Tag Archives: injury

Fear of injury

batting

How fast are they bowling?

I’m frightened.

What if I get hit?

I don’t want to bat.

Questions and assertions, hushed and rushed. No.1 son and I are playing our second senior cricket match together. A well-built, ginger haired bowler has got me out caught and, following me, our middle order batting collapses. No.1 son has to pad-up in the changing room amidst angry, disappointed teammates who’ve been caught, bowled and generally humbled far too quickly.

I take him outside for some warm-up hits. “I’m frightened,” he insists. I side-step the statement and coax, reassure, boost, set him little targets but offer him no way out.

What sort of a father shepherds his 13 year old son on to face something the boy fears will hurt him? It’s just a game. Am I, like so many dads of sporty sons, projecting my hopes onto him? Is his fear an embarrassment to me at my cricket club? What entitles me, without using these words to him, to call on his bravery?

Thirteen years into the world of parenting, an environment I find perplexingly confusing, uncertainty abounding, I finally find myself in a place of clarity; where I possess deep knowledge. I know three things directly pertinent to this moment:
1) I know club cricket, particularly at this lowly third eleven level. It exists to blood (figuratively, of course) youngsters and allow the old or barely competent adult players a chance to live a few dreams. And this match is now so far out of our team’s reach that the opposition have time to ease up when a sub-five foot tall 13 year old comes in to bat.
2) I know no.1 son’s cricket. I coach his club team and I’ve seen him bat courageously against fast bowlers of his age. And I’ve seen his technique refined during a stint with the county coaches, so am confident he has the wherewithal to counter today’s bowling.
3) I know no.1 son’s attitude to risk. He has a very understandable aversion to challenges. He likes familiarity and control. Last autumn, we drove to a different town for his first practice session with the county coaches. By the time we parked in the school, he was begging me not to make him go. Gradually, I nudged him towards the sports hall and then he was gone. Two hours later and he was back, his pre-session wobble wiped from memory, happy and daring to be critical of the other boys’ cricket ability.

I also know that fear of injury, in fact the very real risk of being harmed, is part of the deal we strike when we play sport. We seek the exhilaration of performance, success or simply movement. We risk disappointment, defeat and physical damage. I doubt I have ever walked out to bat, hopeful of experiencing that commanding feeling of scoring runs, without the thought nagging away that the ball could hurt me. But with cricket, the sport I know well, I can rationalise it. With football, too. That’s not the case for me, though, with all sports.

For no.1 son’s eleventh birthday, Mother in the Middle decided that the prudent financial constraints of party planning should be loosened. It was no.1 son’s last with his junior school friends. We took eight boys to a factory basement that had been converted into a go-karting track.

With a brief induction and donning of safety gear, the boys began driving around the tight subterranean circuit. After a few practice laps, they began racing. I found the spectating experience excruciating. There were bumps and shunts that sent their bodies jerking. On and on they drove, finding tighter lines and pushing themselves closer to the tyre walls and each others’ cars. No.1 son was as enthralled as his pals. Long before the session ended, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to cope with a child pursuing motorsport.

Pen PitstopA few weeks ago, this thought recurred when no.2 son and the 1&onlyD went quad-biking with friends. I empathised with the couple of kids, too cautious to open up the bike’s throttle, who needed pushing up the steeper slopes. Those weren’t my kids. Mine became Penelope Pitstop and Mutley for that afternoon.

Back at the cricket ground, my warm-up with no.1 son is going well. He’s striking the ball crisply, while moaning that I don’t throw the ball as fast as the bowling. I leave him when my stint as umpire arrives. It’s not long before he, too, is in the middle. The opposition are cruising to an easy victory. The ginger haired quick bowler is rested and two slow bowlers are in action.

The fielders crowd around our shortest batsman. They’re cocky, expecting little from one so small. Second ball, he clips the ball past square leg, leaving a fielder sprawling and gathering a run. The field adjusts, players taking a few steps back, the banter drops. No.1 son defends well. I can see he’s enjoying himself. Two batting partners, older but not wiser, give their wickets away. The last pair are batting. No.1 son tries an ambitious shot, is bowled and the match is over.

The opposition shake hands or tap him on the helmet. Condescending, it looks, but that’s not how it’s meant. He’s unscathed, doesn’t mention being frightened now. But I know it will be there next time, and probably every time he plays, whether he chooses to mention it to me or not.

