Sporting the wrong attitude

Elizabeth Hersh is Senior Rabbi at Temple Emanuel. 

By Rabbi Elizabeth Hersh

My son participated in his first kid’s triathlon. It was sponsored by the Jewish Community Center and very well organized. My son did nothing to prepare. I hoped that by the very nature of being an active child, he could achieve the two goals we had established. The first was to have fun. The second was to finish. In fact, I said we were not even going to look up his time.

During the biking section of the swim, bike, run, we were close enough to watch our son circle the loop many times. Each time he approached where we were standing, we yelled words of encouragement. But that wasn’t the only cheering I was doing. As other children rode past me, I hollered sentiments such as, “Looking great!” “You can do it!” “Woo hoo number x!” 

Even while waiting for my son to start the run, I shouted words of encouragement to the other participants. “Almost finished! You look awesome!” It is something I learned to do at my races. Runners are constantly sharing words of strength to others on the course. “You’ve got this!” “Almost there!”

And that is why I was shocked when my son told me he heard a family yell to their child who was riding alongside him, “You can take him! He looks tired!” Really?! This is a children’s activity – one which takes courage and fortitude just to sign up and start. It takes resilience to keep going when you are tired and the finish line is still minutes away. It takes belief in your body and mind.

What it doesn’t take or need are parents who raise their child’s status at the expense of another. I long for the days when we rewarded sportsmanship.