The real scary stuff can make us stronger


U.S. gymnast Brandie Jean Ray does a scary move above the balance beam in the Pan American Games on Monday. (ANDY CLARK/REUTERS)

As every kid knows, Halloween is coming. Halloween is full of scary ghosts, goblins and witches flying on broomsticks. Of course, all that scary Halloween stuff isn’t real. It’s just pretend.

I’m more of a sports guy than a Halloween guy. But sports have plenty of scary stuff, too. Think about it.

I can barely watch kids go off diving boards, spinning reverse somersaults and half-twists way up in the air. I’m scared they’re going to hit the board or go splat against the water.

It’s the same with gymnastics. I can’t believe when a gymnast does a flip on the balance beam. That beam is a piece of covered wood only 10 centimeters — about four inches — wide. I would be afraid to fall or clonk my head on the beam. The parallel bars and high bar are scary, too.

You want scary? Try returning kickoffs or punts in football. The kick returner has to keep his eye on the ball, make sure he catches it and start running, with guys sprinting right at him to make the tackle.

Facing a fastball in baseball is pretty scary. Maybe that’s why so many kids step “in the bucket” when they swing the bat. That’s when your front foot starts moving away from the pitch instead of toward the ball.

Hockey pucks and lacrosse balls fly around just about as fast as fastballs. And in those games, there are sticks flashing all around. My daughter played field hockey in high school. I was always afraid she was going to get hit with a stick.

Then there’s the scary part of every game: the fear that you’re going to mess up, lose the game and look like a jerk in front of your teammates.

The scary stuff in sports is different from Halloween, because the scary things in sports are real.

That’s one of the reasons sports are great for kids. Sports give kids a chance to practice being nervous — even scared — and still try to do their best. There are lots of times in real life when kids are going to be nervous, like when they are taking a big test, changing schools or acting in a play. It helps if kids can remember games when they were nervous but things still turned out okay.

As a coach, I noticed that most kids didn’t mind losing so long as they thought they did a good job during the game. I think that’s because kids know that being scared is as much a part of sports as it is a part of Halloween.

Fred Bowen will appear at a father-and-son tailgate party at Politics and Prose Bookstore in Washington on Nov. 13 from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Call 202-364-1919 for more information.

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