“Mom, why did you take me out?! I told you we’d lose if you took me out. So what did you do? You took me out. And what happened? We LOST!”
It sucks being the coaches daughter.
“But Olivia, you had a hattrick! That’s terrific! You should feel great about that,” I reminded her as I loaded the bag of soccer balls into the trunk of the car. Olivia had scored all three of our team’s goals in our first wet, muddy soccer game of the season.
“But mom, we LOST! And that wouldn’t have happened if you’d let me play.”
She was probably right. We had been ahead 3-2, and I took her out in the last five minutes. And during that time, the other team scored two goals.
It may suck being the coach’s daughter, but sometimes it also sucks being the coach. Like when you have to sacrifice the score to make sure everyone gets equal playing time.
Olivia was usually a perpetual ray of sunshine. I’d never seen her this mad before. Despite her hattrick, she was adamant that her mom lost the game for the team by taking her out.
“I hate soccer,” she grumbled, and climbed into the backseat. Uh oh. This was serious.
As the windshield wipers fought the downpour, I thought about some of my research into how we store memories. Psychologists tell us we evaluate our experiences based on two points of reference: the most emotionally intense point, and the ending. In his study of memory and recall, Nobel laureate and behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman referenced a pain study that chronicled patients’ assessments of their colonoscopies. Every thirty seconds they rated their pain levels, and at the end they rated the overall pain level of the operation. Oddly, their overall ratings had nothing to do with the accumulated pain they reported every thirty seconds‒they reflected only the intensity of the last few minutes of the procedure. Kahneman suggested that perhaps the memory of a very painful procedure could be improved by adding some low intensity pain at the end, since that’s what patients remembered in their overall rating.
I saw this phenomenon playing out with Olivia’s memory of the soccer game. She was letting our loss in the final moments override her personal accomplishment, and her brain’s selective memory technique had the potential to damage her entire attitude toward sports.
I decided to intervene with a little memory reshaping of my own. “In our family, do you know what happens when you get a hattrick?” I asked.
Steamy silence from the back seat. I studied her face in the rear view mirror. “You get to go to McDonalds.”
I take my kids to McDonalds about once a year, so for Olivia this was a big deal. A smile developed on her mud-splattered face. Her sun was coming out again.
She sang along with the radio as we went through the drive-thru and picked up a Happy Meal. I ordered her a milk with it in a weak attempt to assuage my guilt. “Should we pick up some fries for your brother and sister?” I asked.
“What did they do?,” she shot back.
“Good point.” No fries for them.
Those french fries transformed our team’s loss into Olivia’s personal triumph. During the rest of the car ride home, I replayed the highlights of each shot with her, reminding her in detail how she had dribbled elegantly past three defenders, called to her teammate that she was open for a pass, and masterfully drew the goalie to one side creating an open space for her to fire the ball in.
When we got home I had her pose, in all her muddy glory, with the soccer ball holding up three fingers. Then I carried her muddy little body upstairs and put her into a warm bath, making sure to do a snoopy dance in honor of her hattrick. Over dinner that night I gave a play-by-play of the three goals to her brother, who missed the game, while Olivia listened intently wearing a big grin.
There was no more mention of our defeat that day, and I’m happy to report that Olivia loves soccer once again. All thanks to a strategic McDonalds intervention.
But my husband thinks that what most shaped her memory was that she got to have fries, and her brother and sister didn’t.