Barefoot Monologues

A Journey of the Sole

Runners and Team Sports: A Match Made in Hell?


I have a question for my fellow runners:

How do you feel about team sports?

I’m not talking about plopping down in your easy chair on Sundays to watch Football. I mean more like how you feel about playing team sports? How did high school gym class go for you?

Because for me, it was pretty freaking terrible. And I was quite vividly reminded of that trauma today in my morning Boot Camp class, when the trainer instructed us to get into two teams (based on the color of our sneakers – white vs. other…I was an “other”) and stand on opposite ends of the baseball field. There was a small medicine ball in the center, and when the whistle went off, we were all supposed to sprint toward the ball, grab it, and then pass it teammate to teammate on the way to our respective goals. Kind of like football, only each receiver could only take three steps before they had to pass the ball.

The second the whistle went off it was like gym class all over again. Even though I was neither the only Boot Camp “newbie,” nor the shyest, nor the least fit, I somehow immediately reverted back to that insecure, chubby, buck-toothed, not-cool-kid I was in school. Nobody wanted to pass me the ball. There were times that I was the only person open, and I still didn’t get the ball. Then, when finally someone threw it to me in a moment of sheer desperation (her favorite friend wasn’t paying attention), I was so shocked and nervous that I started running in the wrong direction! Of course then everyone started yelling at me, and I had to fight the urge to throw the ball on the ground, run to my car in tears and drive home.

I’m still shocked at how easily my mind regresses back to those insecure childhood days whenever I am thrown into a team-sport situation. I have never done well playing any game where others depend on me to excel, especially if speed, agility and a ball are involved. I’ve always been far too polite to fight for the ball, and not physically aggressive enough to spike, nudge or even run after another person. The whole activity always feels like some sick sort of popularity contest that I lost even before I stepped onto the field. It’s like I exude “I SUCK AT THIS” fumes and everyone automatically knows to stay away.

Either that, or women are simply mean and spiteful, even well into adulthood (and to some degree it may be true with this particular group, as there is one alpha female in class who has spent a great deal of class time watching to see if she betters me at every exercise, and if she doesn’t I’ll get a dismissive comment or a well-aimed dirty look. It’s a little disturbing, in a “Single White Female” sort of way).

But I digress.

Interestingly enough, there’s a very distinctive space in which my comfort begins and where it abruptly ends. Beach volleyball games with friends at a barbecue? No way. Office softball game? Count me out.

But throwing a football back and forth? Totally fine. Yoga? Pilates? Kung-Fu? Let me at it. Run with a buddy? Absolutely. And even if I’m the worst in the group, I’m totally fine with it. I guess there’s just something about that full-contact, aggression-driven competition…it simply makes me cringe.

I guess I’m lucky at least we didn’t have to pick teams today. Yikes.

So once I got home and had enough time to absorb what happened, I started thinking: Is it just me, or do other runners feel this way as well? Do most of us share the same traumatic feelings about sports that involve aggressiveness and mob team mentality? Is it that we are just more suited to sports built around endurance and body form? Do we all possess that independent “loner” sensibility, and find it more comfortable to rely on ourselves, rather than on a team of others? How else does this translate into our lives?

If so, it’s not such a wonder that I was glued to the television when the Olympic Gymnastics, track and field, swimming and diving were on, but couldn’t be paid to sit through basketball, volleyball or…any of the other sports ending in -ball. Maybe it’s not such a wonder that I roll my eyes at my Boston friends when they post incessantly about their favorite sports teams.

Maybe it’s not such a wonder that I love to run. Alone.

What are your thoughts on the matter? I’m curious to know how many of you runners out there feel much like I do about team sports, and whether there’s really something to this theory. Are you a runner who also excels at playing team sports, or are you like me and would rather pull out your eyelashes?

And, if you are the runner/team sports type, I wonder what kind of runner you describe yourself as: marathoner, sprinter, do you prefer speed workouts or long slow distances? Same for the latter group.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

10 thoughts on “Runners and Team Sports: A Match Made in Hell?

  1. Trisha, I am a long distance runner that shares your view to a certain extent but not wholly. I think most distance runners enjoy the solitude of a run. With that said I am sure there will always be this group of distance runners that would excel in team activities too. My personal and professional life have taught me work and run singularly. I do not even enjoy group runs. I dislike races to an extent. I love to run alone although I enjoy nfl and basketball just like any other couch potato. Just do not ask me to be part of any team. I wish there was an ‘I’ in ‘team’. Maybe, just maybe, I would have excelled in team sports then :).

