As they grew older, we encouraged our boys to engage in sports which of course they enjoyed immensely. As a kid, I played Little League baseball and was happy that my dad stayed involved by helping to coach my teams. I also played football and mushball at the park with my friends and occasional basketball but didn’t really join any other organized sports until I started swimming in eighth grade and high school. I am glad I did because it’s one of those sports that you can continue throughout life. I still enjoy swimming laps a few times per week just to stay in shape and train for triathlons.
My dad swam for his high school team and taught me how to swim when I was about five years old, so naturally I couldn’t wait to teach my own kids how to swim. For some reason, they were both very apprehensive about learning anytime I was in a pool with them, no matter what approach I tried to take. They weren’t afraid of going in the water as long as they had their floaties on or stayed in the shallow end. I do remember taking Kaveh to Mexico when he was one year old. When we brought him down to the beach, we weren’t sure if he was scared by the waves or what, but he kept pointing and waving his finger at them with attitude, yelling, “No ocean! No ocean!” as though he could stop the waves just because he said so. I guess it wasn’t much different from the time I politely told the bear to go away with a rock in my hand.
One weekend afternoon, we went swimming at Pooneh’s uncle’s pool, and it seemed like as good a time as any to try teaching them again. But as soon as I came toward Kaveh with that well-intentioned but determined look in my eyes, he started whining again, “No Daddy, I don’t want you to teach me to swim!” I didn’t want to put it off any longer, so I told him he would be fine and proceeded to take those stupid floaties off his arms. Even though I never let go of him, the more I tried, the more he screamed and yelled. After a few minutes of this, I realized everyone was staring at me like I was torturing the poor kid. Pooneh came running outside, clearly alarmed. “What are you doing to him? I can hear him screaming from inside the house. That’s enough!” At this point, I turned toward Kian only to see him frantically scrabbling out of the pool already with a panicked look on his face.
I was totally frustrated and couldn’t understand why they were so afraid of learning how to swim. Feeling like a complete failure, I decided they were going to have to learn from a formal instructor. Kaveh did much better with the instructor, but Kian screamed for the entire half hour lesson. I was completely disgusted with his relentless screaming, but the instructor was very patient and finally able to calm him down after a couple of lessons. Even after overcoming their fear of learning how to swim on their own, they still never showed any interest in joining a swim club, so it was time to seek out another sport.
We enrolled them in Karate because we figured this would teach them discipline, coordination, balance, and courage—all skills that should carry over to any sport they choose going forward. Kaveh was six but Kian was only four years old. He was the littlest kid in the class, and he had grown out this really awesome curly hair around that time. Tucked into his white “gi” (robe) like a jedi youngling, it was adorable but also impressive to see such a little guy execute these “punch and kick” routines with such focus, fluency, and speed.
Kaveh was getting especially athletic since he was a couple years older, so it was really exciting to watch him spar with the other kids. In his age group, they were allowed to strike at the head, so they wore protective, padded helmets. During one tournament that I’ll never forget, he made it to the final match and was sparring for first place against a boy whose father works with me at the hospital. They were pretty evenly matched and were tied up two to two. Next strike wins. I was sitting on the edge of my seat in anticipation as they squared up for the final match. It felt like I was watching my own son in the Karate Kid movie. I even pictured his “combatant” to be the mean guy Johnny from the movie for dramatic effect, even though he was probably the nicest boy I’d ever met. They exchanged some punches a few times but so far no clean blows. I started cheering him on, “Come on Kaveh!” Then he landed a spectacular roundhouse kick to the side of his head, knocking him to the ground to win the tournament! I thrust my fist into the air and roared, “Oh Yeah! Nice!”—perhaps a little too enthusiastically. Rising half-way out of my chair with elation, I quickly remembered that his mom and dad were sitting right next to me. The poor kid had tears in his eyes and a small bruise next to his eye. Nevertheless, he stood right back up, shook Kaveh’s hand and said, “Good job.” I tried to make it up to his parents by saying I was sorry he kicked their son in the head.
