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Why I am watching the Gold Coast Games with my daughter

Even if your child doesn't pursue sport seriously, there are enough learning opportunities when you watch live sport

Heena Sidhu during the women’s 10m Air Pistol final at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, on Sunday. Photo: AP
Heena Sidhu during the women’s 10m Air Pistol final at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, on Sunday. Photo: AP

Hurry up Mommy, the shooting has started, my daughter yelled across the house on a Sunday morning. There were two Indian shooters, both girls, both in the reckoning for a medal at the ongoing Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. We were glued to the telly as teenager Manu Bhaker and Heena Sidhu made their mark in the 10m Air Pistol Women. “Bhaker is on fire," I said. “Don’t jinx it," my seven-year-old replied promptly.

We felt a little sad when Pakistan’s Mehwish Farhan was eliminated (in our house, that country’s sporty girls are almost as popular as their Indian counterparts) but when the defending champ, Singapore’s Teo Shun Xie, was done, my seven-year-old declared enthusiastically: “She’s been illuminated!"

“At least they go off sportingly, they don’t cry," she added. Aside: She’s seen all those top male tennis players sob on court and, yes, she knows those are tears of joy flowing down CWG table tennis champion Madhurika Patkar’s face.

Soon the two Indian shooters had eliminated the competition and were pitted against each other for the top honours. “And the new CWG champion, 16 years of age, only one year after she began competing internationally, is…Manu Bhaker," the commentator announced.

Four years ago, my daughter watched Vinesh Phogat and Babita Kumari win gold medals for India in their respective wrestling weight categories to learn that important lesson: Girls are strong. We track everything from Wimbledon and the Fifa World Cup to Pro Kabaddi and the World Badminton Championships, but this year the timing of the CWG was perfect.

The Games began just after my daughter dealt a blow to my core parenting strategy—bring up sporty, happy girls—when she abruptly announced, “Mama, I want to give up gymnastics." I’m always showing off about how I will support Babyjaan’s choices when she grows older, but I didn’t realize it would begin so early.

Babyjaan, as I refer to her in my writing, is a gymnastics natural. She allocates a disproportionate chunk of her screen-time to gymnastics videos on YouTube. “Do you know, Mama, there’s a 91-year-old who does an amazing floor routine," she’ll say bleary-eyed, after an hour of watching amateurs, mostly girls, do backflips, walkovers and splits. For humour she relies on #GymnasticsFail videos. Her face fell when I told her our gymnasts Aruna Budda Reddy and Pranati Das didn’t make it at the CWG.

Her favourite heroes in her bedtime reader, Women In Sports: 50 Fearless Athletes Who Played To Win, are two women who made Olympic gymnastics history four decades apart.

Nadia Comăneci was a 14-year-old when she logged the first 10.0 in the 1976 Olympics and Simone Biles’ signature move, on display at the last Olympics in Rio de Janerio, is a round-off that goes into a back handspring, followed by two flips in mid-air and a half twist.

We only enrolled our daughter in a class after she began to cartwheel more than she walked. But then the class got serious, the coach, a taskmaster gymnast who was once on the Hungarian national team, started talking about accreditation, and my daughter struggled to master a handstand bridge. Then she decided it was easier to give up.

Of course I was upset when Babyjaan said she was done with gymnastics. Should I let her abandon something she’s great at and clearly loves doing? Or should I help her rethink her decision?

Cue CWG. I figured it might provide inspiration to restart gymnastics seriously. The husband, meanwhile, has already moved on to the backup sport: swimming. Look, there’s a girl from Botswana amidst all the Australians and Britons, he says as we watch the 100m backstroke. You could be like that too—an Indian woman who swims, I add. Bengaluru’s Nisha Millet, the only woman on India’s 2000 Olympics swim team—runs a swimming academy for children not too far away from where we live. And thus go our attempts to convince our daughter that any sport can be life-changing even as we watch sporting events as a family activity.

Parents of older children who take a sport seriously list innumerable hurdles, such as the participation of overage children in teams, traffic, tournaments that are scheduled during the school day, waiting for hours, and the absence of easy access to good coaches or facilities.

But even if Babyjaan doesn’t end up pursuing sport seriously, I want her to be a lifelong fan. For now, there are enough learning opportunities when we watch live sport.

Sport is a great way to up your child’s general knowledge. Name six countries in the Commonwealth. What is the Commonwealth anyway? What flag is that? What does MLT stand for? Where is Gold Coast? What are the rules of the game? What are the four strokes in the swimming medley? Freestyle, breast stroke, back stroke and butterfly, Babyjaan replies accurately.

I even see geopolitical lessons in the dynamics of India-Pakistan hockey. India have been the stronger team for some years now but something happens to us when we face our neighbouring country. I didn’t recognize my team today, India hockey coach Sjoerd Marijne said after we tied with Pakistan at the CWG last week. “We let Pakistan play well. I want to have a feedback from the team.... The game plan was clear but still they lost their heads," he said in an interview to PTI. Sounds familiar?

And then there are all those life lessons that veteran sportswomen can teach you.

After she won a gold medal in the 25m pistol event, Heena Sidhu tweeted: “Took me 8 years for my individual Gold at CWG."

I’m hoping Babyjaan will imbibe sport’s crucial first rule embedded in Sidhu’s tweet: Never give up.

Priya Ramani shares what’s making her feel angsty/agreeable.

She tweets at @priyaramani

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