Thursday, August 25, 2011

Summer's Worst Two Weeks

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.


Anonymous said...

I guess there are some advantages to being from an older generation where we ladies were not required or encouraged to do group sports.
Being on the cheerleading squad (no I did not make it) was the only competition. NV

Elizabeth M. said...

Amber, funny...and sad! But since Swimming was the only sport I was good at, and this carried no fame, and I am afraid of balls (and frisbees) college sports were not so good for me. I remember countless times getting really frustrated because no one would pass me the frisbee....but if they did I would duck really fast : ) Ha. Also, has Mike forgotten that he was a stellar swimmer in his day? Or our days in youth soccer (which Craig coached, I think)? Have you forgotten that you are a cyclist and a mountaineer! I suppose those are not really sports, but you two are athletic and hopefully your kids will be like you : ) Social and fun, but not concerned with scores and goals. I am hoping and praying that of Micah. Sports to me represent people whining about losing, crying about losing, being wrapped up in how good they are/others are not and....I know this is AWFUL but I just don't see a whole lot that is awesome about playing as a team. I like to believe that it isn't who wins or loses but how you play the game (Berenstein Bears). Love you! You are a winner in my book.

Amber said...

Thanks, Liz! Mike says, "Yes, I know, I was the best. Just not at what mattered." :) Mike and I both are good at different sports/activities, just not group sports, which are the ones most people care about!

Tara said...

It is funny that you remember that camp. I too remember that camp because I was one ribbon short of earning what they called a 'letter' just like in high school. I was traumatized because I didn't earn that letter--I was mad about it for many years. My whole focus was taken off of the purpose of the camp because I wanted the prize. The focus was in the wrong place.

I think you and Mike will do better at that than you expect. You are both so well rounded that you will be able to teach her skills no matter where she is headed. Plus you grew up with me and we both had a dad who loved to introduce us to different sports. You have the background--even if we didn't turn into pros!

Anonymous said...

the glories of my group sports experiece:1.When Barney Visser said he and I should challenge our entire class to a fight in 5th grade and I agreed the class didn't kill us. We just ended up on the ground with multiple people crushing us gently into submission. 2. My 4 years older cousin taught me how to fight him barefisted and merely punched my face very hard which taught me that you better protect your face or get knocked silly and I chose the get knocked silly. This was preparation for the group sport of defending your friends against bullies from other schools at sports events. This taught me the valuable lesson that it is unwise to fight high school wrestlers. Experience taught me that when a wrestler is sitting on your chest and punching downward into your face repeatedly it is very difficult to punch upword. I learned you must first remove him from your chest and then attempt to punch back. 3. I learned that the group sport of taunting other young men can lead to some rather crusching first punches into the nose and for some reason my nose is more sensitive to a well placed punch than I expected. 4. I appreciated that being 3rd string on the 9th grade basketball team allowed me to be one of the first to run down to the locker room at half and get a fresh free orange provided for us. I do regret that my friend who loved oranges like I did was cut with me the next year and that was the end of those delicious free oranges. 5. I thought kicking the soccor ball was fun on our high school team. I never could understand why either team should attempt to win , I remember how angry my coach was when I quit running once we were ahead by one goal. He was very angry that we didn't try to win by a larger score. I learned the minds of coaches and my mind just didn't word the same and that would remain a mystery. Also the coach always forgot the next day how angry he was with me and I got to go back to kicking a ball which I always enjoyed. Plus the ball never punched me in the face so this sport was more pleasurable then my previous sports experiences. I hope all my children read this so they can learn some valuable lessons about sports and life if getting punched hard repeatedly in your face can be called a sport. cvs

barleygreen said...

I didn't see the signature on the post above but at a glance, I wondered if it was cvs...and it was.

Okay wait...I seem to remember ANV and MJV having us play frisbee football-what was that all about? So sad that you went the "sport" camp...different for me. Games of capture the flag at dusk (I was never captured as I discovered I was quite good at hiding-may have missed the point); playing in the pool; "swimming" down the great sand dunes (learned that was not the best idea)...Oh, and there were no ribbons, not even one. Good thing too as I certainly wouldn't have obtained one anyway.

You will both be marvelous parents...just relax.