Barefoot Monologues

A Journey of the Sole


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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.