Monday, March 17, 2008

The "Joys" of Childhood Sports

In three years of YMCA basketball between 1989 and 1991, I took exactly two shots, both of which violently clanged off the back of the rim and into the waiting hands of an opponent 25 feet away from the basketball. I tried soccer, too, right around that same time. Three shots on goal, no points.

Okay, I call them “shots on goal” because I kicked them in the general direction of the white poles holding up the ratty net, but in reality the little spotted ball would roll to stop long before the goal ran up to the front of the box to grab it.

And I didn’t even play football. Hell, I had about the same weight to height ratio as Nichole Richie; I wasn’t taking any chances going up against the other monstrous fourth graders in neighborhood. There was just too much to live for.

I’d like to think I was a smart kid. At the very least I always felt a pretty solid understanding for the execution and strategy of these games. The problem was that I didn’t have the physical stamina to bring those ideas to fruition. It’d be like telling a mute person to sing the alphabet. They’d know how to do it; they just couldn’t...

Nothing was worse than hearing a coach yell, “Joel, you’ve got to call out that screen,” or “Joel, pass that ball buddy. You had a guy wide open to your left,” because the minute I made my mistake I knew the problem and I knew how to fix it. My body always just moved a little bit faster than my brain. Unfortunately, my brain’s a lot better at thinking than my legs and arms are.

This is why serious athletes like Michael Jordan and Joe Montana are the greatest ever; their bodies can make those decisions before their heads can even think about it.

Not me. Even my mouth has betrayed me in recent years. Those lips think they’ve got something really funny to say, so they say it, only to have my brain remind those stubborn lips what idiots they are only seconds later.

My body and me, we’re one big happy family.

You’d think a kid like this, with no hope of ever playing in a professional sports league, would eventually give up his dream and turn to erector sets and legos. Not me. I practiced my butt off, specifically with basketball, and I didn’t quit until I was mediocre enough to make my high school team and sit the bench.

If I weren’t so fat these days, I’m sure I could still hit a pretty solid three-pointer, or dribble around a fatter, slower defender. But all those years of insecurity about my abilities on the playing field were for naught. Those hours of practicing and lying in bed dreaming myself through pressure game-time situations—worthless.

I don’t regret any of it, though. Not the twilight of my childhood spent running up and down the court a multitude of times without ever touching the ball, not the hours of practice I put in to just ride the pine, and certainly not my time in little league (the smell of baseball—grass, leather, dirt, wood, and wool—is one of the single most delightful aromas on the planet).

“Why?” you may wonder. Because all those years spent achieving an average game at everything has given the ability to fake like I know what I’m doing in all sports. I could even tell someone I played high school football and get them to believe me.

You just run the in-route on the double post and the statue of liberty shotgun, baby.

Hut, hut, hike. Play ball.

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