My first memories of sports are fond ones. I remember kindergarten field days and winning a second place red ribbon in the standing long jump. I remember happily running through my family student housing neighborhood, and learning how to ride a bike.
But as elementary years progressed, I felt less and less happy about sports. I didn’t have a physically active family, so didn’t have any weekend practice at throwing, batting, or catching balls. I seemed to be uncoordinated when a moving object was approaching me and I had to make it go somewhere else. And because I felt I was bad at sports, I chose to not even try. I remember even lying sometimes to my teacher when it was P.E. time, saying that I didn’t feel good so that I could sit on the side, watching everyone else do baseball or some other game.
Upper elementary was the worst. By then, kids were choosing their own teams in P.E. games, and I was inevitably one of the very last picked. I remember being proud of my time after running the mile, but everything else was negative.
Finally, in sixth grade, I had a long-term substitute teacher who was really kind, and spotted an ability I didn’t know I had. While I thought I was bad at everything athletic, she helped me see that I was pretty good at sports like basketball, where I could have the ball already in my hand and then make it go somewhere. Soon I was playing basketball everyday during recess, and even the boys were calling me “Magic.” Basketball continued to be my favorite game through middle school years, and to this day, basketball and Frisbee are my most loved “sports.”
Junior high youth group leaders also had a huge influence on me. As I entered the group at age 10, I was self-conscious about my lack of physical ability, and in the midst of a boy-majority group, often chose not to play the games. But college-aged friends like Tracy and Katy encouraged me to just go out and try, and have a good time. And as the years passed, I became one of the most enthusiastic youth group game players. It’s what I missed most about youth group when I moved to Nigeria.
Now my own kids are 7 and 8. Since they have always been homeschooled, they have not had much experience with sports and group games. When I was invited to join a group of ex-pat families, meeting weekly at a park for sports and games, I excitedly went. My kids were shy and unsure of themselves, and it took a while for them to warm up to the group. But in the last few months, they’ve gotten to play volleyball, dodge ball, tag, and baseball with this group of kids ranging in age from 3 to 12. I’ve watched them grow from being timid and whiny, to being enthusiastic and risk-taking. And now they’re thrilled about being part of Amman Little League softball.
What made me so happy about the Tuesday park group was the sweet encouragement my children received from both kids and adults. They were cheered on, even when struggling to connect bat to ball. They were gently invited over and over again to join games that they weren’t sure about. They were made to feel a special part of the group.
When I think of the horrible feeling in my stomach, time and time again, at being ridiculed for my inability or at being picked last, I thank God that my kids have such a positive beginning. I want them to enjoy using their bodies and playing with others. I want them to grow in their skills, even if they’re never MVPs. I want them to feel good about being team players and to always have hope.