by Susan Sey
When I was in high school, I was an avid athlete. Not gifted, sadly--no sports scholarships for me, much to my father's chagrin--but I was an enthusiastic joiner nonetheless. I loved being part of a team. Loved the routine of practice, the high of competition & the comfort of sharing a loss (or, on rarer occasions, celebrating a win) with comrades.
When I graduated from high school & moved on to college, there wasn't really an avenue for me to continue playing sports. I went to a Big Ten school and didn't have the talent (or the size) to qualify for any of their sports programs. There was the intramural sports option, I guess, but it was expensive, and I was a shy kid. I didn't know nearly enough people to put together a team, & hadn't the first clue how to wangle my way onto an existing one.
So like a lot of young adults, I stopped playing sports. I graduated, traveled, got married, graduated again, had babies. I didn't have time to miss it for several years there. But recently I got an invitation I couldn't refuse.
Yep, kickball. Like third graders play. On the play ground. With a red rubber bouncy ball. My husband and I were invited to join a summer kickball league for adults, & we accepted. I thought, sure. I'll play. It's kickball, right? It's ridiculous. Too ridiculous to be taken seriously. It'll be a fun way to get to know other post-sporty people & enjoy the summer.
And then I played. And it was fun. It is fun. Kicking the crap out of one of those red rubber balls is just as satisfying as it always was. But I was startled to find it was more than just fun. It was also surprisingly...cathartic.
Because team sports provide something far more important than exercise & camaraderie. They provide an outlet. For what, you ask? For all the aggression & anger produced by dealing with normal life. Life is so often frustrating & unwieldy & disappointing. Sometimes I swear people (cashiers, my children, other drivers) thwart me just for the heck of it.
But I, unlike my two year old, am not allowed to pitch a fit in the produce aisle & get it out of my system. No, I have to shove it aside, smile through my teeth & make nice anyway, because that's what grownups do.
The exception to this, I've discovered, is sports.
Not that we allow or condone poor sportsmanship. We don't cheat or yell, hurt one another or behave at all unpleasantly on the field. But for the space of one hour, we are free to hate the people on the other team.
Okay, hate is too strong a word. But for the space of that game, those people are the enemy. The other. It's us against them & we get to try like hell to beat them silly. It's harmless, it's all in fun but it's also deeply satisfying. To be part of an US that's united in an effort to conquer THEM. It speaks to a deeply rooted human drive to belong & to triumph, I think. A drive that's often out of place in a modern world where battles are fought via keyboards & soundbites.
Kickball gave me an outlet to indulge that primal urge without suffering any real world consequences, & it's been good for me. I'm happier, more relaxed, & aside from barking my shin during an accidental slide into second, pretty healthy, too. I'm already dreading the end of the season because it means another long, dark winter full of things that want to thwart me (balky car engines, slick highways, children who resist mittens) with no social appropriate outlet for my anger.
Thank god we've been asked to join the dodgeball team.
So how about you? Did you ever give up something you loved, only to rediscover it later in life? When it comes to sports, are you a player or a fan? Or are sports just not your thing, & you have other ways to deal with life's little frustrations? Let's hear about them!