Growing up, I was never good at sports, or at least that’s what I thought. It’s not that I had a pronounced lack of capability, just that I never thought I should be able to take sports seriously.
In my family, one of the most prevalent themes is our insane dedication to sports. Having an uncle in the MLB, a dad who can play or coach practically anything, cousins who dedicate their entire young lives to a single sport, and brothers who have athletic superpowers, it’s a given that everyone puts tremendous pride on everything sport-related.
From soccer to basketball, football to baseball and everything in between, anything my brothers played seemed to come so naturally and effortlessly. They were practically carbon copies of my dad when he was their age. Being the youngest of three, I’ve had the thrilling experience of going to endless games, practices, and races – all displaying my siblings’ somewhat unfair skills.
So of course, as a toddler my parents enrolled me in AYSO and Little League, probably expecting to have produced yet another super-human athlete. Year after year, I humored my parents and played on whatever teams I was signed up for. But year after year, I was never interested. Maybe I might have been a little less coordinated than the average kid, but I’m pretty sure I just never wanted or tried to be good.
When I was old enough to be able to decide for myself, I avoided sports all together. Instead, I opted for a more intellectual path. In elementary school it started to become clear that I was sort of smart and sort of good at music, so that’s where everybody focused their attention.
For so long I’d heard the lighthearted remarks of “she’s just so book smart. Her street smarts, though, they’re a little lacking” or once when I unsuccessfully tried to serve a volleyball a friend joked that I “bring shame to my family’s legacy.” Whenever I attempted to learn something everyone laughed. So, eventually, I laughed about it too. I guess in a way that’s a good thing, because I learned the importance of being able to laugh at myself.
I never took sports seriously because no one ever took me seriously when I tried them. I’m not resentful of all of these years, I’m just disappointed that I’ve been labeled as “un-athletic” for my entire life when, for the majority of it, I’d never had the chance to figure out that I wasn’t.
For awhile I felt bad for my dad. I worried that I had somehow let him down not having a profound interest or ability in sports. In middle school I tried out for the soccer team. It was mostly because my friends were doing it, but part of me wanted to give myself a second chance.
Although the start was pretty rocky, eventually I realized that it was sort of fun. I wasn’t ever the best player on the team, but I also was definitely not the worst. I remember my dad telling me once after a winning game, “You’re getting to be a good soccer player, I’m impressed.” I remember being proud of my performance in that game, but also I was also proud that for the first time ever I had been recognized for my ability in a sport.
When I got into high school, I actually looked forward to the end of the day when I could leave everything behind for a few hours and just kick a ball around with my teammates. But it wasn’t until recently that I realized I have the potential to be really good at a sport. During the fall of my freshman year, I decided to join cross country. I really liked the experience, and I liked how I’d gotten in shape, but I was never exceedingly fast or impressive that season.
But this year, I worked a lot harder. I’d started running so much better than I had last season. At each progressive meet, I would cut a considerable amount off my time and at the league final, that work payed off. It was by far my best race ever, and everyone on our team beat their personal records.
This Saturday, we went to CIF preliminaries. I never thought I’d be able to say that.
Cross country has helped me realize that I’m stronger than I knew I could be, physically and mentally. I still have a long way to go, but now I have goals that I can look forward to. And I know with time and dedication I can reach them.
It maybe took me fifteen years to realize it, but after all this time I know that I’m not really all that uncoordinated or un-athletic. I just wish I wouldn’t have put myself in that box so early on. I wish wouldn’t have gone my whole life believing that I was only “book smart” and putting up with all of the “maybe you should just stick to singing” comments.
But I know now, and I’m glad.