about five trips carrying it up the stairs of the house to the front door (carrying as many bags as possible each time to minimise the number of trips) or when I left the shops and went out to the car park in the summer heat and humidity my glasses always fogged up instantly! For the larger part of the year the temperatures weren’t unbearable and when it was hot it was a dry heat but peak summer brought with it daytime temperatures of somewhere over 40°C with very high humidity, and night-time temps that didn’t really drop much below 30°C still with incredible humidity.  After visiting our family and friends in South Africa during July/August 2004 we arrived back at the beautifully air conditioned Dubai airport in a false sense of security only to exit the airport building into a 30°C and 90% humidity wall of sauna heat at midnight. We swam so much that year but in the middle of summer the swimming pool water felt like bath water and we turned off our hot water system and used that water for cold water and the cold water tap for hot water because the water pipes were so shallow under the ground that the water used to get burning hot! The architecture and building style of the old Arabian buildings used to fascinate me with their clever design and latticed windows promoting the airflow so that hot air rose to flow out and cool air came in to keep the houses cool and spoilt as we are with air conditioners today I still find it astounding that people used to live without these luxuries in the sort of desert temperatures that I would suffer in, soft as I am.

Now Perth summers are hot, dry affairs with its share of heat waves with temperatures going up to over 40°C sometimes for a few days in a row with no sea breeze to cool things down and every now and then we get a good summer storm and I love these summer storms because they remind me of the Kalahari thunderstorms with mother nature showing off her power with loud thunderous cracks and electric lightning which usually resulted in a good downpour and much needed rain soaking into the dry earth and big fat drops noisily falling onto tin roofs. Downpours that could leave you soaked but still warm. So unlike winter storms.

A summer storm rolling in over our house a few years ago

A summer storm rolling in over our house a few years ago

When we went to support the Perth Scorchers in the Big Bash semi-final in January we sat sweltering in the sun with no shelter on a 40°C day waiting for the sea breeze to come in but it kept promising to come and just as we got our hopes up and I’d move forward in my seat as if to meet it it would disappear again, such a tease, and the WACA lived up to its nickname, The Furnace. It reminded me of the cricket test I went to watch with Ironman and his brother at Kingsmead cricket stadium in Durban back in ‘96/’97. Our seats were also in the full sun but we were allowed to take an umbrella and since I was pregnant at the time it saved the day for me but as the day wore on we were being joined by more and more supporters of the opposing team who’d decided that there was plenty of room for everyone in our little spot of shade. The more the merrier, until we were so tightly packed underneath that umbrella that no-one could breathe and we gave up and went home. That day at the WACA I would have loved to have had that umbrella though, or any little bit of shade for that matter, because there was just no escaping the oppressive heat and the fun element of the exciting cricket match was being scorched right out of it and I had to admit that much as I love our summers, I don’t enjoy getting scorched!

Weird Noises and Pilot Lights

I got such a nice surprise on my birthday a few weeks ago – no hot water when I went to have my shower in the morning. I’d had a lovely and peaceful start to the day – woke up with my cup of coffee and then a nice walk and came home to some pressies from the kids (my husband was away for work and had left very early in the morning) – but when I went to have a shower there was no hot water. At first I thought that one of the girls who’d just had a shower had probably used it all but quickly dismissed that idea because after a few minutes’ wait there was still no sign of hot water. Although it was summer I still didn’t feel like a cold shower so I decided to investigate.

Child No 2, who’d just finished her shower, immediately said that her shower had also been cold so I went to check that all the electricity and gas switches were turned on, which they were. There was absolutely no life at the hot water cylinder though, even after a few attempts to run some hot water. It wasn’t doing a thing and my chances of having a hot shower were rapidly diminishing.  I couldn’t understand it because it was working absolutely fine the previous day. I sent my husband a text message asking him if he’d turned off the gas the previous evening, not really expecting a reply within shower-hour as he was driving to a work-site in the Pilbara, but I was covering all bases. At this point my Sherlock Holmes-mode had roused Child No 1 as well and he came outside where I was peering into the hot water cylinder and mentioned, very matter-of-factly, that Ironman had turned off the water, mains electricity and gas the previous evening while I was out to dinner with my girlfriends “because there was a weird noise in the house and they couldn’t work out what it was”. I was gobsmacked. An engineer and an engineer-in-training together were looking for the source of a strange noise in the house and went about it by turning off the water, mains and gas? It made my day just picturing them running around trying to locate this alien sound that’s invaded our house. The whole episode was becoming quite entertaining after all. In between my chuckling I asked whether they’d ended up finding the source of the noise. “Yes”, Child No 1 said, “it was the weather station”, which was of course followed by more chuckling on my part. Much more.

“But he turned it (the water, mains and gas) back on” Child No 1 added. Things were beginning to make a bit more sense and all the times I’d had to go out in the wind and rain in our previous house to try and light the pilot light for the hot water cylinder where it had gone out (directly in the path of the wind) while the man of the house was away for work and Murphy’s law was having a go at me, suddenly came in handy and I opened up the cover of the hot water cylinder, checked this particular model’s instructions for lighting the pilot light and followed them closely but to no avail. Nothing. No sound, no light, no gas, nothing. I repeated the process three times and gave up on the igniter, got some 10cm long matches, lay down flat on my side in my dressing gown in front of the system and repeated the process again with a match instead while Child No 1 held down the “Pilot light” button and after 30 long seconds I was all but ready to give up but decided to turn the switch from “Pilot light” to “On” anyway just in case of some miracle when suddenly: Voilà! We had a pilot light again! I was going to be able to have a hot shower after all so my sense of humour returned and I was again chuckling at the process of elimination that was followed to try to identify the source of the weird noise the previous evening. I was going to get some mileage out of this one.

It reminded me of the time when we were also trying to track down an unknown beeping sound in our previous house. My sister was visiting and the noise kept her awake at night. It came and went at what seemed like irregular intervals, but they were quite far apart so it took us a fair bit of time looking behind the washing machine, underneath the piano and other cupboards in the kitchen (we’d narrowed it down to that part of the house) because at that point we thought we were looking for a very elusive cricket. We’d wait for the sound and when it came, we’d run in that direction but it would stop as soon as we got closer so we’d have to wait for the next one again and we were getting a bit agitated at this cricket that was outplaying us at hide and seek. Eventually someone ended up being in the right place at the right time and we found it, but it wasn’t a cricket at all, it was the battery in the smoke alarm that was running low and causing it to make a very first-world, warning, beeping sound that none of us had encountered before. In a strange way it was comforting to know that we’d not been outwitted by a cricket though.

So as I listened to the story of this recent weird “buzzing” noise as it was defensively described – apparently the fact that it was buzzing made the noise very dangerous and intimidating – I couldn’t help but wonder why items in the house that use batteries weren’t considered possible sources given our previous experience with one of those, but that’s just me thinking like that. Of course it made much more sense to plunge the house in complete darkness and then try to look for the source of the noise, but at least they didn’t consider it an option to phone me and ask me if I knew what the noise was while I was out having dinner! Chuckle, chuckle.