MISSOULA — As a newbie grandpa, I've still got time to grow up before the next Speltz tries his hand at sports.
Time to read a good book on sports perspective. Maybe learn how to meditate and find inner peace.
As a sports dad, I was probably a C-minus at best. A little too intense and obsessed with winning. A little too repetitive with the sports clichés at the dinner table.
Oh, I came up with some doozies. Even borrowed an Aerosmith lyric once, reminding my son, "you got to lose to know how to win."
Through all the ups and downs in my 36 years as a sports journalist, the one immutable truth I've learned — a nugget that will serve me well as a sports grandpa — is that, in the end, very few people care how your kid does in sports.
Considering my line of work, that thought may seem counter-intuitive. But the realization is liberating as a parent.
No one remembers, or cares, who had the best youth hockey team in Dubuque, Iowa, in 2005. No one gives a rat's fanny who claimed the trophy at the Western Montana Open 16-and-under boys tennis tournament in 2008.
Sheesh, I wish I had known that back when I was blowing a gasket, unleashing my inner Vince Lombardi on my kids.
If I could talk to Bill Speltz from 20 years ago, I'd simply tell him to lighten up. Just hug your child if he loses and shut up. Don't help him/her make excuses for the outcome and don't coach him/her up on the ride home.
Armed with my degree from the sports dad school of hard knocks, I enter this new era as a grandfather with optimism. My sole mission is to make sure my grandchildren still love to play sports when they reach adulthood.
What a wonderful ice breaker sports have been for me through all the years of job jumping. Just take a bat or a racket to the local park and make a friend.
My son and I still play golf and tennis from time to time. I feel pretty lucky things turned out that way. Hopefully his son will join us someday.
Looking back, my dad, who was every bit as intense about sports as I used to be, was actually a better sports dad than I was for reasons beyond his control. Allow me to explain:
For baseball, football and basketball, we were both on the same page— obsessed with individual stats and accolades. It was always about how many points or tackles or hits or strikeouts. Even team results took a backseat for us, which was good because I was part of two winless teams as a varsity football player.
My father was a better sports dad for one reason: He never pestered me about the one sport I took up on my own, high school tennis. He could care less about it and never has learned how to keep score. You can take from that what you will. The result has been pure bliss for his first-born son.
My goal as a grandfather is much different than it was as a father. I simply want to be there to provide support, win or lose. Help them realize it really, truly is all about fun and learning valuable life lessons — even if it doesn't seem that way at the time.
Maybe I'll get those grandchildren of mine to laugh a little more. They can even laugh at grandpa if they like.
Ironically, my favorite sports memories of my dad, who always played with us in the yard, have nothing to do with any battles. They have more to do with watching sports or the rides home from sports when I was a kid.
There was that time he stood on his head in the recliner after Joe Montana and the 49ers beat the Cowboys in the 1981 NFC championship. Those spring afternoons he spent on his knees in the living room, beckoning Larry Bird, Dennis Johnson and the Celtics to dig deeper for a win over the hated Lakers.
Then there were the rides home from sports. Once he took my brother and I to Dairy Queen after a junior high ball game and asked the boy tending the counter if they had any cones. I wanted to crawl under the tile. Now I plan on using the joke myself when my grandchildren are around.
One important lesson I've learned about my kids and sports is that folks don't want to hear trophy stories. They want the funny stuff because it's more interesting and entertaining.
Like the time when my son was playing flag football in grammar school and we made the mistake of dressing him in track pants with snaps up the side. One second he's toting the ball upfield, the next he's frantically re-snapping those pants so he didn't expose his Fruit of the Looms.
Or the time my daughter kicked me in the shins because I took her out of a soccer game too early, back when she was a pip squeak and I was the volunteer coach.
Love that spitfire. Love those days.
Something tells me I'm going to like this grandpa gig.