Over the course of the past year, I’ve watched a lot of kid sports. Not just the games but the practices. Hours of drills and instruction, running laps and coaches working to keep the attention of easily distracted kids and teens. It has been surprisingly interesting.
I didn’t play sports as a kid. There were lots of reasons why, all with varying degrees of legitimacy, but the main reason why I didn’t play?
I wasn’t good at it.
I wasn’t a naturally coordinated, fast or strong kid. I was a very shy kid who hadn’t figured out how to be an introvert in an extroverted world. Plus, I didn’t do well with being yelled at. (Still don’t as a matter of fact.)
But the real reason why I didn’t play sports is that I wasn’t good at them. In Phy Ed, every wobbly cartwheel, missed basket or lost foot race was an indictment against my abilities, indeed my very character. Even though I was good at some things, the humiliation at failing at others was what I remembered most and what cowed me each and every time we suited up. I sucked at sports.
And that’s the story I told myself year after year.
Imagine my surprise when, after watching all these games and practices, I realized that most kids kind of suck at sports. Watching the practices, the lurching attempts at game play, I realized that these kids don’t know what they’re doing either. Even the ones with some talent mess up at least as often as they succeed.
I did not know this. I figured practices were where my classmates all darted around in perfect synchronicity, and the the only reason they even held practice was to work on complicated plays and to finally understand the mystery that is the off sides rule.
Who knew that they missed shot after shot and, if they were lucky, a patient coach helped them to understand how to do it better?
Who knew that they got faster and stronger through practice; that they didn’t just show up that way?
This has been nothing short of a revelation. Like everyone else, I’ve heard all the platitudes about failure being merely a step on the road to success, but I didn’t believe it.
Even my choice of words shows how far I have yet to go. Not “missed shot” or “out of bounds” but failure. Not “learning the game” but “inability to play the game,” even if it was the first time I tried it.
This mistaken perfectionism carries over to other things in my life. I was so frustrated that my fingers never made the music I could hear in my head, that I gave up playing. Ever seen me dance in public? Not likely. (This however may be a public service because I have only a sketchy ability to tell my right from my left and refuse to be led no matter how strong my dance partner.)
I don’t know if one can regain the ground lost in childhood. I’m definitely no more coordinated or fast than I was then. But maybe I can stop telling myself I’m a failure at something, just because it doesn’t come naturally. Maybe, all these years later, I can learn to embrace the idea of practice, or enjoying something just for the sake of doing it.
All photos taken by me, of my niece and nephews
who play lots of sports, way better than I ever will.