I don’t want to blame the randomness of genetics, so I’ll refrain from saying how unfair it is that my older brother inherited a light, wiry body (instead of the barrel-chested, Slavic heap of flesh I have to manage) that he uses to play effective adult baseball at the age of 61.
I don’t want to blame the systematic cruelty of school kids, so I will not descend to citing from the endless list of athletic discouragement I endured at the mouths of most of my classmates from about age four months until high school graduation. During this period, the epithet “You stink, Barr” seemed to ring out more often than the hourly bells at St. Bernard’s, and appeared in my dreams on T-shirts, bumper stickers, and billboards.
If the definition of an athlete is one who can repeat a series of motions under the stress of employing strength or speed, then I am no athlete. Whatever other abilities I may have, grace of movement has not been one of them. Even dancing is tough; I have always wanted to learn, but my wife cannot bring herself to risk so many toes at once. She’s right; it’s asking too much.
Problem is, I like sports (and dancing). It’s a lot like being a baker who is allergic to flour or a surgeon who can’t handle the sight of blood. Still, I persist. Sports are that much fun. And over the decades from that time when Mr. Davisson worked with me on fly balls, and in the game 30 minutes later, I still missed an easy liner that smashed into my 9-year-old thigh, I have developed a completely new perspective on my oversupply of thumbs and left feet.
Better to be an athletic dolt. Here’s why:
- If you are, it’s likely because you have no choice. So get used to it.
- You can surprise people in very pleasing ways. Teammates and coaches who have been watching you practice aren’t expecting much. He’s slow; he’s as coordinated as stripes and plaids, he’s — holy shit, did he catch that? AWRIGHT ADAM ATTABOY EVERYONE RUN IT IN HERE TIME TO HIT!!!!
- The above works even better with opponents. I used to pray under my breath, “Hit it to me hit it to me me me me underestimate me do it do it you’ll be out very fast very fast c’mon….”. Once in a while it happened, and the look on the face of the overconfident hitter, soccer player, whoever, was better than owning my own da Vinci.
- Being an athletic dunce gives you the opportunity to become a worker. You learn to compensate; you can’t skate by on talent alone (or at all). So you get on the team, shut your mouth, do everything you’re told harder than you’re asked, and then do some more. You become valuable and reliable. You learn that by giving to the group, you do not necessarily sacrifice your individuality; instead, you enhance it. Then one day, when you’re working in a study group, on a newspaper, in a surgical team, as part of a combat unit, or on an engineering team building a new subway line, the task will feel natural.
- No one ever built lasting self-esteem by winning or succeeding all the time.
About those school kids: all those years ago, they made me feel really crappy. To this day, I feel as if disapproving eyes follow my every athletic screw-up, when the truth is that most people probably don’t care, or even notice. But in the end, nasty as some of them were, it’s not the playground critics’ fault. In the end, I had to do something about it. So you know what I did? About sports?
I kept going. Still am.♦
© 2013 Adam Barr