Thank you, Dollar Tree, for validating my lifelong ambivalence towards sports. Who knows what team plays what, when they play it, the equipment they use, or most obscure of all, the rules of the game? Not I – they’re all “sports ball” to me, and I’m not afraid to admit it. What I am afraid of is the sports ball.
Everyone knows this about me. We had my mother and mother-in-law over for a cookout last weekend, and I overheard my mother saying to my kids:
“Your momma ain’t afraid of nothing, except balls flying at her face.”
It’s not that no one tried to teach me. I wasn’t raised in a sportsless environment – I wasn’t made to wear dresses, practice my curtsy, and darn socks in my free time. I just had no interest.
In rookie soccer, I sat in front of the goal and picked grass (I ate it, too), hoping the ball wouldn’t come my way. I remember once making the mistake of running around the field, trying to kick the ball, when somehow it flew up and hit me in the cheek. That’s it. Sports are for fools.
In gym class, I finessed my way to the end of the line, then melted ever-backwards, never quite making it to the front. When that failed, I did a bad job as quickly as possible, so I could hide at the back again and slowly slink away.
Given the least chance, I’d tiptoe off to a corner with a book and avoid the whole scene. My clearest memories of gym class are of the back field, with the three-leafed clover, and the top left corner of the bleachers.
Perhaps the gym teachers didn’t notice I’d disappeared. Or, maybe it was an act of mercy. I was all thick round glasses and baggy t-shirts, greasy hair and social awkwardness. My nose clearly called out for a book.
They left me alone, all except for one.
It happened after school one day in fourth grade, while I waited in the gym for piano lessons. There was a small room off to the side, little more than a closet, where a teacher taught piano basics. Another kid went before me, and while I waited, I read.
A PE teacher came into the gym. “Hey. Would you like to shoot basketball while you wait?”
“No, thank you.”
“Oh, come on. It’s something to do. I don’t mind. Here, I’ll pass you one.”
He thew it at me; I covered my head and ducked.
“No. I’m afraid of the ball.”
I don’t know why I admitted it, except that we were alone, and it wasn’t gym class or sports ball practice. This was a dark, anonymous, empty space.
“Oh. Well, that’s ok.” The athletic went right out of him like a deflated balloon, and something softer took its place.
“I have a bouncy ball back here. Let me go get it.”
He brought out a lightweight ball and showed me how to throw it with one hand instead of two. He smiled. He acted like my uncoordinated, fearful handling of that ball was totally normal. He left me to shoot hoops, and I did.
When it was my turn to play the piano, I was still afraid of the ball. But something had changed.
Still, sports for the rest of my life were limited to swimming and beach soccer. I didn’t go to the ball games in high school. I didn’t go to any in college. I didn’t watch them on TV. I don’t have a favorite team. I don’t know what sport your favorite team plays.
And now – boys and sports.
“Mom, wanna play basketball with me?”
“Mom, can you throw the ball so I can practice hitting?”
“Sure, no problem.”
I try not to duck and hide; I try to keep the terror from my face, so they don’t see it, so they think I’m having fun. Because it’s sports ball, and there’s no crying in sports ball.
However, I did learn yoga, and I absolutely love it. It’s not a sport, but it is sports-like. It counts, right? I’m currently creating a yoga teacher training for senior populations, and one book I’m using is Relax into Yoga for Seniors (Carol Krucoff). It’s primarily for those over sixty who have never done yoga before, may have preexisting health conditions, and are wary of exercise.
I can identify with these folks. I want to pass them the bouncy ball. I’ll throw it gently, I promise, and not at their faces.
3 thoughts on “Sports Ball”
I, too, had thick glasses, a bad haircut, a baggy shirt, and braces, and I avoided gym AND the cafeteria as a kid. I do enjoy the atmosphere of a football game in the fall and a baseball game in the spring, and once in my twenties, I joined a community softball league, where I was hit in the head often enough that they made a special rule about me getting to go straight to home if I got hit in the head. That could explain a lot. Another funny and totally relatable post ❤️
I wish we could have been on those bleachers together!
Also, I can tell you read a lot as a kid because you’re a natural with words 😉