Looking at me, there is absolutely nothing that says, “athlete.”
And that’s not misleading. I haven’t played any sports since eighth grade. I almost never watch sports on TV. Even though I live in the shadow of Notre Dame, I only check the game schedule to make sure traffic isn’t going to be terrible.
But, if my childhood was a little different, this could have been very different. Because it’s not like I wasn’t exposed to sports as a kid—I watched every game of the Chicago Bulls 1996 championship tournament. I was dragged to every softball game my parents played. I even played baseball, soccer, and football.
And if my experiences were just a little different, I might have continued my athletic career.
Looking back now, my sports experiences are fraught with misery and boredom.
But it wasn’t always that way. I even had a little bit of fun.
I enjoyed baseball drills and football warm ups. I loved kicking the ball around the cones and passing between my partner in ever-complicated methods.
But when game time came, it was sheer boredom.
All through baseball season, I asked to work with the pitching coach or play shortstop. Instead, I was relegated to right field, otherwise known as the part of the field no third grader can hit the ball to. I spent most of my game time picking dandelions.
I thought that I would at least have some fun hitting the ball. But at my first at-bat in a scrimmage with another team, I was hit square in the jaw. This instilled a fear of the ball that would stay with me forever. I only got one hit the whole season, against a team that was even worse than us.
So I tried soccer.
My dad would often regale me with tales from his glory days on the college soccer team. So when I signed up, he excitedly hopped in as assistant coach.
And that was bad news for me. Because my dad used to play fullback, and wanting me to follow in his footsteps, he placed me at fullback as well.
Even though I wanted to play midfielder.
Which I managed to do one time, for a single quarter. It was the most fun I had through the two seasons I played soccer. But I would never be put there again. Instead, I was stuck at fullback, standing at the halfline while our strong forwards kept the ball at the other end of the pitch.
All the while, my dad yelling at me to sprint. Where to, dad? I can’t cross this line.
Then, I tried football.
A couple of my best friends were on the team with me, so I figured it would be easy to have a good time. I loved tackling fools. But I was a small kid, so my hits didn’t have much punch to them.
But I was fast—in dead sprints, I was one of the fastest five kids on the team. And I was nimble as all get out.
For reasons unknown, though, my coach put me on the offensive line, where I could neither tackle nor run. Instead, I was stuck guarding people twice my size.
Obviously, I wasn’t very good at that. So I was put on the B-team. I played in maybe four games the whole season.
When high school came, I quite sports altogether.
I turned to music and skateboarding—activities where I could do what I wanted to do, without a coach forcing me to play outside of my skillset.
And while I don’t miss sports much at all, I often wonder how my life would be different if what little interest I had in sports was actually fostered instead of quenched by ineffective coaches.
What would have happened if I wasn’t beamed in the face in my first at bat? What if my dad actually let me play midfielder? What if my football coach put me in a position I was actually suited for?
Would I still be the long-haired, record collecting hipster playing in three different bands? Or would I be...a jock?
Personally, I’m fine not knowing.