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Exercise and sport for fun, or: What to say to an unathletic kid trying out sport

Posted Jun 12 2009 6:29pm
Or rather, what *not* to say to an unathletic, slightly awkward kid trying out sports.

My parents have an old friend who also happened to be my teacher for a couple of years, and my volleyball coach when I first started to play. One time after I'd been playing for a couple of years, she said to me, "Nobody told you that you weren't an athlete, so you became one."

I can't remember how old I was when this happened, but it was certainly somewhere in the age range where you're at your most awkward and self-conscious. So of course I took this very well-intentioned statement completely wrong.

I focused on the first half of the sentence: 'you aren't an athlete'. I became embarassed by my sad strivings to do something I'm not completely a natural at. I stopped thinking about myself as an athlete. When I wasn't fast, I stopped running. When someone commented on my (not 100% perfect) swimming form, I stopped swimming. When I wasn't a star volleyball player, I stopped doing that.

Over the years, though, I've come to focus on the second half of that statement: 'you've become an athlete'. I remembered that I *like* to run, and it doesn't matter that I'll never keep up with Paula Radcliffe. I enjoy yoga, so who cares if I can't put my right leg over my left shoulder. My bike can get me around and moving, even if I'll never get an MBE for my cycling prowess.

The thing that really changed all this for me was rugby. There's a place in the sport for people of all sizes and shapes. My teammates encouraged me to get fitter, not to lose some arbitrary amount of weight or conform to some arbitrary shape. In fact, getting too small was sometimes a problem!

Meg was a competitive athlete until just after we met. And now she can't do sport just for fun. She used to be so good that it frustrates her to not be that good any more, and she doesn't enjoy it. She can't be average. And while I'm happy she had the success that she did in her earlier life, it makes me sad that that success has ruined her ability to take pleasure in the doing, rather than in the being great.

Today, I'd consider myself an amateur athlete. I'm not a superstar, but I do what I enjoy, for myself. It took me a really long time to come to this place, though. In my interactions with kids, I hope to ask them not, 'how good are you?' but rather 'are you having fun?'. I want to tell them I enjoy watching them become *better* athletes - with emphasis on the fact that they already are.

Yoga, really struggling with utthita hasta padangutanasana - my legs are really tired from the cycling, I think!
Juneathons: 12/12 + 2 extra credit
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