Friday, April 23, 2010

Sporty Girl

I have never played organized sports.  That's right.  I have never been on a team.  I have never participated in an athletic competition beyond games in PE class.

Full disclosure:  I went to a volleyball day camp in third grade.  I had no desire to play volleyball after that.

I am just not a sporty girl.

My parents never pushed me to play soccer or softball or anything like that and I never had any desire to do so.  I wanted to act in community theater plays.  I wanted to take dance lessons.  Putting on pretty clothes and getting to wear make up?  Yes.  Wearing ugly uniforms and getting sweaty?  Not so much.

I don't think my parents expected me to be good at sports because they are not very sporty people either.  They didn't really play sports (I think my dad might have sat the bench in high school basketball and my mom's greatest sport moment was setting the record for the bent arm hang in sixth grade but, let's be clear, you don't have to have hand-eye coordination for that).  My parents don't watch sports on TV either.  So I just never had much of an interest in anything sporty, beyond occasionally recreational activities.

My equally non-sporty best friend kicked my ass at tether ball.  I was never more than mediocre at four square.  Playing kickball with my mom in the backyard taught me that when someone is running toward you, ready to tag you with the ball, you should stop in place and scream.  Playing baseball with my dad ended when he hit a foul ball that broke the window in someone's condo.

So part of the reason I suck at sports is genetic, and part of the reason is that I was never shown how to do it right.

I learned the proper form for running because I read a book about it in fourth grade.  It didn't make me want to run, but it told me how to do it.  Landing on your heel, rolling through your whole foot and pushing off with your toe.  Arms bent but relaxed, keeping time with your feet.  I went through a running phase in college (it lasted about fifteen minutes) and a friend jogging with me commented that I had good form.  Yeah, because I read a book about how to do it.

Other skills, though, were just completely beyond my capacity even if I knew how it should be done. I went to school with a girl named Lori who was a natural athlete.  She was remarkably talented at every sport.  She was not especially tall but she was fast and incredibly coordinated.  She was the star of the girls' basketball team in high school, and she was the star of our PE class long before that.  (She was also a serious tomboy and I used to pity her haircuts when we were in middle school.)

I remember in fifth grade we were playing kickball out in the middle school parking lot.  I had been assigned to left field or right field or wherever the ball was not going to go.  Some other soul who, like me, probably would have preferred to be reading a book rather than standing in the outfield, was in the opposite field.  Lori was playing center field because she could basically catch anything from that position.  The other outfielder and I were just expected to stand there.

A kicker for the other team launched the ball high up in the air and toward the outfield.  Instead of watching the ball, I watched Lori run toward the ball.  It was as if she knew exactly how and where it would arc and fall.  She raced to that spot, then kept her eyes up as she shuffled in place, weight on the balls of her feet, knees bent in a slightly crouching position, hands spread wide, elbows bent at her sides.  She waited patiently, reached her arms up at the last moment, and the ball dropped right into her hands.

My ten-year-old self stood in the outfield, marveling at this technique.  It was so different from my instinct and what I had been taught (no offense, Mom).  A ball flying through the air at me prompted me to:

(1) stick my arms straight up in the air in the direction of the ball.
(2) run around in circles as I frantically tried to guess where the ball might fall, trying to account for how hard the person might have kicked it and also wind speed and direction, and finding such calculations impossible to make because, obviously.
(3) close my eyes.

As you might have guessed, this technique was not very effective.  This technique got me assigned to the furthest, quietest corner of the outfield where I would be least likely to embarrass myself. 

Now I saw, watching Lori, how it was supposed to be done.  In theory, I could totally field a popfly to the outfield.  But in reality?  Not a chance.  I don't think I have ever in my life caught a fly ball in the outfield.  And I expect I never will.

And that's ok.  Because, honestly?  There are so many other things I would rather do.  Even in fifth grade.

*This post brought to you at the suggestion of Monica, who was a sporty girl and got the college scholarship to prove it.


  1. Let us celebrate that we are each a different spice. If not sporty, then either posh, baby, scary, or ginger!

  2. I had no idea that you had never ever been on a sports team and that you are weird enough to learn the form of running from a book. Sometimes I know you really want me to read this and now I have and all I have is comments to poke fun. Do you really want me to continue to read?