Postscript

As a treat, in between two days of secondary school entrance exams for the 1&onlyD, we take the kids to Jump Nation. Mother in the Middle has been there before and explains that she found it hard to watch: kids bouncing on trampolines in all directions – accidents waiting to happen.

Forty-five minutes into their hour long session and we look up from the cafe to see a Jump Nation steward carrying the 1&onlyD to the side. Mother in the Middle’s fear of her kids getting injured has been realised. The 1&onlyD has sprained her ankle. The swift and expert 1st aid minimise the damage, but still Mother has to carry daughter piggy-back to her exam table the next morning.

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Scared stiff

American-Staffordshire-Terrier-2We were about to race from the edge of the woods back to the grandparents’ house when no.2 son paused to tie his shoe laces. A characteristic time wasting trick of a footballer, but unlike him to want to either delay a race or address his untied trainers without being instructed. He stayed crouched down until he could see a man with two dogs move out of sight to the left of some houses at the foot of the field we were going to run down. Unnerved by the dogs’ presence, even in the distance, no.2 son asked not to race.

We walked down the field, with his hand holding mine, until we reached the track that ran around the cluster of houses, with our destination at the end. We headed to the right and no.2 son sped ahead. Suddenly, from a gap between two properties the dogs reappeared and bounded, barking towards the boy. He squealed and froze, trapped for an instant by two large dogs against a hawthorn hedge. The owner called the dogs away leaving no.2 son unharmed, but shaken.

“I’m scared stiff,” he offered in unnecessary explanation.

No.2 son is the boldest, most physically forward of my children. In football, he’ll tackle adults many times his size. He relishes thrills at funfairs that his older brother shrinks from. He rough-houses with more vigour than his siblings. On our adventure holiday, he was the one stepping forward to try the new challenge.

But dogs are different. So total is his aversion to them that they influence his attitude to any trip from the house. Despite his size, strength and the number of balls that disappear over the fence, he only wants to play football in the garden. On the occasions that I have lured him to the park, he’s on edge. When he spots a dog, he veers away from it, stops playing and nags to go home. The initial source of this phobia is not clear; nor is the cure.

When we pass dogs in the park, or the street and he turns rigid with anxiety, I make a point of demonstrating that the dog’s not interested in him. Any chase or toothy attention is focused on a squirrel, its owner’s tennis ball, or another dog’s bottom. Over time, I have hoped that the sheer number of dogs that come close but ultimately ignore, and certainly don’t harm him, would erode the fear. But he’s not listening to me. He turns his head to keep an eye on the dog, making sure it doesn’t approach him from behind.  And my tactic was dealt a blow this summer.

His older brother was making his senior cricket debut and the two younger children and I turned up to catch some of this occasion. No.2 son and I were kicking a ball about on the boundary when there was the sound of a doggy altercation on the road behind the pavilion. A few minutes later, a bull terrier ran though the gate and onto the ground. It ran in a wide arc across the playing area and back towards the players and spectators in front of the pavilion. I helped catch it and bundle it out of the gate.

No.2 son had retreated to join the small crowd and was still there when the dog reappeared, pushing itself under the gate. Again it bothered the players before zooming in on the knot of people by the pavilion. No.2 son backed away from the speeding dog but somehow collided with it. For a second time I grabbed it by the collar and dragged it out of the gate. The dog wanted to stay, but wasn’t aggressive as I pulled it off the ground. An owner, had one been in sight, would probably have apologised: “He just wants to play.”

In front of the pavilion, no.2 son was being consoled. I explained to those concerned that I thought he was just shaken because of his fear of dogs. Inside the pavilion, the lad complained his knee hurt. There was no bite mark, not even a scratch or a bruise.

He limped about for the rest of the day and again the next. When a second full day went by without him even asking to play football, Mother in the Middle took him to the GP. The injury – a tendon strain – was relatively minor, but the incident has firmly cemented in his brain the conviction that dogs are out to harm him.

Postscript: when telling this story at a family gathering, I was told that a professional goalkeeper’s career had been ended when a stray dog ran onto the pitch, clattered into him and shattered his knee. Click here for the video of the incident.

I had viewed no.2 son’s experience as a freak – such extreme bad fortune that a dog running around the wide expanse of a cricket field should collide with the leg of the child with the most engrained fear of the animal. Perhaps, though, what is worthy of note is no.2 son’s good fortune not to have been more seriously injured.

