When I left for grad school, my mother assumed the role of coach for the U-13 girls’ soccer team I was coaching. A month into the season the team learned that a player’s mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a shock to the entire team because this mother is the unofficial team mascot. She is the mom that can be heard cheering over all the other parents and she has a tradition of doing cart-wheels up and down the sideline to amp the girls (and the crowd) up. The family sent an email to the team notifying everyone about the situation and the mom apologized for not being able to do cart-wheels for the rest of the season.
The girls have a tradition of running past the parents and high-fiving them as they take their cool down jog. At the last game this mom attended before her double mastectomy, the girls did their usual cool down, ran back to the middle of the field and proceeded to cart-wheel their way back to the sideline. The mom was moved to tears by this small, but significant gesture. Last week, my mom forwarded me an email from her captains regarding a team “pink-out” at their next game in honor of this mom. The captains had it all thought out; they made pink hair-ties, bought pink pre-wrap, athletic tape and soccer socks and even ran the idea past the mom.
These gestures are a testament to one of the greatest dynamics a team can have: family. The sense of acceptance/belonging is one of many gifts that a person can receive from sports. The beauty of this dynamic is that the sense of belonging can extend beyond the athletes themselves – their respective families and even their fans can feel like they are part of the family, too. This dynamic can foster trust, commitment and respect among players which helps prepare them to take on the strongest of opponents – even cancer.