I am in a bit of a rut this week. Call it for what it is: Olympic withdrawal. Last week I spent a glorious week in Vancouver as a spectator at the Winter Olympics. The week before I left for the games I watched as much of the coverage as I could every night. I was very fortunate to be able to have tickets to some of my favorite events but one event will stick out as truly remarkable-it was the Women's Ice Hockey Gold Medal Game.
I had no say in my seating choice (my tickets were obtained by a team member) and had no idea what a treat I was in for as I climbed to the third level and found my seat on the end of the rink. I am a huge fan of the USA team and have been following four time medal winner Angela Ruggiero ever since she was a student at Harvard. My seats were always on what I call the 50-yard line just behind the team bench. I always thought they were the best place to watch from and to be able to see Angela. I was in for a treat but had a much different vantage point than ever before.
As I climbed the stairs to my seat I realized I was distinctly in the minority. Not that I was a lone female-no I think there were equal numbers of men and women, which was a delightful realization, but that I was one of only a handful of USA fans. It seemed that every Canadian fan was wearing a red jacket. All I could see was a sea of red.
At the end of the first period, with the U.S. down 2-0, I ventured over to another part of the stadium to meet up with friends who, it turned out, also had seats in the midst of the red sea. I asked around to find out if there was a designated spot for Americans. I started at the courtesy booth. "Sir, just out of curiosity," I asked, "Can you point me to the USA side -the visitor's side?" "Gee, I am sorry," he said, " I can't help you." (if you watched the Closing Ceremonies, it included a whole segment of self-deprecating humor about the tendency of Canadians to always say they were "sorry"). "There don't seem to be many visitors here tonight; mostly Canadian fans," he replied. I continued to wander around the stadium and at one point was actually offered a seat in my regular-preferred section of the rink-just behind TEAM USA bench.
I had never been at such a loud sports event in my life (and that includes being among 70,000 fans for the opening of the 1999 Women's World Cup at Giants Stadium). The Canadian fans never sat down, never stopped cheering, and the cow-bells ... the cow bells must have been made especially for this event: they were decibels louder than any cow bell I had ever heard at a Bruins game.
The Canadian fans were spectacular; everything fans should be. Polite, gracious and good sports. When a USA, USA chant started among the few Americans in the stands as the U.S. women lined up to receive their silver medals, the Canadians all joined in to salute their achievement. The red-shirted fans on either side of me actually locked arms with me as they chanted in support of our team.
I am sure I am not alone in feeling that Team Canada fed off the energy of its fans. It is a cliché to say that a home crowd is the proverbial "seventh player on the ice" but in this case, I truly believe it gave the Canadians at Canada Hockey Place the edge it needed to win gold in what was a very evenly matched game among the two best women's hockey teams in the world. The energy of the place was palpable. It was real. A home team advantage that was the difference between the gold and silver. (same for men on Sunday).
What lessons did I take away from the game for sports parents? First, that cheering for your child at their games can help them play their best. But, second, that cheering for every player, on both teams, as the Canadian fans did in chanting "USA! USA!", is just as important.
I have seen what a surprising difference it can make on the sidelines and in the stands when parents make an effort to applaud a good effort or a fine play - no matter who makes it. If you focus obsessively on your own child at a sports event you are giving a clear signal that you don't really care about the team or the event - you just care about your son or daughter. By contrast, parents who shout and cheer for all the children set a great example for the kids, by sending the message that youth sports are about giving one's best effort and enjoying the game, not about winning and losing.
So, sports parents, how about borrowing a page (or should I say maple leaf) from the playbook of our good friends north of the border? Cheer for everyone!