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Menorca Holiday Games

307The games started almost as soon as we hit Menorcan soil. Carousel surfing, demonstrated here by the 1&onlyD and no.2 son, is dangerous and should not be practised. It tends only to be sanctioned at the end of a long day’s travelling when the adults in the party haven’t the energy to create distractions or impose authority.

The resort pool was a hoot. The inflatables were the vehicle for getting all three playing together.

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Next to the resort was a water park. No.2 son led the charge down the slides and flumes, but his sister and brother followed. By the final day, no.1 son had risen to the challenge and was the sole family member to do the ‘plug-hole’ – a slide into a giant basin around which one spun until dropping out of the hole at the bottom.

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We played some tennis. The limp state of the net is a good metaphor for the quality of our play in the heat of the early afternoon. 312

To the boys’ delight, the court became a football pitch, where they took part in several resort tournaments. One involved mixed age teams – what could go wrong with that?

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On day 1 at the water park, watching no.2 son tear away and up steps to a slide, Mrs TL said “I just know we’re going to end up in hospital this holiday.” What prescience. But it turned out to be the 1&onlyD. Sitting on a bar beside the table tennis (see left of image below), she was failed by her gymnastically trained balance and slipped off and around the bar, bumping the back of her head. 323

She seemed fine through the evening, but shortly after going to bed felt ill. I called a doctor, who examined her and very calmly explained she was calling an ambulance to take her across the island to hospital for an emergency brain scan. Mrs TL accompanied her on a blue-light midnight flit. The scan was all clear and they were discharged the next morning.

They arrived just too late to see no.1 son win the resort table-tennis tournament. Here he is in action in the final, out-foxing some poor old fellow in a hat, good for nothing more active than finger exercise at a keyboard.

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Euro-holiday football – ‘the tackle’

This afternoon sons no.s 1 & 2 take part in a pick-up tournament at our Menorcan resort. Unsurprisingly the game plays a prominent part in our continental sorties. Each of the Eurocamps we have visited has had a court or area for the game. At I Pini, near Rome, no.1 son (9 at the time) befriended an Italian boy, but was non-plussed that the local lad, defying national sporting stereotypes, was less skilful than he. Last year, at Cala Gogo, north of Barcelona, we played a joyful evening of Anglo-German contests.

It was Le Beaune in the South of France that saw the most drama. It was the site of ‘the humiliation’ – described in a later post – and ‘the tackle’. The campsite stretched a couple of miles through a forest. At the far end from our caravan was the football pitch: an astro rectangle fringed with a wooden fence and benches, with rustic wooden goalposts. During the day, Dads and their young lads played back garden style footie. From five in the evening multinational pick-up matches took place. Sides were no more than 8-a-side, with natural leaders emerging to usher substitutes waiting their turn on the benches to join the match.

The first time we turned up in the evening with intent, no.1 son’s eagerness to play dissolved at the sight of the bench apprenticeship. Minutes earlier (and for much of that day) he had been nagging me to play. I joined the bench more to provide an example than with any desire to play. I soon got the nod, and as I jogged onto the pitch found no.2 son (5 at the time) at my heels. He flitted about getting in other players’ way and took a few good swings at balls that came to him. No.1 son joined us.

I moved back into goal, trying to feed the ball to the boys who were the two smallest on the pitch. Suddenly, with no defensive cover, I found a 2 meter tall opponent alone in front of me. He controlled the ball, looked up, drew his foot back ready to drive the ball past me. Below his eyeline, no.2 son scuttled into action, sliding to make an impeccably timed block tackle at the second the striker’s leg completed its downswing and blasted the ball.

Time moved very slowly. In football terms, the shot was blocked. The spectators on the benches and around the wooden fences gasped. No.2 son was sent spinning from the force of the shot his tiny foot had blocked and he stayed down on the astro, metres from the point of impact. In parent mode, my mind flicked between an immediate diagnosis – fractured ankle – guilt and irresponsibility for letting my five year old play with adults. I pictured the cast on his foot.

I had a flash-back to five years before. Within an hour of arriving at our Sorento resort, the 1&onlyD, under my charge, had fallen from a see-saw landing on her elbow. Three days of hospital visits, police questions and a cast around her arm and body so heavy she toddled and teetered before we cut our losses and flew home three days into our holiday.

The two metre striker apologised in Dutch, German and English. No.2 son was dazed, but intact. We were substituted and the game continued.

It was one hell of a tackle.

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