I'm Not Good at Sports

It's a known fact about me, something I will willingly admit: I am not good at sports. It's my excuse to not look like a fool when I end up needing to play some sport. It's something that, at 25, I can accept and laugh about. It's just not one of my skills! I don't play sports, or do college math, or perform onstage. But it's ok, I'm crafty! I write! That's who I am!
It's become a mantra of sorts: I don't play sports. I don't play sports. I'mnotathletic, IDONTplaysports.
Which is why it was a surprise for me, and everyone who knows me, when I decided to join a league softball team this year.
(Disclaimer: I now realize that a city women's softball team isn't a nationally syndicated event. The other players are not body-builders on a roid rage and out for blood. But before signing up, I truly did not know this, and it was terrifying.)
The thing is: I haven't always been bad at sports. In fact, I used to be really great at Basketball. I played at my house almost every day, even in the winter. I could make a basket from my knees, which usually helped me beat my brothers and dad at HORSE. I beat all the boys in the hoop shoot contest that year. I wasn't badatsports then.
In fact, the more I search my brain, the more I realize at that age I didn't have any reservations about sports, even the ones I wasn't the best at. I never remember feeling nervous during gym. I never sat out certain events pretending I was sick. It didn't matter if I was the best because only one person can really be the best, and good for them, right?
So, what gives? Why am I so convinced that I'm terrible now?
The furthest I can trace it back was 6th grade.
Picture it with me: the most awkward years of your life. You are growing up, but you're still a kid. Suddenly they make you shower in gym class, just what you've been needing to come out of your shy-shell. All your friendships are rocky, boys are starting to seem less obnoxious, and suddenly your mom is embarrassing you everywhere you go.
It's not exactly the Golden Years for your self esteem.
Dance class was bad enough. Please, someone explain to me why twelve-year-olds absolutely MUST learn the Boot Scoot Boogie? But gym was the icing on the cake. Suddenly it was apparent who was good at sports, and who was not. I remember one girl was really good at soccer, and she became instantly cool. She also had pretty hair, which probably helped.
It was the year you started pretending to be on your period to get out of attendance. It was the year my teacher made me run the mile even though I had a doctors note that I had strep. (After reading it, she backed away and covered her mouth so I wouldn't get her sick. She was not my favorite.) I remember one day we split up into groups to play volleyball. In reality, none of us were probably very great at it, but that doesn't stop the one competitive poophead (I usually refrain from using words like "poophead" on my blog, but it's necessary here) who thinks it's the Olympics and yells at everyone who isn't good.
That whole class was like a slow unraveling of my self-confidence. First, I realized the girl was pretty competitive. Then, that she was really competitive. Then, I realized she would yell at people if they missed the ball, or the serve, or failed to perform to her standards. THEN, I realized she would yell at ME. Publicly! It was humiliating and I was terrified that she was going to do it again. She did.
Of course, there were plenty of other girls in the class like me, who didn't have a competitive bone in their body and who were just as frustrated with her as I was. But none of us stood up to her, and by the end of the class I was a lot worse at volleyball than I was in the beginning.
I think, at all ages, we do this. We listen to what people tell us about ourselves, and we absorb it, and we become it. That girl and I even ended up being sort-of friends, and I'm sure she has no recollection of this day. But it was that day, and many like it in the years to come, that have led 25 year old Anndee to shy away from all sports or anything remotely "athletic." She told me I wasn't good, and to this day I believe it.
Thankfully for us, I think it goes the other way too. For some reason I can distinctly remember this day in 1st grade: We were learning math, and our teacher was a little frazzled. She taught us something, then got distracted and came back a few minutes later to teach us the same thing again. One kid raised his hand with the answer (which she had given us a few minutes before, unbeknownst to her) and she went crazy with praise. "You are so smart! You are like a math genius!" All of us tried to protest: we all knew the answer! She had just told us! But it fell on deaf ears. "I can't believe you knew the answer to that! You are going to be very good at math."
That day always stuck with me (probably because of the gross misjustice of it all) but the crazy thing is: he really did end up being good at math. Maybe he would have been a "math genius" anyway, but I firmly believe that positive affirmation like that made a big difference in who he would become.
On the same token, I think my love of writing came from a teacher and positive affirmation early on. In 2nd grade we would have "writer's workshops" everyday and they were always my favorite. My teacher would constantly tell me that I should write children's books someday. When I published A Place Like Heaven, I sent her a copy. 
Overall, I think it's unavoidable. Us, and our kids, are going to hear from some sad soul, somewhere along the way, that they aren't good at something. All of our self esteems take a hit sometimes. But I think it's important that we don't take it on: don't make it your mantra. Other people can tell you what they want about you, just don't tell it to yourself.
Which I guess, if I was to be psycho-evaluated right now (which I probably should be) that would be why I joined this softball team. A tiny step towards being good at sports.
And I will be the first to admit, the natural athletic abilities are definitely not there. My main goal in every game is just to make some contact with the ball. I stand in right field and pray the ball won't come to me. When it does, I'm tempted to run it to the bases, because that would be less embarrassing than my attempts at throwing. I strike out a lot, I spend more time swatting at bugs than I do playing, and I don't understand 80% of the lingo. ("I got a popfly and the short stop fouled the umpire." "...Yeah you did.")
BUT... it has been a lot of fun. I have been really lucky to have a fun team that doesn't take it too seriously and helps to point out my strengths. They try to help me do better without tearing me down, and I'm very grateful for that.
I see a lot of people making fun of it for kids these days, but I am a firm believer in the participation trophy. When I used to figure skate (Oh yeah! I did that too!) every time I fell down, my coach would clap. Because it doesn't matter if you catch the ball every time, or hit a home run. It doesn't matter if you land that Waltz Jump. What matters is that you are out on the field, or lacing up your skates (be careful not to combine these two), what matters is that you TRY.

Now, Dayen keeps crawling up here and trying to type, and I told him, "You can't write a blog!" which I immediately realized went against everything I just wrote, so here is Dayen's two cents.

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