What Sports Taught Me as a Child

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A Reluctant Athlete

I was a reluctant athlete in primary school. What that meant was that I was relatively good at athletics, and the school said everyone had to participate no matter what. The D-Grade sports was one of the main events of the year, and your grade went by how large your school was. Mine had 17 kids in the entire school, hence the designation of D-Grade. It wasn’t until after I finished primary school that they changed the name to “Small Schools Atheletic Contest.”

I was good at shot put, not as good as some of the other kids, but they were significantly older than me, and so I got stuck participating in shot put. I had tried to lose so that we would lose, but apparently I was terrible at losing. I was the champion for my school and the projected winner of the entire D-Grade sports for long jump, high jump, 200 meter sprint, 400 meter race, and 800 meter “cross country” race. What sucks for me is that I won them all, even though I had tried hard to lose. I didn’t want to get stuck having to go further.

My least favorite event in the D-Grade sports was the tunnel ball. Who gives a shit about tunnel ball? But lets go back to the D-Grade athletics of 1996. I was in grade six that year. I was wearing an ugly maroon and gold collared shirt screen-printed with the school logo all over the entire shirt rather than a tasteful small one on the upper left hand side. I also had on a maroon netball skirt, and regulation knickers: maroon cotton briefs called Cottontails. Oh, and let’s not forget the obnoxious gold socks. The uniform could never be complete without the gold socks or maroon floppy hat. It’s everyone’s dream outfit.

The first event in the finals was the 200 meter sprint, followed by the 400 meter, followed quickly by the 800 meter. It sucked to be me because I won the blue ribbon every time. My team placed second in the shot put, which was expected because the winning team was very good at it. I still don’t understand why shot put is even a thing but if some people enjoy it then good luck to them. My eleven-year-old self hated it.

Then came the long jump and tensions were mounting. Would the tall, but scrawny, kid in grade six in the maroon and gold uniform win? Unfortunately, yes, she did. What a pity. Then came the event I almost enjoyed, and it was the one I looked forward to if I had to be stuck in this noisy, crowded oval.

The high jump. Here was the one I liked. The one I wouldn’t mind winning. I passed through all the rounds, and here I was, ready for my last jump of the year and this crazy fucking carnival. I cleared the bar. My school cheered like they actually cared about me for once. It was my champion jump. I had won. Once I cleared the bar, I landed on the mats, but I landed the wrong way and my primary school athletic career ended with a pair of crutches and a sprained achillies tendon.

Once the athletic season was over, I faded into oblivion again, where nobody cared if I existed or not. I had not consented to the idea of damaging my body in this way, I was used by my school who didn’t care what I did the rest of the year, to make themselves look good. It didn’t matter that I was hurt, I was merely a tool. My sprained achillies tendon that still bothers me to this day was just collateral damage to them. I still resent them for it.

Too Wrapped up in Myself to be Allowed to Pursue my Own Sporting Interests

I would have rather just tried to get more sponsors for Jump Rope for Heart than this nonsese. I liked jumping rope and I liked trampolines. I enjoyed games of handball at recess, as well as hopscotch. Running out on the oval just to run felt good, but I had no desire to compete in races. I can be a very competitive person, but not in things I don’t want to do. I didn’t have a problem with being active, I just didn’t want to be scrutinized while I ran a worthless race just to make the school administration feel good about themselves.

As I got older, I wanted to do gymnastics and play field hockey, but my parents said no. I spent many hours playing tennis with my family, and I liked that okay, but my sporting interests were in gymnastics, swimming, and field hockey, which is precisely why I was never allowed to do them. I wasn’t allowed to do the ones I wanted, I was supposed to learn how to do what was best for others, rather than pursue my own self-interest. God said so after all.

Family Bonding Time My Arse

I was the kid in my family who despised watching the cricket, and the Aussie Rules, and being forced to be in the same room sometimes for days on end as far as the cricket goes, while the people I lived with screamed at the telly like it could change the outcome, and not be allowed to do something interesting like read because hollering at a screen was more important, there was zero bonding. Instead, there was resentment.

The noise was too loud, and cricket often goes on for days. When I was finally allowed to do something else because they learned they couldn’t force me to like watching sports (I didn’t like TV period, it bored the hell out of me), they kept making it clear to me how much I just didn’t fit in with the family. It made me an outsider.

I tried so hard to like cricket, I told myself how horrible I was to refuse to like cricket, and how stupid I was to let the constant screaming bother me, or how I was just being snobby to prefer a book to the television. I hung up posters of cricket players in my room. I read my mother’s cricket magazines. I bought a jersey. I hated cricket. I hated the Aussie Rules. Men wearing short shorts playing with a ball just never was appealing. My mother screamed at the Aussie Rules referees as much as we did the cricket ones.

I didn’t like the constant noise of the telly blasting all day, or before we had the telly, the radio blasting the game. I hated having to stand in the department store not shopping because my mother was standing by the TV’s with everyone else to see a play that was supposed to be a big deal while twenty people screamed at the TV’s not just my mother. It was too noisy, and it took too long, and it gave me a huge headache.

One day I couldn’t cope anymore and stopped reading the cricket magazines, and tore down the Shane Warne and David Boone posters, and gave the jersey to my mother. I’d had enough and not one of those things had made me be able to force myself to like cricket. If you had asked me if I enjoyed the cricket or the Aussie Rules, I’d have lied and told you yes, because I wouldn’t dare go against the family. If my parents said I enjoyed it then I enjoyed it full stop. It didn’t matter that it was a lie. Family bonding time my arse.

The Most Important Thing that Sports Ever Taught Me

C ompetitive sports taught me that I didn’t matter, that I’d never fit in, and that my body and abilities were there for people to exploit and take adantage of. I had no autonomy, and I was in this world to benefit others, but never myself. I was taught that other people were the ones that would decide if I took risks I didn’t want to take with my own body. The most important thing sports ever taught me was I was not an individual, and that I had no choice in what happened to me.

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MaryClare StFrancis

MaryClare StFrancis

My friends assure me that I am never boring, so hopefully you won’t be bored either.