Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Sports Thing

Aden joined the eighth grade girls' volleyball team at school this year.  She was interested in getting more exercise (which can be harder to do when the weather is cold) and I suggested she might like a more social outlet for that, so why not give volleyball a try?  She was hesitant, but she signed up, and she's really been enjoying it.

It's been interesting for us.  Earlier this month we went to our first sports thing as a family when we watched Aden's team play.  We've never been to see any kind of organized sporting event together.  I know Aden has been to baseball games with other people.  Mona was briefly on a swim team at the Y, but that was as low key as you could get, and we never all went to a meet.  I think the closest Quinn has been to sports is the Gaga Pit at school.  Sports has not been part of their education, so they know "of" sports.

Sports holds little to no interest for me.  I am glad to be married to a man with equal non-interest in sports, but it's definitely an area where my kids have not had a lot of exposure due to our lack of involvement.  However, Aden is among the very top of the list of things that do interest us, so we are all happy to go watch her play volleyball.

The first game we saw didn't start until after 9:30 p.m., which seems insanely late for a school activity, and it kind of wiped us all out.  We missed the second week's game by mistake because we got the time wrong, but we went again to another game this weekend.  The most recent game started at 6:00, which worked out much better.  We are trying to adapt to this new thing of weekly practices plus games.  A bit different from the music related activities we're used to where there are lessons, and then spread out months apart there are recitals.  This feels more like a recital every week.

It's taking us a little while to figure out what's going on, but I think we're starting to grasp most of the rules.  They play three games, and each time whoever gets to 25 points first wins.  I remember enough from playing volleyball in high school gym to know you only get three touches on a side before you have to get the ball back over the net.  The big stuff I think we get in terms of when the ball is out of bounds, etc.  It's the smaller rules of form that we can't follow yet.  Someone lost a point because when she was setting the ball she was turning her body?  I'm not sure.  We discuss it as it unfolds and it's fun to puzzle out as we watch.

We clap for anyone (regardless of team) whenever something is done well.  We try not to embarrass Aden by waving to her too often.  We munch on popcorn and try not to drop all the water bottles under the bleachers before the end of the last game.

I get the idea of playing sports.  I can happily spend hours shooting baskets and regret that our garage doesn't really have a good place for a hoop of our own.  I made sure all the kids have baseball mitts and Quinn and I regularly play catch in the field out back.  We enjoy archery, but aren't competitive about it.  I swim every day that I can.  When the weather allows, the kids spend a lot of time on the trampoline(s) and on their bikes.  We like to roller skate.  So it's not like we don't enjoy getting out to do physical things, but team sports, particularly just watching team sports, are not something I'm comfortable with.  I don't like passionate allegiance to arbitrary groupings of people.  I find that disturbing.

But whether I like it or not sports is a huge part of our culture.  I feel an obligation to make sure my kids know something about it.  On a couple of occasions when we've been flipping through TV channels and found a game of some sort or other I've tried to explain some of the rules so they can develop a basic vocabulary.  They should know the difference between a goal and a touchdown and a home run, that a low score is good in golf, and that for some reason in tennis you get 15 points at a time and "love" means zero.  It's all pretty arbitrary, but it's part of cultural literacy so I don't want them completely ignorant of all of it.    

I just can't muster any enthusiasm about it because it all strikes me as pointless.  Short of some world record to take note of, I don't know why it's interesting to anyone how many points someone scored or how fast someone moved.  If I'm not doing it, or someone I know isn't doing it, or it's not particularly unusual or beautiful, I really don't care.  I'm impressed my sister-in-law runs marathons.  I think it's fun my brother plays soccer.  I am in awe of how beautifully my other brother can run, and wish sometimes we had enough employees at the store to be able to cobble together a softball team.  But I don't get the way the city stops to watch the Packers play, or how anyone can bother with baseball statistics.  I have never understood why there is a whole sports page in the newspaper.  Because what do any of those scores matter the next day?  Why are they news?

So, obviously not my thing, but people are entitled to like what they like.  The stuff that interests me is equally pointless to many.  I know I am in a minority and it doesn't matter.  I only get unhappy about it when other people's obsession with sports impacts things I do care about.  It bothered me at Ohio State that there seemed to be endless resources for anything football, but my music history teacher had to provide his own CD player to make sure we could hear music in class.  It's inexcusable that while funding is being cut for public universities in Wisconsin, the same amount of tax money is being spent on a new stadium for the basketball team in Milwaukee.  (What happened to testing the merits of capitalism and letting a private enterprise sink or swim without government intervention?  But that's a whole other rant.)

Anyway, watching Aden play volleyball is fun.  So far her team is undefeated.  I've gotten to see Aden make some good serves and decent returns.  I care if she plays fairly and does her best.  I care that she has fun and doesn't get injured.  I don't care about how many points the team ends up with.  Learning is interesting, winning and losing aren't.  Whichever outcome teaches Aden more is good

The best part has been seeing how supportive the whole team experience is for my daughter.  Aden was worried that being new to the game would make it awkward, but all the girls are nice and they have been nothing but inclusive and encouraging.  The coach is kind and helpful.  It's a far cry from the unpleasant time I spent on my school's basketball team in Jr High where I had no friends.  I stuck it out because I liked playing basketball, but short of scoring a few points in a couple of games I have no pleasurable memories of it.  I'm glad Aden's introduction to playing sports is so positive.

I will keep offering sports as an option to my kids as opportunities arise, but I will likely remain relieved when they turn them down.  In the meantime, we will keep trying to figure out the details of volleyball play as we watch Aden move with her team on the court each week.  I don't know if this now makes us a sports family, but whatever we are, we're having fun.


  1. I like sports at our school. They tend to be positive and low key.
    "I don't like passionate allegiance to arbitrary groups of people." I've never heard it expressed quite so accurately.
    Thanks for sharing. I'm enjoying catching up and would like to do it in person in the near future!

    1. In person catching up sounds great! We should find a couple of nights at some point in the new year to trade dinner at each other's houses or something.

      I think our school's approach to sports is very Montessori. Very self-motivated and for the common good. I like it.

  2. I'm glad she's having a good experience! (And that the rest of you are having fun with it). I definitely grew up in the era of "everyone participates and it's all for fun" with kid's sports so I had good experiences with the variety of team sports I tried, despite being generally uncoordinated and nonathletic. And I agree, I don't get the fervor that people have for "their" teams! Like it's their religion or something. I'm all for random bandwagon fans coming together and supporting a team, especially if it unites people who wouldn't otherwise have much in common, but it can definitely get weird quickly.
    Anyway, have fun with volleyball!