As Mike and I think about parenthood, we naturally wonder what our daughter will be like: Sweet? Funny? Shy? And the ominous question has inevitably occurred to us: What if our daughter wants to play sports? To us, this prospect is as scary and unfamiliar as if a jock's son wanted to become a ballerina. If she wants to be a dancer, singer, actor, performer, or brain bowl champ, we've got that covered. But basketball, now that would be truly scary. We have baggage.
Mike's sports aversion is fairly easy to riddle out. As the smallest kid in school, he was always picked last, and it was at the hands of jocks that he was stuffed in lockers, garbage cans, and given swirlies (unsuccessfully, he'd like to point out).
My own antagonism towards sports is inexorably fastened to, of all things, church camp: "Summer's Best Two Weeks." Or, as I more aptly call it, "Summer's Worst Two Weeks."
As a little girl, my sister and I went to our church's sports-based summer camp. At camp, you learned how to play different sports each day, presumably in order to determine what you liked and what you were skilled at. Sounds fun, right?
The person who, no doubt innocently, planned this camp hadn't met the likes of me.
The goal was to learn the various skills of different sports and then be given ribbons (blue, red, and whatever comes after) based on what skills you had been able to master. My sister had a grand ol' time. Naturally outgoing and coordinated, she started raking the blues in. Me, not so much. The first several days passed with no ribbons. I couldn't master even the most basic skill sets of any of the sports. By the 4th day or so, camp counselors began taking me out alone to work with me individually to hopefully squeeze a ribbon out of my fumbling fingers.
To no avail. I simply stunk at sports. I couldn't master any one skill in any one sport. The grand finale of the camp was presenting all the ribbons to the children in a group ceremony. It was humiliating to an already shy, insecure girl. In the end, they may have given me a pity purple ribbon in curling or some such sport, but I can't remember. What I also can't remember is any kind of spiritual teaching at the camp. Surely it was there, but it left zero lasting impact on my brain.
But one thing was seared in my mind forever: You're no good and everyone knows it. Perhaps this seems a tad melodramatic, but children's minds are rather melodramatic, or at least mine was. (It's a good thing God gave me the most loving, supportive parents ever, considering how fragile my psyche was.) Through church camp, I learned to associate sports with shame, failure, and embarrassment. I learned that sports weren't about fun, but about achievement and competition. I learned that if you're no good at sports, you're an outsider. It pushed my inward nature yet further inward. I don't believe I ever willingly played group sports again. Every college ultimate Frisbee game or work volleyball tournament found me sitting on the sidelines because I never wanted to feel like I felt at Summer's Worst Two Weeks again.
Wow, what a downer post, huh? I set out intending to write a funny account of my misadventures at summer camp.
But in any case, what if Alexandra wants to be an athlete? I'll support her. But I'll never connect personal value to a score. I won't raise one particular skill set over and above the other skill sets God has created. And if she just happens to take after her nerdy little parents, I'll teach her that it's OK to be different in a world of jocks.