High School Sports Brings Stress

Last article, we met Ivan (name changed for privacy) who came to discuss an issue with Devon, his high-school aged son.

Helena, Ivan’s wife, was unable to make the first session due to a scheduling conflict. He was a regular supporter of his son’s basketball games. He and Helena have two older children, a daughter and a son who live independently. He drew attention to a pattern that involved now all three children. Their basketball team was noted as average. All three children played sparingly. All three children were described as average players. Helena reportedly sensed Ivan’s tension at the basketball games. She’d give him a look that prevented any outburst of disappointment or anger. The current offspring sits, Ivan states, quietly on the bench. Additionally, he noticed how some parents sit quietly in the stands while others make angry comments.

Realizing that he’s not alone in this experience, I posed a question for Ivan. Would he continue to attend Devon’s games? Also, is there anything he might do to experience this concern differently? Helena joined him in their second session.

Welcome, folks. Thank you Helena for joining us. Are you aware of the discussion Ivan had last week with me?

“He told me all about it. I couldn’t come last week. I had a meeting to attend. Even before he came, Ivan and I talked openly about his complaint. Since he’s been complaining … I’ve heard it for years. Our other two children experienced the same thing. Ivan then was quieter than now.”

What’s different, Helena?

“What’s different is that Ivan brings home his disgust. We both attended our children’s basketball games. We sat with others such as cousins, aunts and uncles. We rooted for our children as well as their team. We shared their disappointments when the team lost. Looking back, their disappointments to team losses were short-lived. All our children were good students. We’re proud of their achievements. When the team won, sometimes we’d go out for dessert or go home to celebrate for special treats. I don’t remember any of our children getting upset for team losses.”

What about how much each played, Helena?

“Both older children rarely had a negative word to say, if they played sparingly or not at all. Somehow they both seemed to appreciate being on the team. They rooted for their teammates. Both made lifelong friends who they still connect with. We sometimes socialize with the parents. You know, thinking about it, we seemed to connect with the parents whose kids also played sparingly. Once in a while, some of the parents might comment on their kid’s participation.”

“Helena, don’t you remember when Geoff’s dad yelled at the referee in one game?”

“Yes, I remember that the referee sent a teacher up to the stands to silence him. That was embarrassing. He was sitting right near us. A wave of silence followed. The game was stopped, then restarted. I remember hearing the basketball hitting the floor loudly. Geoff was told not to attend games the rest of the season. His son, Thomas, looked like the blood rushed out of his body. He was so pale.”

What about now? Are there more games left? By the way, do you attend away games?

“I can answer that. Is that OK, Helena?”

“Sure, you talk. This is your problem, Ivan.”

“I continue to attend home games. Some away games, too. I find myself feeling uptight whenever I enter the gym, home or away. This is our son’s last year to play. Other interests have cropped up for him. He doesn’t say much to me after each game. I wish him and the team the best before each game. The drive home from school is generally quiet. I ask him how he is doing. I get a short answer like he’s fine no matter the outcome of the games. When I or we both attend away games, usually the home team supporters are loud but not obnoxious. Our side gets real quiet. I sit there and clap for the boys. Sometimes I get a notion to recognize my son when he sits on the bench. He either talks to another player or watches the game. He displays little emotion. He supports his team and coaches. I don’t know, maybe he’s not as impacted or even handicapped by his role. I mean, he participates in all practices but not in games except a minute or two. I have this fear, you know … I don’t want to be a father who complains to his son about his activities. Honestly, the two of us have never discussed his role and participation on the basketball team, so why does it bother me? And why am I here in a counselor’s office talking about it?”

Ivan looks at Helena and shrugs his shoulders.

“Maybe I can shed some light on your question, dear. You see, one time long ago when we first met, what was I doing?”

“You were playing basketball on your college team.”

“Right, honey.”

“What else was going on? Do you remember or do you need a reminder?”

“I remember we were in the same history class and we sat next to each other.”

“And then what?”

“I asked you if you wanted to study for a big exam together.”

“And what did I say?”

“You said you couldn’t because much of your time outside of class was basketball practice.”

“Did you give up on me?”

“Hell no. I went to your game and saw you in a different role.”

“And what did you learn about me, you know, school and basketball?”

“I learned that basketball was as important as a commitment. Something I believe your parents instilled in you.”

“Also, remember, school was important to me. I worked hard in both the classroom and basketball court.”

Folks, how about we continue this next week? Maybe bring Devon. Ok?


Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.

Marshall Greenstein holds a master’s degree in marriage and family counseling and is a licensed marriage and family counselor and a licensed mental health counselor in New York state. He has regular office hours at 415 E. Sixth St., Jamestown, and can be reached at , 484-7756. For more information or to suggest topics, email editorial@post-journal.com.


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