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.
I was never one for team sports Rutabaga. From an early age I was uncoordinated and clumsy. My parents tried to get me to stick it out at various team activities but I learned early, as well, how to stage an effective rebellion. I’d make a lot of noise before going and as soon as I was droppped off, I’d leave -regardless of how far away or where the gathering was. I’d leave it up to my paremts to find me. They got tired of that after a while and let me have my way. I did join a lot of clubs and such – mostly intellectually focussed like chess club, geology club, book club, etc. I enjoyed those – so I wasn’t socially dysfunctional, just not a fan of competitive sports.
I have to tell you though Rutabaga, that as a Dad, I got roped into all sorts of parent involvement with my two kids in sports (they were excellent at sports, who knew?). In baseball, I’d inevitably end up as a first or third base umpire. I got hit with more line drives than I can count – yep still clumsy even as an adult. However, I came to appreciate a ball player who could hold up his/her end of an interesting conversation while they waited to run and I waited to get hit with another ball. Your son and I would have gotten along well as we stood at a base and chatted.
Paul, I think we share DNA – except I didn’t even join clubs….
Although, like I said, in my 20s/30s I did find I loved physical activity – but, with the exception of ice hockey, it was all individual type things (biking, walking, running etc).
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To end the story – my son did OK with soccer – he loved practice but was not too thrilled with the actual games. He was more interested in engaging the refs in some conversation and/or standing around ignoring the game. Why run for a ball you are going to miss anyway? That’s my son… he’s definitely his mother’s kid. But he never wanted to quit. And spending 3 days a week driving 15 miles each way to & from practice/games, I desperately WISHED he wanted to quit. I wanted to quit, but for some reason, that’s not allowed.
It seems that our lack of sports prowess is genetic. My experience with softball wasn’t quite as traumatic, but I, too, did not fit in. I was stationed in the outfield where seldom balls tread. I remember once a ball did come my way. Unprepared and forgetting everything I was taught, I closed my eyes, lifted my glove in front of me and prayed. Well the darn ball went right into the glove! I couldn’t believe it! Still did not convert me into playing another season, but for once I was praised and not jeered. I get it. And Christine is still traumatized about playing volleyball. She would get nauseous because she had bifocals at the time and everytime she looked up, everything swam. We made her stick out the season, though. Parents are just like that, I guess.
Oh that’s AWFUL for Christine! At least I found Hockey, Tai Chi, Biking, Running etc… for the most part, except hockey, LONE WOLF sports!
I was an athletic kid who’s parents didn’t nurture it for various different reasons…so I was on my own. And because I was on my own I took the easy way and did nothing until by 5 year younger brother got into soccer..I was 12 when I joined my first organized soccer team with not one person teaching me how to play, kick, etc. previously. All of the other kids on the team had been “coached” for years and I was lucky enough to fit in and excel. Since I had this luck my dad thought “awesome…you need to play baseball”. Ummm…soccer balls are big and kind of soft and they are mostly on the ground…baseballs are NOT. I had no choice and it was my own fault for excelling at soccer. Dad dropped me off and said “figure it out”. I hated it. I have many many stories that are still brought up today by my friends. Remember, all of the other kids have been coached on how to play baseball for 6 or so years…I was GREEN and an obvious fish out of water. (Quick story: in my very first game, at night under the big lights…I was up to bat and closed my eyes and swung and got a hit! A base hit, but a hit! I was on cloud nine and so were my teammates…they ALL were screaming and yelling…”good job”…etc. etc. After the excitement wore off a bit I notice my coach give me the “steal” sign. Oh shit…really??? Screw it…I just got a hit, I can do this! So I watch the pitcher like a hawk…I slowly…slowly….slowly lead off the base. He winds up and I’m off like a bolt of lightning running harder than I ever have in my life. I see second coming up fast and notice the baseman is just standing behind it so I dive Pete Rose style and hit that base square on. I get up slowly while always keeping contact with the base and start to dust myself off…then I hear…”get back to first asshole” from the second baseman…and laughter everywhere…EVERYWHERE…both dugouts and stands included. Turns out the pitchers had switched and the new one was just warming up…fun fun…I told the first baseman that if his pitcher could warm up then so could I). I finished out the season and never went back.
My very long winded and not directly to the point advise is to coach them before the “coach” does. Even if you don’t know the sport of choice you know more than him which is a great start. When he shows up to the field on that first day he should already have “tools in his toolbox”. If he hates it it’s most likely because he sucks at it…does he suck because he hasn’t been coached enough and needs to keep practicing or because some shit just sucks? As long as he has been set up to succeed the answers should be easy…
Thanks for the post as it jarred some old memories.
Thanks for the advice, Matthew. That story is priceless….I’d have done something like that as well.
Luckily D’s Dad has been working with him and has just go him some cleats to get used to and D’s been kicking “Ballsy” (he named his new soccer ball) around for a bit.
I totally understand the if you’re good at X why wouldn’t you be good with Y? And it just not working out!
You have a dedication for routine (working out) that is not common amongst most people and is something that is highly commendable (sp) so I don’t doubt you’d have done well at almost any sport or anything you put your mind to.
I think you’ll know what to do when (and if) the time comes. You know your kid. You’ll know if it’s scarring him or challenging him. Good luck!
Thanks! As long as he is enthusiastic – we’re good!
Wow I so remember how much you hated softball. Mean girls and mean coaches can scar a person for life. You will know the right thing to do for D. Our general rule is that the kids have to finish the season but we bend if the coach is a jackass. Last year Fiona took a hip hop dance class and they gave her a “report card” that said she was uncoordinated and some other choice put downs. She was devastated. It was ridiculous. I told her she could quit but she decided to stick it out. But I doubt she will ever dance again. 😦
Why would an extra-cirricular class EVER give ‘report cards’ with negative comments? That’s insane. And WHOO HOO for F for sticking it out. That child is amazing!! Did you tell those ‘teachers’ that you can do a mean hustle?
I say, let him quit if it’s awful. When Hunter played football, his last season was horrifying. One of the coaches was a complete sadist. H wanted to quit but the team barely had enough players on it to keep a team going so we convinced him to gut it out. Mistake. The universe took him out for us…he got a concussion. That took him off the team. We still regret not letting him quit.
I hope your son has a better experience! Organized sports can be great too…it’s worth trying. I loved my gymnastics team, mean girls and all. Of course it helped that we trained in the same gym with the university gymnasts and some of the guys on the team were hunky!
Thank you , Kim. I’ve noted that things often happen as they should –
I hope he has a good experience too –
Ahhhhh…. Mean Girls. Yep, we had those at my school too. B**ches.
I can’t offer any advice my friend, other than you’ll know the right thing to do when it’s time to do it.
And I believe that.
And because I know you love quotes almost as much as I, I’ll leave you with this gem from Corrie Ten Boom:
“Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength- carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”
Excellent quote – I know I often waste a good worry! Thank you for the wise words, my friend.