Wrong sport!
May 25, 2018 6:28 AM   Subscribe

"One crucial function of the brain is the retention of traumatic events and the feelings associated with them. Theoretically the function is designed to prevent us from repeating our mistakes, but more often than not it just means a flashback in the middle of Whole Foods to that one time in first grade when you called your teacher “Mom.” Certain scenarios are ripe for producing those decadeslong cringes, but the arena of childhood sports might combine all the elements necessary for a permanent scar: audiences composed of peers and strangers, shows of dexterity, the agony of adolescence." What Childhood Sports Failures Keep You Up at Night?
posted by everybody had matching towels (82 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
This is admittedly thin for a FFP so I totally understand if it's deleted, but I thought the contents were hilarious enough to make the effort.
posted by everybody had matching towels at 6:32 AM on May 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

Also, my mom was the coach of my softball team, my older sister and her best friend were the star players, and I once rolled in the mud to get out of playing. If I recall correctly my plan didn't work and I had to play the entire game caked head to toe in drying mud.
posted by everybody had matching towels at 6:34 AM on May 25, 2018 [12 favorites]

All of them. Plus several non-sports related failures.
posted by nubs at 6:35 AM on May 25, 2018 [3 favorites]

I wanted to take Judo for years as a kid. We were poor and it was beyond our budget for classes and the outfit, but my single mom saved and made it happen. During the warmup, we had to raise our hands above our heads and stretch back into a banana-shape. I reached as far back as my 7 year old body could stretch and immediately fainted. The day's class was cancelled. The other kids hated me. I never went back. My judo career lasted less than 5 minutes, but in my heart I know I could have been a champion.
posted by dobbs at 6:46 AM on May 25, 2018 [20 favorites]

Ninth grade basketball game against hated City High. I steal a pass midcourt, race to the basket, and outjump the defender to execute the most beautiful finger-roll ever.

Into the opponent's goal.

The looooooooong pause after that, when everyone kinda stood there looking around in disbelief, and my mind is groping its way toward the stunning reality of my fuck-up, is basically the feeling I spend a lot of my adult life trying to avoid.

Note also that I was guarded, and strenuously, by the poor guy from the other team, and if to this day he hates me for dragging him into my Wrong Way Corrigan fiasco, well, I understand.
posted by Caxton1476 at 6:51 AM on May 25, 2018 [21 favorites]

Once, after a wrestling match that I lost, I mouthed off to a teammate of the guy who beat me in an unsportsmanlike manner, and I'm occasionally still bothered by that. Though I'm not haunted by it, per se, in the way that I am by any of a hundred other mildly awkward things I did as a teen.
posted by tobascodagama at 6:52 AM on May 25, 2018

In the second grade, I had nothing going for me except my height and the accompanying ability to do the high jump. So this one time in gym class, I was next up to jump. Behind the mattress, all the popular kids tried to psych me out by making dumb faces and waving their arms at me. In response, I imitated them by doing the same: pulling a dumb face and waggling my arms frantically. But rather than this rebuttal silencing them, they burst out laughing, and I realized, mortified, that they thought I was just having a strange fit of my own accord. Then I bombed the jump, the end.
posted by Beardman at 6:57 AM on May 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

I was completely shit at sports as a kid, but the thing I remember most at random moments is a victory rather than a failure. We were doing volleyball in seventh grade, and they had us all serving underhand. Then the gym teacher explained that, at competition levels, everyone served overhand jump serves. So he showed us how it worked and let us try it a couple of times. The first time I tried, I jumped and arced an absolutely beautiful serve, despite the fact that I was the least athletic kid in the class and everyone before me had totally pooched it.

The gym teacher was amazed and told me to do it again, so I did. Apparently beautiful volleyball jump serves was an ability I just had, with absolutely zero training or practice.

So I ended up, to my family's complete surprise, on the school volleyball team, where my sole role was to deliver essentially unreturnable serves. That, apparently, was enough to make up for the fact that I was a total liability to the team anytime I wasn't on the serve. This lasted exactly two years, then we got old enough that other players had serves about as good as mine, and they also didn't suck at volleyball. So I got booted from the team.

Still I always think of that as my athletic peak.

(Although, actually, I went on to play on the high school tennis team as well. Again, my game largely sucked, but my serve was way ahead of the level of the other players my age. So I guess I was designed by god for throwing things up in the air, jumping, and then smashing them to specific places...)
posted by 256 at 7:20 AM on May 25, 2018 [24 favorites]

God, the last minute in tied game of my high school soccer sectional championship. Our top scorer Booger smashes a kick off the cross bar that rebounds so far downfield that the opponents get a three on one fast break and score for the W with less then a minute on the clock. Damn.

I have to imagine this is also the best sport memory for the guy that scored the goal, so as time heals my wound I hope the other guy continues to tell the last minute victory story as often as possible, preferably in a bar over beers with Glory Days playing on the radio.
posted by lstanley at 7:21 AM on May 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

I enjoyed soccer a lot as a little kid; we played it in gym in grade 2 or thereabouts, and I loved it, and so I got my parents to sign me up for the community team/league.

