Wednesday, April 29, 2020

A Question Worth Asking: Why play a sport if you're not good at it...?!

A close friend of mine, a former teammate and avid sports fan once told me why she and her husband spend so much money, time and personal resources into the development of their children's athletic experiences.  "It's not fun to play a sport if you're not any good at it. Who wants to suck?" I was horrified by her words, primarily because they struck a nerve. Why?  Deep down inside, I knew that both a big part of me agreed with her and ferociously disagreed with her. And yet, her words have stayed with me because they spawn a question worth asking: Is she right? 

Sopan Deb's article How I Found Common Ground With My Immigrant Dad on a Tennis Court provides the answer I suppose I want to hear..or need to hear. Please read the article for yourself. It's funny, insightful, and surprising.
Deb writes:
There was one other issue, though: Shyamal (the author's father)  was terrible too. Really bad. I mean, so was I, but I had an excuse. This was not a grand display of tennis on either side. This was the opposite of Borg vs. McEnroe. It was more like two Muppets facing off. I stopped feeling bad for the ball boy once I saw him openly laughing at some of our volleys. Shyamal trotted from one side of the court to the other, flailing at my serves, which were surprising each time they made it over the net. 
I had thought he was being polite by playing down his tennis skills. He actually was terrible. What was his coach teaching him that whole time? 
After an hour, we mercifully ended our eyesore of a match. Neither of us kept score, but we didn’t need to. We both lost.
The sports metaphor looms large for a reason. As an athlete and as a coach, I know when I have lost and lost (think of this as the negative, lower left quadrant on the x, y axis/graph). I also know I have won, even when the scoreboard says otherwise. Such is the case here for the Deb men.

Shyamal Deb plays tennis and sucks at it. He has invested in instruction and has the equipment and wardrobe to play the part and yet, his game is still terrible. His talent, or lack thereof doesn't diminish the shared experience that unfolds. Or the insights and lessons he and his son have gained from trying to hit a fuzzy tennis ball over a net—replete with a hired ball boy! 
The authnor, Sopan Deb is a basketball writer and a contributor to the culture section for The New York Times
I have always believed one of the many gifts of sports is that serves as another means of communication—both verbal and nonverbal. I know people because I have run, played basketball or a round of golf with them in a way that is very different, often intimate, playful, challenging and endearing. 

Perhaps this is what children are always seeking from their parents and parents from their children—a relationship so important that the memories made, the physical strife, communication without words are worth investing—whether you suck or not. I think one of the comments says it much better: When going fishing with your father it is never about the fish.... Amen.

Photo Credits
Sopan Deb
Tennis Court

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