I am not a sporty person. I don’t really like watching sports. Anyone who knows me, knows this fact to be true. But I do like hanging out with people, eating snacks, and drinking for sports.
However, in my day I did play softball– in which I received the Sportsmanship Award. I was/ still am very proud of this “You-are-not-good-at-this-sport, but-you’re-always-happy-and-nice-to-everyone” trophy. It still sits in my parents’ garage, actually. I won’t let them throw it away.
I was also a cheerleader in high school. But I was actually good at that one, so it’s not a very fun story. (And don’t be one of those “cheerleading is not a sport” people; do you see the things cheerleaders do these days?)
But the true reflection of my sporting abilities lies in a story I tell my students every year before the Big Game (the teachers play volleyball against the police department to raise money for St. Baldrick’s): my 6th grade volleyball story.
I went to a very small Catholic school 4th through 8th grade. All of my friends played sports– basketball, volleyball, and/ or softball. I had already jumped on the softball train, and although I was terrible, I really enjoyed it because we had fun and everyone was nice to me, even though I sucked.
So, I thought I would join my friends in playing volleyball my sixth grade year. I even went to a volleyball camp over the summer to prepare! Now, in our very small parish, you did not have to try out to play on any of the sports teams, you just signed up. So I did.
Everyone else who was on the team had started playing in third grade, and thus had three years of playing under their belts. I decided over the summer that I was going to play. Additionally, we didn’t have real gym classes at school; we only had gym once a week, and I don’t think there was any set curriculum. We usually played kickball. Therefore, I had never learned how to play, nor had I ever tried to play before I went to the volleyball camp.
Needless to say, I was also horrible at volleyball. This comes as a surprise to nobody, I’m sure. Alas, the story does not end here.
At our first practice, we started by standing in a circle and bumping the ball around. I missed it on most of my turns, while everyone else hit the ball perfectly each time. Then, we practiced setting the ball, which I just could not seem to do. Rather than lightly bouncing up and down like all the other girls’, my ball seemed to just fall forward every time I touched it. And then: the net. Trying to get that ball over the net was just plain embarrassing. And again, all these volleyball goddesses had no problem; they’d been doing this for years.
To make the situation worse, our 6th grade team was combined with the 7th grade team because theirs wasn’t big enough. Which meant I was humiliating myself not only in front of my grade level peers, but also the girls in the grade ahead of me– the older, cooler, 7th grade girls. For shame. I trudged home after my first practice and vowed to become a better player.
After school the next day, I diligently practiced bumping the ball against the side of our house, until I got bored and went inside to play the Sims.
I walked into our next practice feeling a little timid, but hopeful for some improvement on my end. I had dedicated a solid ten minutes to improving my skills.
Shockingly, I was no better than the previous day. After we finished our warm up bumping and setting– at which I performed about the same as before– everyone started walking over to the net, and I started to follow until my coach– who we’ll call Mr. Mean– called out to me.
“Rebecca, you need to go over here to this wall and practice bumping. There’s nothing I can do to help you until you get better!” He said this in front of everyone. Loudly. I was mortified. There is nothing more humiliating than being a twelve year old girl, singled out and embarrassed in front of all the cool (mean) girls.
My face turned beat red, and my eyes started to sting. I walked over and took the ball Mr. Mean was holding out to me, and went to my corner of the wall to practice bumping. Alone. While everyone, literally everyone else, went to practice by the net. I spent the rest of practice trying to hide in plain view.
As soon as I got into my mom’s car afterwards, I started bawling.
“What happened? What’s wrong? Did you get hurt?” My mom asked, shocked and confused.
“Mr. Mean made me practice by myself…” *gasp*sob*gasp* “He said he couldn’t help me unless I get…” *sob* “better!” I put my face into my hands.
My mom was fuming, “WHAT?! He said that to you? What did you have to do?”
I explained what had happened at practice, about being called out, being humiliated, and being sent away to practice bumping the ball alone.
“I want to quit, Mom,” I told her. “I never want to go back. It’s too embarrassing.”
Now usually there was a rule in our house: if you start something, you have to finish it. If you start taking gymnastics classes, for example, you don’t have to continue doing them, but you have to go to all the classes until the session is over. However, my parents made an exception this time.
I remember listening to my mom call Mr. Mean and explain that I would not be returning to practice. He must have asked why, and she said, “Why? Because she was humiliated in front of all of her friends!” Silence for a moment. “I don’t care about that. I care about the emotional state of my daughter. Not everyone is a talented athlete like your daughter, [insert Mr. Mean’s first name]. What should be acknowledged though, is the interest in learning, and having fun. They are in sixth grade. This is parish volleyball, not the Olympics!”
I felt satisfied that my mom had yelled at Mr. Mean, but still embarrassed about what had happened. I knew I would have to tell my friends, but I would rather do that than face another minute at one of Mr. Mean’s practices.
Plus, I still got the shirt with my last name on the back, since my parents had paid the sports fee.
In the end, I learned a valuable lesson: don’t play sports with balls. And, I learned that I am good at a lot of other things: reading, writing, cheerleading, singing, dancing (in my own special way), and most importantly, being a good, kindhearted, and accepting person.
The only sport-like maneuvering I do these days is yoga. And guess what? I’m really good at it. I can balance on one leg or my arms, I can bend my body, and I can lay really still and forget about all the crap around me.
And like I said before, I’m also good at eating and drinking for sporting events, so I think it all worked out for me.
My sister bought me this shirt for Christmas, and I can’t wait to wear it to my next sporting occasion.