I envisioned my boys as future basketball superstars. It appears I was seeing the wrong ball

OPINION: In my early visions of two of my boy’s athletic successes, I saw a basketball and high-flying achievement — as it turns out, the ball of choice was a soccer ball.

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Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

It’s fascinating watching your children grow up. It’s impossible not to think about who you were at their various ages and what life looked like, even if those memories are probably not entirely accurate. Similarly, it’s a joy to see your children develop their own interests and excel in areas you might not have considered. This is constantly my life. At this point, I’m both a soccer dad and a volleyball dad. My daughter made the junior varsity team at her high school (getting real playing time) and, considering her journey, I could not be more proud of her. 

That same thing, though differently, also exists with two of my boys, my 8- and 7-year-olds. For the sake of this piece, I will refer to them by their initials, S (8) and R (7). But first, some backstory. 

While I played various sports as a youth, I’d never call myself particularly athletically gifted. I played basketball, ran track and cross-country and while especially young, played soccer while growing up in Germany. I was good at all the things I played, but a professional career, nor aspirations really, were in the cards for me. Academics were my thing, and I’m sure my family knew this early on. 

But I am a father to little boys so when S and R were little (they’re 14 months apart), I started to envision a world where my two boys would play on the same basketball teams in youth leagues and then through high school (or whatever league was appropriate for what I assumed would be their otherworldly talents) leading to an eventual magazine cover (or really, social media marketing push) featuring the Wright Brothers. If you’re asking yourself the obvious question here, my actual last name is Wright, not Jackson. It’s a whole story — let’s move on.

Anywho, I could see it. My taller more athletically gifted boy, S, standing alongside his slightly shorter, more finesse-centric younger brother, R, with each holding a basketball on their shoulders with the subheading, “They Stay Fly” as a double-entendre of sorts. Their two-man game would be worthy of a feature write-up because they’d be stars in the Washington, D.C., basketball scene, which is absolutely worthy of note. Where they would be going to college would absolutely be a thing folks wanted to know. Again, I could see it. 

Then a funny thing happened; neither of my boys cared much about basketball. R definitely likes basketball — LeBron James is somebody he loves — but it isn’t something he needs to play to be happy. S, who pretty much excels at every single sport he tries, isn’t even really that competitive. He likes playing sports and is pretty much the best at whatever he tries almost immediately but neither baseball, basketball nor track stuck. At all. Track was such a nonstarter that we took him to one practice after he promised to give it a shot (he’s very fast), and he walked to the track, turned around and said, “I tried. I don’t like it.” I started to wonder if my thoughts about sports weren’t just off-base but altogether wrong. 

But then a funny thing happened. My kids would play soccer at school during recess, and by play soccer I mean kick a soccer ball around. My wife signed up R for a local D.C. soccer league — S was, again, uninterested at first — and R got a kick out of running around, and because he’s competitive, he likes winning. While watching R run around and play, S wanted to get into the games. It seems he enjoyed playing at school and liked what he saw happening with his younger brother. Then, at home, the boys started watching soccer videos all of the time and arguing — constantly — about who the greatest soccer player was between Kylian Mbappe, Neymar Jr. or Lionel Messi. They got really invested into soccer. 

We put S on a team during the next season, and he was an absolute revelation of a player. Sure it was little kids, but the things he could do with his footwork, body control and his ability to score was a bit surprising — he hadn’t played organized soccer ever and never had a coach to instruct him; he was playing off instinct. While R had been on the team the season before, it was largely kids running around but even then, R showed some tremendous skill for a kid without any real coaching. So my wife put the kids in soccer camps and the skills training and their  improvement in skills and understanding of the game’s basics has been monumental. These kids do things with the soccer ball that surprise me on a regular basis. They want to be great at soccer and want to play — I can use soccer as a form of discipline now, that’s how much they care. 

It dawned on me recently that maybe my vision of my boys on a magazine cover because of their athletic feats (and academics, of course) wasn’t wrong, I just saw the wrong ball. Maybe soccer is the sport where they’re going to excel, give their all and compete at the highest levels. Who knows? Right now, though, they’re all in and can (and will) play soccer all day, every day. We’re doing clinics and practices, and well, we’re invested in their soccer future because it seems to be real. 

I don’t know if this will last, though I hope it does. But if they move on, that’s OK. I’ve learned how competitive they are and am seeing just how athletic they both can be and that’s something I love for (all of) my kids because as it turns out, I can hold onto my vision a little longer. Maybe one day, my boys will be on your television scoring goals for whatever country they sign up for in the World Cup (there are really a lot of countries on the table here in this household). 

As it turns out, soccer looks even better on my boys than basketball. 

Panama Jackson theGrio.com

Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things and drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest), but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said: “Unknown” (Blackest).

Make sure you check out the Dear Culture podcast every Thursday on theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, where I’ll be hosting some of the Blackest conversations known to humankind. You might not leave the convo with an afro, but you’ll definitely be looking for your Afro Sheen! Listen to Dear Culture on TheGrio’s app; download it here.