  2. I guess I’d say that if you’re an artist and a writer, and your sport-of-choice is running… then yes, you probably aren’t much of a team-sports fan. There’s at least two of us out there to prove it!

    The wanna-be extrovert in me has always wanted to play a team sport. Yet, the introvert-in-denial that I actually am feels most comfortable engaging in individual activity

    Btw, just reading this post brought on a huge wave of my gym class related PTSD. 😉

  3. I’m with you Trish! I played softball for little while but I always felt afraid of the ball. I’d never “attack it!” I was good at swimming and cheerleading…. although that may be considered a team sport, but there was no ball!!!

    I like watching contact sports though. Love watching a good hockey fight but I don’t go looking for it. If I pass the channel on TV and there’s nothing else on I’ll watch it. If someone gets tickets to the Bruins Ill most definitely go and drink beer and sit on the edge of me seat.

    I know I like to do most of my running/exercise alone cause I hate the gym… I don’t want to work out with others. I don’t like them watching me or judging me. Maybe its just an insecurity thing?

    Plus running is my time for me…. I don’t want it clouded with what someone else wants to talk about or their annoying opinions.

    I’m a loner!! ❤

  4. it’s funny, but I’ve just spent the last few days in a funk, after having been in a 12K race. Couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but it was because I was in a *race*. I got into running to spend more time outside and to see if I couldn’t work towards ultra distances (I’m still working). What got me about the race (it was my 4th: I’m fairly new to this) was that it reminded me that this was why I *didn’t* get into running: I’m not interested in competitions and times, I’m interested in what running does to me (helps with depression) what I can do (hopefully distance) and where it takes me (in an external and internal landsacape sense). I went on a run yesterday in the wind and setting sun and remembered what I’d decided several months ago, but seem to have forgot. That rather than race, I’d set my own challenges: sometimes with friends, sometimes just for myself, but rather than pay $$ and get the t-shirt/medal, I’d set my own goals. Next weekend I’m running 20k in the mountains with a good friend. I know it will be a much better experience than the race. Part of that is becaue of the lack of fellow feeling I had for the “jocks” who could run 12k in 45 mins but mostly because I’m actually not really interested in what they seem to be interested in: speed, times, splits etc etc. Never did like sports at school, but one of the attractions about distance running was the attitude that just doing it is the important thing: getting out there and running 20, 30, 50 km/miles *is* the result, not the time, position, place within your group.

    • All good thoughts, Dave. To a certain extent I agree. Sometimes I think I’m much better off just running and not racing, because I’m slow and comparing myself to other people just makes me feel bad. But on the other hand, training for races keeps me motivated.

      • yes: motivation….I entered my first race so I had something to aim for. As a new runner 7 miles seemed hard but attainable. I also wanted to see what I was like compared to other runners: turned out to be mid-pack and pleased with that. But I always wanted to run further, not faster, so I entered a few 10ks as speedwork then realised that paying to enter races as “training” was probably not a great strategy. I also realised that I don’t like the competitiveness of shorter races: they’re too fast and there isn’t much in the way of joy to be had…..So rather than run a half marathon in the Lake District which would be fast and into which I probably wouldn’t fit, I devised my own route, convinced a friend to join me and will be running 20km in the mountains, stopping when we feel like it and having a good time. Which is, at the end of the day, why I run…….Having said that I’m entered into a 10k in December in some local woods in the night time. Because THAT looks like fun: the course will be lit by fairy lights and glow sticks and Santa will be a marshall…..

  5. Hmm, I’m not sure. I am not competitive with other people but I am with myself. I prefer to run alone only because of the convenience of running on my schedule not someone else’s. I like team sports if people act like it is fun and not the end of the world. Maybe the problem is with them and not us.

  6. I love playing basketball but I also love running. I am sure playing basketball affects my running performances if for no other reason than the fact that I lose running training time. I have sort of decided though that my ultimate goal is to stay in pretty good shape, make sure my pants fit, enjoy my basketball with my friends and enjoy my running when I run. I think you can do and love both running and team sports but if I want to improve my times I will need to cut back on the basketball.

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