At the end of their karate sessions the instructors would play different games such as dodge ball with the kids. They used a soft spongy ball but really whipped it at each other, especially the older kids and coaches, and they had a blast. I always wanted to join in because it looked like so much fun, but parents weren’t allowed for obvious reasons. Instead, we would play it in our backyard, usually the two of them against me or Kaveh against Kian and me. We used a half-deflated Mickey Mouse mini soccerball, still soft but a little heavier than the one they used at karate. Kian had this unlucky misfortune of accidentally getting repeatedly struck in the head with balls, whether we played catch with football or basketball or whatever. It happened so often that I told him he must have a “ball magnet” in his head. I remember picking the dodgeball up from the far end of the yard against the wall and when I charged toward them, they quickly ran back to escape my range. Before they could get any further away, I launched it all the way across the yard, and I could see the perfect trajectory, almost in slow motion, as it approached Kian’s unsuspecting head as he tried his hardest to outrun it. Of course, this was ultimately futile for him because he had a magnet in his head. It struck him right in the back of his poor little curly head, knocking him forward onto the ground. He was understandably upset and lied on the ground crying while Kaveh laughed at him. It was so unbelievable that it actually happened again in such dramatic fashion that I couldn’t stop laughing while I hugged him and apologized at the same time. This just made him more upset, so he stormed into the house with an angry red face and that was the end of the game. Note to self: Never laugh at your child when he is hurt or upset, it doesn’t cheer him up.
They moved on from karate after a few years and started soccer which they played for years as their primary sport, along with flag football a few years after that. In my opinion, soccer is the best sport for young kids to play since they are always moving, always get a chance at kicking the ball, and they develop skills to play together as a team. If anyone makes a mistake, it is quickly forgotten, and they move on to the next opportunity to make a play. I can still remember how I would feel when I struck out or missed an easy fly ball in baseball or dropped an easy catch in football at that age. All action stopped, all attention seemed to be focused on me, and then I had to wait a while for the next opportunity to make up for it, leaving me to dwell on my error.
Pooneh was very familiar with soccer since she grew up in Iran and her brother played a lot so she suggested they try it. I never played or watched it when I was younger, so it was all very new to me. It took me a while to figure out when to take a corner kick and when to take a goal kick, and I still haven’t completely figured out the off-sides rule. Hardly a game would go by without me complaining and debating with somebody about how stupid I thought that rule was. Shouldn’t the defense just stay back and guard so that nobody passes them up on the way to the goal? Anyhow, they all just shook their heads and laughed at my apparently baseless argument.
One evening after practice, I made Kaveh laugh out loud for about ten minutes straight by trying to juggle the stupid ball up and down on my foot. I never got the hang of hacky sack as a teenager and certainly couldn’t get the hang of this either. One of his teammates was incredulous that Kaveh was such a good soccer player while I looked so uncoordinated and hopeless. He stared at me for a while, then looked back at Kaveh and asked him earnestly, “Is that really your dad? Are you adopted or something?”
I would strongly recommend getting kids started in organized sports early on. Not only do they meet new friends with each team they play on, but we got to meet new friends as well by talking to other parents along the sidelines and hanging out at team parties. Sports also build confidence and motivation, develop skills like strength, coordination and stamina, cultivate an environment for kids to socialize and work together as a team, and keeps them busy and out of trouble. I can definitely say it helped in all these areas and more with my own kids.
Now this is the part where I get to brag a little bit! Kian, who has grown up from that cute little four-year-old body to a towering six foot four, played tight end for his high school football team, bounced back quickly from repairing a tendon in his knee, and is currently starting at middle on his varsity volleyball team, blocking and hammering spikes down onto the opposing team’s heads. He also enjoys coaching younger kids in flag football.
Kaveh went on to play four sports including track, soccer, volleyball, and football where he was named MVP and scholar athlete of the year, as well as player of the year on offense (receiver), defense (safety/cornerback), and special teams (kicker, punter, and returner) through the years. For a new high school in only their second varsity season, they went on to sweep the competition in Irvine, becoming the Pacific Coast League champions. He is now playing wide receiver for Carnegie Mellon where he is studying to be a mechanical engineer.