Before I draft these posts I sometimes organize my thoughts in a journal. No, that’s not true. I blabber my thoughts freestyle into a journal and then I index those freestyle blabs so I can find my notes later when I’m ready to write more formally. It’s not organized at all. It’s certainly nothing fancy. Just a page number and a title. I called this one Ode To Quitting.
Initially the quitting was just tennis but now I think it’s all sports. That’s a big deal because I’m weeks away from turning 50 and I have never — ever — not played a sport or had an athletic pastime. From peewee sports to school sports to adults sports and beyond I’ve been some kind of athlete my entire life. And now I’m done. Mostly because I did what a said I wasn’t going to do three years ago when I started tennis lessons.
I said I was just going to learn enough to keep the ball on the court most of the time and only play for fun. No leagues, no teams, no tournaments, no competition. Fun and exercise, that was all. What did I do? Leagues, teams, tournaments, the whole thing. Weekly lessons, private lessons, brain training, yada yada yada. I went all in. Guess what got really un-fun? Mm hmm.
But as I have worked my way up to the conclusion that I ruined tennis for myself I found myself working through the inconceivable idea of being someone who doesn’t play a sport at all, not even casually. Lots of wrestling with identity but way down under the obvious, fear. Permission to not play sports anymore? Maybe never again? Me? No! Why not? Well …
And the answer took me back to why I felt the need to ever start playing sports and then why I could never be allowed to stop. All these years of training, competing, injuries, recovery, studying, traveling and spending scads of money, and it was never a question of wanting to stop. It was always a matter of being afraid to stop. This is where I would normally regurgitate the childhood trauma that made me believe sports and athletics were mandatory for life but I am finally old enough to simply acknowledge it. I don’t have to recreate another gory chapter of bygone woe so you can acknowledge it as well.
However, as it speaks to the concept of social wellness, there is a point worth articulating. When kids grow up in homes where athletes are the most admired, most beloved, most important people on the planet and sports are the most admired, beloved, and important activities, those kids will play sports to be admired, loved, and important. Especially if there is no other way. If no one else is revered as much or more than athletes, a starving kid will default to athletics out of desperation. Anything else is lesser living of a lesser human being, ergo less love and less acceptability. Multiply decade after decade until it ends up hardwired.
Bear in mind it matters not if the person in question happens to be good at any of it or even capable of being good at it. This is irrelevant; it simply must be done. Sports must be played and playing may never cease. Switching sports = okay. Trying new sports = okay. Aging out or getting injured out = okay as long as you play something else. Quitting sports = never okay. Miserable at sports = play on.
Softball, basketball, volleyball, track & field, gymnastics, martial arts, distance running, cycling, weightlifting, swimming, tennis, and all the non-sporting athletics like backpacking, wilderness survival, Pilates, aerobics, yoga, fitness classes, and being a coach or trainer. A lifetime. All the time of a whole life. Because a person who doesn’t do this doesn’t deserve … well, you get it. This was the core belief. It was lived as truth when it was always a lie. A lifelong fear; wasn’t even true and I lived an entire life as if it was and held myself perennially accountable to it. And what of the sports I didn’t play? Force myself to learn them and like them and follow them as if it is a genuine interest. Because when I ask myself to tell the truth, I don’t really like most of it.
So quit? Imagine how strange and unnatural it feels to suddenly believe I can quit. Not whether anyone will approve or understand but can I do this? I’m not injured. I’m not constrained. There’s nothing wrong with me or my ability to go on. Can I quit for no good reason? I finally can. So I did. Told the team. Told my coach. I am now a quitter. While winning is fun, I truly hate competing. I hate the dread. I hate the hoping it will rain. I hate spending time with competitive people. I like practicing skills but I hate being trained to compete. I hate begging people to practice with me every week. I simply hate it. My no good reason is hate.
Or maybe it’s love. The feeling I felt immediately after quitting? Intense relief. And when the next practice day came around? Gratitude that I didn’t have to go. And the next scheduled match day? Happy it wasn’t me in the lineup. The next time I sat in front of screen full of sports? I don’t think I want to spend the next two or three hours watching this. I have zero guilt and so far, very little regret. On my next run I felt completely free. My next yoga practice was joyful and much more open. The next time I picked up a weight it was simply to feel strong. All things I truly love.
The cracked photo I’ve attached was my last tennis selfie unless I get to play for fun at some future date and happen to photograph it. A man was screaming at me from a distance as I took it. Yes, screaming. I arrived a few minutes early for a group practice. The sun was going down on the courts. I dropped my bag and racquets near my assigned court and grabbed my phone to catch the last rays of slanty sun on an empty court. There were NINE empty courts. As I stepped onto one of them with NO TENNIS EQUIPMENT in my hands or on my person, a man starts screaming at me from the clubhouse, which is a considerable distance away, up a hill and several flights of stairs. I ignored him, turned my back to the sun to create a shadow, and snapped my photo. The whole thing took about six seconds but this guy goes ballistic screaming at me that the court is reserved and will not stop until I acknowledge him.
Court reservations start on the hour. There was still time. He was early too and he was not only not on the court, he was nowhere near it. And yet my mere presence was so offensive he began screaming like a child that someone else was touching his toy. With no racquet or balls in my possession I was obviously not playing tennis. No matter, he got louder and more insistent as I did nothing more than stand there. Notice my posture in the photo. Somehow this jaunty little pose was threatening. As he screamed on I finally turned to look at him. He bellowed again the court was reserved. I gave him a thumbs up. I stood in place long enough to check my phone to make sure I’d gotten the shot. This must have infuriated him because he began running toward the court throwing a tantrum like a five-year-old. Down the stairs he thundered, down the hill, and across eight empty courts to claim his precious turf from the lady clearly intent upon stealing it from him.
I stepped off the court and closed the gate behind me with one thought, this is stupid. Irony or prophecy? Either way, I’m done.
Be well, friends.