What does sport offer to a new father and to what end can it be harnessed to benefit his new daughter’s life? I ask these questions perched, as I am sure many more experienced in my newfound profession have once been, with both head and heart filled with best intentions.
She is but yet to crawl, however I feel that the opportunity to spend my time asking such questions will quickly be over once such hurdles are overcome.
Sport does not, I readily admit, play a major role in my ideas on fatherhood. I don’t share Damir Dokic’s desire to impose sport as an end in itself but rather am happy if it becomes a means to my daughter’s happiness.
As a man who draws much enjoyment from a now rather passive involvement in sport, I would like to see her encouraged into it for two reasons; firstly, for her own sake and secondly that we might share some of those enjoyments.
The later reason, I will admit, is something of a selfish one. That she should have a source, any source, of enjoyment in life should be enough for me, and it will undoubtedly prove to be.
I don’t hold much hope of her being a particularly ardent Reds fan.
Still, the first of my two reasons gives me reason to pause; that I would like her to enjoy sport for own sake and am yet unsure of exactly what that might be.
What does sport give to a child?
We can quickly account for the low hanging fruit of the physical benefits that sport brings. Though my thoroughly busted knees and second-rower’s sciatica may otherwise attest, my body was once not such a complete stranger to fitness and prospered during the acquaintance.
It is the other benefits of sport that I question. How does sport affect our children’s development socially and mentally?
A rather unintelligent cliché has found its way into the sporting commentary vernacular that states ‘sport doesn’t build character, it reveals it’. The lack of imagination that this wisdom glares upon us is that such a statement could only be true if sport were a one off event, a polaroid once taken and then stapled to your epitaph.
But when has sport ever been such?
Be it a random game of touch struck up in a backyard or the organised competition between schools, sport allows us to be revealed over and over again, week-in week-out. We get to reflect on what of ourselves we chose to give and decide how we will choose to react to that.
In doing so, sport affords us every opportunity to build our character. More than that, team sport teaches us how to build a team character; how to be better for being part of something greater than ourselves.
I am thinking directly of John Eales’ Wallaby teams’ ability to find victory under seemingly immoveable mountains of defeat and Allan Border’s cricket team’s utter defiance at defeat’s mere shadow.
In this way, I find something more to appreciate in team sports than individual pursuits and I have found that the ability to not just tolerate interaction with others but to genuinely prosper in a team situation critical to my professional life. This again tends to sway me toward team sports but perhaps I have not accounted for differences in temperament or sex.
But what of the professional world of sport?
I would prefer she made her career in something more sustainable than sport but can’t ignore the influence of the upper echelons of sport on the amateur.
Though it pains my imagination I am sure that one day my little angel will have reason to give me cheek. I am not particularly looking forward to the day but as long as she never talks to me with the post-match, media-training talk of most modern athletes I will be happy.
Turning my mind to more seriously analyse the world of professional sport I find much that I would try to sway my daughter to avoid.
I don’t like the idea of sport as an avenue to celebrity. I don’t like the idea of sport to the exclusion of all other pursuits.
I would like her perspective on life not to be formed by sport but, like Keith Miller, her life experiences reflected in the way she plays it.
The world of professional sport also has some unspoken rules that I am not sure dovetail with my thoughts on fatherhood. Rugby, for example, is often derided for being elitist and too complex and yet would I use either of these reasons for stopping my daughter from entering any other sport, pastime, university course or career?
And how can one ignore the culture that surrounds a sport? Though it seems to make no difference in the ability of a professional sport to sell its product I would seek out sports that offered me some form of parental discretion in this area.
In short, I am unprepared to leave the guidance of my child in the hands of the free market, even in the relatively trivial field of choosing a sport.
But to avoid trivialities would be to avoid much of life’s fun and there is no small benefit to be gained in learning how to enjoy them. To provide a work-wearied mind with a refuge of competitive meaninglessness, to be able to engage in happy arguments about the abilities of teams containing not a single person within cooee of our circle of friends.
Ultimately this is about where I’d hope sport to be useful to my daughter; to keep her mind and body fit and active, to make her laugh and to teach her how to engage with the outside world.
All this thinking is no doubt in vain as I am sure I will continue to be only further wrapped around my daughter’s little finger and any thoughts that it will be me who does the guiding in our relationship are pure fantasies.
More experienced campaigners will hopefully forgive my naivety in hoping to carry so heavy an influence on my child’s sporting choices but I do wonder if the reasons we once held for getting kids involved in sport have changed.