Remember the worst kid on the Royal Blue softball team? The kid that was kind of chunky? Awkward with a bat? Was a little wheezy when running around the field during practice? Yes, I was that kid. It was an ungainly time in my life. Fifth grade softball – it scarred me for life.
I had a long history of quitting. I quit flute, baton, swim team, figure staking, and gymnastics (which I was actually good at – but then developed a Dolly-Partonesque physique and that was that). So in 5th grade, I decided to join the North West Side softball league. I place the blame squarely on my friend Dawn. She was tall, slender and athletic. I was short, stocky and apathetic. She suggested we join; and like a sheep to the slaughter; I followed. I didn’t even get to be on the same team as her – had I known, I’d have declined the opportunity to feel like a sports loser for the remainder of my life.
It took about 2 practices for me to realize how much I HATED softball. But for some reason, my always-let-me-quit-mother decided I needed to stick it out for the entire season. It was TORTURE. I’m sure it built some character and taught me a something important about perseverance. But the only lesson I remember learning was NEVER TO JOIN AN ORGANIZED SPORT WITH GIRLS AGAIN. That held me in good stead for the rest of my life.
Let me let you in on a little factoid. Girls are MEAN – especially in groups. And I’m a girl, so I can attest to that. It probably would not have been such a dreadful experience if my team was not ranked 2nd in the league. They WANTED to win…I wanted to survive. And I should actually admit, I wasn’t the WORST kid on the team – but I was very near the bottom. I had a few saving graces. First, that I was really strong – I played left field because I was the only girl on my team that could throw from left field to first base thus saving me from playing right-field, which was the place to put the least athletic kid. I was also left-handed. Apparently, it’s seen as a good thing to get beaned with a softball pitch when you’re up to bat. I was walked a lot. Which suited me fine – running was not high on my list of ‘things I did well’.
Just in case I thought I would support my team, I was informed I was not allowed to cheer for my team. The nastier girls decided that my voice wasn’t good enough so I was banned –and the coach was in full support of this fascist regime. When I wasn’t being scorned by some the ‘gals’; I was largely ignored and excluded from any kind of camaraderie. A couple of people were decent on my team – mostly the other sports-impaired girls – so we stuck together. I have very few memories of softball. I remember being yelled at by the coach and being forced to run bases during practice until I had a full blown wheezing fit. I’m surprised the coach didn’t kick me in the face and make me run more. She was that kind of person. When my mom saw me on the ground unable to breath and the coach standing over me yelling about what a weak loser I was, it was the only time I remember seeing my mom go ballistic on another adult. But she still didn’t let me quit. Sigh….
Oh wait – don’t let’s forget another exciting thing about being left-handed. I was forced (YES FORCED!) to practice being a pitcher. I sucked. But practice I must. I spent all season either getting hit with pop-flies during practice or trying to pitch and sucking at it.
I only got to pitch in one game. It was the last inning of the last game (in the rain no-less) when it was clear that our team was not going to win 1st place. The coach told me to get in the pitching practice area because I was going to pitch the last inning. So I trudged my way there and started practicing. The girl that was catcher, the actual worst player on the team; ended up getting one of my pitches in the knee…I shattered her kneecap. You can imagine how that ramped up my self-confidence. So feeling like a complete lout, I went to the pitcher’s mound, in the rain, and completely FORGOT HOW TO PITCH. I’m pretty sure there’s a correlation between all the pop flies to my head and this incident.
I remember it like it was yesterday…my hands started out in front of my chest, I drew my left hand back and my brain just went blank. I had no idea what to do – and I stopped midway and got called for balking. Lucky for me, my supportive team mates laughed, and laughed and laughed. I managed to pitch a couple of balls before I was relieved of my obligation to embarrass myself in front of everyone.
I would not attempt another organized group sport until my 30s when I decided to play ice hockey. I played on a co-ed team and I LOVED it. I wish I had started playing hockey in my youth, because I think it would have been something I would have stuck with. I feel completely RIGHT on skates. I play a mean defense. The nicest thing anyone ever said about me regarding my sports ability was “She back-checks like a mo-fo”. TAKE THAT YOU BITCHY GIRLS ON THE ROYAL BLUE TEAM!
So now my 9 year old son is going to play his first organized sport – soccer. And I’m filled with excitement, anxiety and trepidation for him. He’s definitely more verbal than coordinated at this point. But his father was an avid soccer player (team captain) and all-around athlete – so I hope my son has those skills in his genetic makeup and they are just waiting to be launched.
So here’s my conundrum – if he hates it, should I insist that he finish or allow him to quit? I know that quitting isn’t the way to deal with something when it becomes hard; but I do also not want him to be as deeply affected by a traumatic sports-related experience like I was. I am seriously sitting here with a stomachache about this. I guess it will depend on exactly what is happening – which I know. And who knows – maybe he’ll LOVE it. I hope so. I can’t take the pressure.
Because I know my Mom is going to read this: Mom – I’m actually GLAD you made me continue to play because I did learn a lot about how woman are taught to socialize and it made me think about my own behavior and how I treated other people. I hope it made me a little more mindful about group behavior.