The U.S. women’s soccer team lost to Japan in the finals of the World Cup but the game to remember was the absolutely thrilling quarterfinal against Brazil, which I would call one of the greatest games (of any kind) I have ever watched.
I have taken great joy from being a fan and cheering for my children and wife in countless games and tournaments. My parents were avid fans of my sports career. I will never forget my Dad setting up a movie camera at one of my basketball games and my mother shouting above everybody else in the crowd “give the ball to Lloyd”. I felt both joy and chagrin.
You go girls.
By Robert Strauss
When my younger daughter, Sylvia, was about 10, she was on one of those alleged super-duper basketball teams. She was in a tough tournament game at a dank gym one Sunday, and after the game, I put my arm around her with a twisted grin.
“Congratulations on being the high scorer,” I said as she grimaced.
Unfortunately, Sylvia ended up with 1 point after a girl from the other team mistakenly fouled her as she attempted a buzzer-beating shot before halftime. She made one of two from the foul line — making the loss only 44-1.
Now, if that game were, say, 44-38, I would have hardly remembered it. As the often-perplexed father of two girls, Ella and Sylvia, who took sports as second nature, I have been smitten with everything they have done on the court, the field, the track, the pool and assorted other places. In the age of the controversy over Tiger Mothers, I resolutely stand as the Pussycat Dad of sports parents.
When I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s in suburban New Jersey, I wasn’t sure how girls got around to playing sports. Even when they did, it was of a different form. Girls basketball was six on a side, only two of whom could play the full length of the court, presumably because girls had no stamina. They played softball, with 10 players and the squishiest ball they could find, so no one could possibly get hurt. Lacrosse and field hockey had so many penalties, the whistle seemed to blow at every turn to save them from even the tiniest welt. They always had to wear skirts, not practical pants or shorts.
But when my girls turned 5, they were in the vortex of T-ball, biddy basketball and the inevitable soccer. Everyone played everything all the time. Girls sports became a given, and I didn’t quite know what to make of it.
Because they were girls, I guess, I never envisioned them playing in stadiums before 83,000 drunken alumni or being on gum-sugar-encrusted playing cards. Still, they insisted on trying almost everything: baseball, softball, tennis, cross-country, hurdles, diving, swimming, crew, basketball, lacrosse, soccer and probably 16 other sports I can’t remember.
And as time went on, I knew nothing but to cheer them. I arranged my schedule to go to every game I could and resolved to be omnipresent and unobtrusive. I could be a martinet when it came to schoolwork, but on the sideline, I resolved to cheer and to laugh as much as I could at the goofy plays.
I saw the tenseness in the other parents and coaches, then looked at their children and saw the jaws set and the brows furrow. Oh, I have had my moments of silent curses, but in general, my glasses have been the brightest hue of rosy, and the cups have not just been half full, but overflowing like Mauna Loa over Hawaii.
Sylvia was once the goalie of a soccer team that scored one goal for the whole season, but sometimes, I couldn’t wait to go home to tell my wife of the wonders of losing “only 2-0.” Ella went to a diving meet where she came in 26th. Out of 26. It afforded me the opportunity to rev up the Knute Rockne speech about giving it her all, not leaving anything on the board and getting them next time.
Mia Hamm’s father may have all of her Olympic goals, but I have the day when Ella, about 11, drove to the basketball hoop as her mouth guard popped out. She leapt, grabbing the mouth guard in midair with her left hand and making the basket with her right. Venus and Serena Williams’s father has their Grand Slam victories. I have Sylvia’s magnificent 44-1 loss.
My N.C.A.A. career might be the worst ever. I played five minutes of freshman basketball at Division III Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., during a winless season. In the last second of those five minutes, I threw a left-handed, behind-the-back pass to my friend Paul Stiegler under the basket. With that assist, we lost by only 105-53 to St. Olaf. I’ve been giggling about that for more than 40 years.
My girls have had their moments, too. Ella, for instance, was a co-captain of her high school’s state championship tennis team, a guard on the basketball team and was recruited by colleges as a crew coxswain. What I liked best, though, is that she was a co-captain even though she was the 14th-best tennis player and won the coach’s award in basketball as the most inspirational because, at 5 feet, she might have been the smallest varsity player in the state. Yet she chose to attend Davidson College for its academic record and now takes every conceivable spinning and boot-camp class.
All those years and all those games taught her leadership and moxie and perspective. Excellence is fine, to be sure, but laughing at the funny parts — the 105-53s and the 26ths out of 26 — is what kept our relationship sane.
This weekend, I am attending a lacrosse tournament in Maryland with Sylvia. I guess that is the way men like me should spend Father’s Day.