By Dom Cioffi
He was always going to be an athlete . . .
Since the day my son was born, I’ve made sure that he was involved in sports. I didn’t do this because of my ego or because I have a secret fantasy that he will one day make millions as a professional athlete. I did it because I know the value of competition and how a season on the playing field can be highly representative of the challenges we will all face in life.
Having played sports throughout my own life and having come from a competitive household, I knew firsthand how transforming athletic endeavors can be for a young man.
However, given all of this, had my son detested the sports I involved him in, I’m pretty sure I would have backed off. I’ve never wanted to force him into anything that didn’t fit who he naturally was.
Thankfully, that didn’t happen.
My first sports endeavor with my son began when he was just old enough to sit upright. I would place him on the floor facing me with his back supported by several cushions. I would then sit directly in front of him with a foot-wide round basket in between my legs. After placing several bean bags between his legs, I would then encourage him to throw towards me. It didn’t take long for him to figure out the point of the activity (especially when dad would get overly excited whenever one of the beanbags flopped into the basket).
So, at less than a year old and still unable to walk or talk, my son knew the value of scoring a basket!
Later, as he matured, I introduced the prerequisite baseball glove and indoor plastic basketball hoop, both of which he wore out from overuse. These pastimes slowly worked into local rec leagues where he learned the rules, positions and nuances of each activity.
Over the years we’ve focused on three major sports: baseball, basketball and golf. Having been a coach for many years, I am opposed to the current trend of having a child focus on one activity to the exclusion of all others. If he chooses to make his focus more singular in the future, it will be his own decision, but for now, we’ll keep mixing things up season to season.
In between those main sporting activities, I’ve also made it a point to build his skills in a variety of other second tier disciplines such as darts, horseshoes, billiards, and most notably, table tennis (I’d use the term ping pong, but aficionados of the game frown on this).
My family has always had a table tennis table in the basement where it was regularly put to good use, especially on rainy days and holidays. My brothers and I became fairly accomplished, which ultimately paid dividends when we entered college or happened upon an open table at a party.
So, it only followed that I would have to pass along my superior skillset to my son in hopes that he too would one day outshine drunken friends and roommates in a borderline parlor game.
Teaching a young child to play the game of table tennis is tedious, since it requires such a delicate hand. But after countless hours chasing after those little plastic balls, my son eventually developed a deft touch. In fact, his skill increased at a dramatic pace and by 8 years old he could beat teenagers handedly.
Now at 11 years old, my son is a commanding force on the table. While he has yet to beat me, he still gives me a pretty good run. Unfortunately for him, he has very little competition amongst the neighborhood kids, most of whom have given up playing against him.
I always assumed this was because he was so much better than them, but I learned this past weekend it was for a dramatically different reason.
While playing in the garage this past Saturday, I happened to overhear my son accosting his friends about their inferior play, lack of rudimentary knowledge of the game and overall ineptness with the paddle. I listened for a couple minutes and was genuinely mortified.
In a word… he was a jerk.
I finally intervened and removed the paddle from his hand explaining that he was officially banished from the table and would have to watch the remainder of the games without commenting. He, of course, did not take this well.
Later, when we were alone, I gave him a longwinded lecture about how off-putting a braggart can be and how he had a responsibility as a skilled player to teach the other boys instead of berating them. I told him flat-out that he was a bully and that bullies eventually get flattened.
That fact happened to prove true in this week’s film, “Black Mass,” which featured an epic bully who went from small time criminal to major mob boss.
“Black Mass” stars Johnny Depp as Whitey Bulger, a Boston-based gang leader who, with the help of a shifty police detective, terrorized the streets of Beantown throughout the 1980s.
This is easily Depp’s best film in years, but he didn’t do it alone as the supporting cast was equally as impressive.
Check this one out if you’re in the mood for a classic mob drama. Just be prepared for some seriously sociopathic behavior.
An incorrigible “B+” for “Black Mass.”
Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at [email protected].