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July 21, 2008

Sports frustrate me.

I was reminded of this Saturday, where within 2 hours I was schooled in Bocce ball, croquet, and most particularly tennis.

Why am I frustrated?

Somehow I seem to have a negative capacity for improvement in sports. If “beginner’s luck” weren’t already an expression, it could be based entirely on the marked deterioration I make anytime I play a sport. Don’t interpret this as meaning I’m ever a decent player, it just means I often start at poor and progress toward terrible.

Historically, things come pretty naturally to me. I’m great academically. I’m good with music. I do well with my job. I can tackle my callings successfully. And yet, I show no capacity for sports. When so many things come easily to me, why should I work on improving that I seem destined never to be great at?

I hate being a burden. Perhaps because I’m impatient with below average people, I assume everyone else is as well. When required to show my below average sports skills, I can sense the waning of other’s patience. At that point, I like to show my gratitude for putting up with me by quitting.

I think I’ve progressed in my approach to sports.

As a child, I wore my emotions on my sleeve. This included crying, quitting, and even getting violent (at least as violent as an otherwise peaceful and totally uncoordinated kid can get) when I performed badly. Not a very wise approach.

In high school, I approached sports with avoidance. I took aerobics (no balls involved) and had the superintendent waive the remainder of my P.E. requirements. When my friends played, I found (pretty lame) excuses for being absent or not participating.

Since college, I’ve given sports as much effort as I can muster. Usually because I am trying to impress (or rather, not dis-impress) the boy who I am interested in at the moment, I take an “I’ll play, but I’m warning you” approach to all sports. After 15-20 minutes of playing, it is obvious how poor and pitiable I am. I try to play in a lighthearted way so as to minimize the pity I receive. At this point, my sole ability is made known. I’d be a great help to my team if I played for the other side.

When my teammates begin to feel this way, which I can invariably sense, I know it’s safe for me to revert to my teenage ways. I graciously find an excuse to leave without any noticeable resistance.

This approach seems to work, at least most of the time. On Saturday, in reference to my shoddy tennis skills, I was given this very helpful positive feedback: “you hit the ball a few times. You could be good if you tried. Well, decent.” It is flabbergasting to me. Were they listening when I warned them about my (lack of) skills? Did they not believe me, despite the fact that I’m a trustworthy person? Do they think I’m faking? Do they want a slap in the face? (The elementary school urges sometimes need to be suppressed.)

Seriously, that statement could not be more incorrect. I was trying. That is my best. Don’t you think I know if I’m putting forth an effort? Yes, it is possible to miss that often. I am a lost cause. No, practice will not help.

Or would it? In all my phases of sports avoidance, I’ve always approached things as “I can’t do this.” Is it all in the attitude? Could I get better?

One thing is for sure, I’d like to be able to play sports without humiliation or frustration. I get antsy watching other people play after my 15 minutes are up. I’d like to be decent. Is that possible?  Could the next step in my progression actually involved developing skill?

It’s certainly something to consider, but I’m not quite convinced.

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