It was the time of the year when the teachers didn’t berate the students if homework wasn’t done. It was the time that came only once a year. It was the season of annual sports!
For the sports-enthusiasts, mornings during this season meant spending time in the huge school playground before the rest of the school trooped in, each honing one’s skills at some sport or the other. Javelins went piercing through the air and tall girls went flying over great heights for high jump race practice while some were seen practicing running long distances for the relay races. While most of the students would wait eagerly for those carefree, fun-n-frolic-filled days there would be one who would wait with more of a nervous anticipation than with joy or excitement.
For two months every year, her evenings meant running at her topmost speed, playing badminton to increase her agility and continuously trying to improve her skills at jumping for the long jump and high jump races. Despite all the efforts she would put in and the time she would invest in for preparation for her school sports, she wouldn’t really be particularly enthusiastic about this grand day at school. Why? Well, she was one of the weakest, physically, in her class.
During throw-ball sessions, the ball from her hand would refuse to cross the net, no matter how much she tried to squeeze out every bit of energy from her body, much to her chagrin and embarrassment! Sports were just not her cup of tea, she would think at times, with anger and frustration! Her shining academic scores were never any consolation to her during such moments of shame! Was it a miracle that she managed to win medals on some of these occasions of Annual Sports Day? I’ll leave it for you to judge, dear reader.
But I know for sure that she suffered from a terrible fear that she might be well on her way to earning herself the label of a nerd who was a big zero in sports, a terribly boring person who deserved to be sniggered at during those typical chat sessions that marked the lunch breaks. This fear was even surpassed by a great desire in her to please her parents, particularly her father. She nursed a secret wish to see him beaming with pride when she excelled at something (which is something he always expected from her in whatever she did). Verbal compliments from him seldom came her way and a fierce desire had birthed in her over time – a desire to feel worthy, a desire to feel appreciated by her parents who mattered the most to her then even if she didn’t connect to them enough owing to the formative years of her childhood having been spent away from them.
There was a pressure to perform even if they never spelled it out with “Try for a cup or a medal, Apu” – this and the terror of being kept at an arm’s length by peers for being “sports-dumb” did the magic for her.
As I and Advaita’s father watched our ten-year-old son learning the basics of tennis from his new coach a few furlongs away, I asked aloud “How was it that a frail, short, delicate girl of little physical strength like me managed to win medals in school sports?” as I delved into my childhood days. When I had finished reeling out my childhood story of my reasonable degree of success on the field on Sports Day in some years of my school life, my husband said quietly, “The pressure of muted expectations too can bring out the best from somebody.”
This isn’t the picture in our home, yet. I guess Advaita still has got some time to get competitive on the field, considering he is just in his eleventh orbit. As parents, we too have time to ourselves to begin to expect him to do better than his best. Let him take some time to pick up the basics, some time to enjoy the game. Let him take time to blossom on the tennis grounds. Since I already know the trick of muted expectations, I might try to make use of them at some point of time soon, though maybe not too soon, in future, when and if the need arises.
Not quite the “tiger parents” were my parents for me, but not much less either. Muted expectations from parents not very generous with praises have their own unique strong power, well at least during the times when I was growing up. Decades later, I have just realized this! The scenario has undergone a metamorphosis over the years when parents today are continuously reminded to be the encouraging sort throwing lavish praises on their child for any achievement, small or big.
Of course, whether such muted expectations would do magic for my son too or not, remains to be seen! If they do, it’s great. If they don’t, which shouldn’t come as a nasty surprise, considering Advaita gets really kicked about only things that really stimulate him, and quietly shuts himself out of all lectures on how a particular sport or hobby can uplift him in more ways than one, it should provoke me into turning into a “tiger mom” for my son’s sake.
Would I succeed? Would I be able to cast away my “Enjoy tennis as you learn!” only to replace my slogan with “You should learn tennis well enough to get disciplined!”? That too remains to be seen!
Also Read : Do Children Need to be Pushed?