First practice is really more of a tryout thing; they sorted all of us based on ability into our teams. It had rained that day. So my Dad made me wear rubber boots to it. I couldn't control the ball, couldn't do anything that made me feel like I did when we played in gym class; I was inept. I was mocked by the guy in charge, a rather large Scottish gentleman who probably had forgotten more about soccer than the gaggle of Canadian kids around him would ever learn.

By the time of the next practice, I had proper cleats and everything, but I was still the weird kid who thought he could player soccer in rubber boots. My love for the game diminished pretty rapidly after that.
posted by nubs at 7:32 AM on May 25, 2018 [3 favorites]

I was playing left field and it was summer in South Carolina so there were bugs everywhere. I was distracted trying to swat them away when the ball landed 5 feet away from me. Later on I found out people watching saw me waving my arms around in the field and thought I went temporarily insane. I tried to get it up field but it was way too late, and ended up being a resounding victory for the other team.
posted by Query at 7:37 AM on May 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

Not so much with the sports (I did play a lot as a kid, but any shortcomings I had were not sufficiently traumatic to stick wit me decades later), but I am acutely aware of the time I acted like an ass when I went to a concert with a friend on June 29, 1985. 12,018 days ago.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:38 AM on May 25, 2018 [6 favorites]

I was rotten at sports, but I also didn't really care; the only bits about my "athletic career" that bugged me were that the local Mean Girls were also on the same team as me and lots of them would gang up to bully me during practices and games. (Although there was that one time where Tina F. was engaging in a bit of "let's copy EC to bug her" from her post at First Base, and she got in trouble because she was so focused on watching me in the right field that she missed a catch.)

Instead I'm going to call out a friend, whose bobble was the most Charlie Browniest I've ever heard of; she was in centerfield, I in right field. We had a ball hit towards the outfield, and we both sprinted after it. Neither of us caught it, but we still chased after it to throw it in so people could be tagged out; it rolled right up to the fence around the ball field. My friend got to it first, picked it up, braced herself against the fence and cocked her arm back to hurl it in - and lost her grip on the ball and dropped it on the other side of the fence.

I felt bad for her, but also secretly was thinking oh thank god that wasn't me that did that
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:45 AM on May 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

Both of my parents were sports stars in the small town where I grew up. I was a bookish nerd. No one could bring themselves to believe I wasn't good at sports, especially since I was very tall. I have an unusual eye condition that means I have extremely poor depth perception, so I was absolute shit at all sports involving tracking a moving ball, which was all of them that were played in my home town. (The high school didn't have a track team until years after I had graduated, and they still don't have a swim team.) My mom made me play tee ball and little league baseball for four years, and my memories of it are some of my most traumatic moments of my life. In school, where both of my parents had been all star basketball players, PE teachers forced me to try to play basketball for years, despite the fact that I was absolute shit at it and almost every PE period ended with me in tears. I vividly remember when I was taught about the concept of fouling out in basketball. "Ah ha!" I thought, "A way out!" That day, I just started shoving people on the basketball court until the teacher made me sit down. Then, after class, I got beat up by all the people I'd shoved.

In conclusion, I fucking hate sports and think the "positive values of teamwork and competition" sports supposedly teach are absolute bullshit.
posted by vibrotronica at 7:55 AM on May 25, 2018 [26 favorites]

Overhand volleyball serves remind me of one of my own favorite high school P.E. moments. Our teacher decided that we should all learn how to do overhand serves instead of underhand, though he understood that jump serves were a bit beyond our coordination level. I wasn't thrilled at this, since I was one of the best on my team at the underhand serve, but orders are orders. (The trick was to pick the two people on the other team who looked the unhappiest to be there and plant it directly in between them, so that neither would move a muscle.)

So I took the ball, threw it up in the air, spiked it with my fist... and drilled the poor guy in front of me squarely in the back of his skull, sending him flying one way and his glasses another.

I felt terrible about it, as it was completely unintentional and I'd probably concussed the poor bastard. But I could NOT STOP LAUGHING because it was ABSOLUTELY HYSTERICAL to see if you weren't the one getting concussed, and I felt even worse about that.

Not sure if he ever forgave me.
posted by delfin at 7:56 AM on May 25, 2018 [3 favorites]

This thread makes me feel terrible. I can't even come up with a specific incident to tell a story about. I feel awful about all of them. I am going to go away and try hard to not think about this any more.
posted by elizilla at 8:06 AM on May 25, 2018 [6 favorites]

As for Little League baseball, I was lucky enough to be on teams with Kids Who Could Play my first two years; we went 8-2 and 9-1, advancing to the 9-year-old local championship game the second year. So I was like, hey, I'm pretty good at this! and looked forward to moving up to the 10-12 bracket, which had Minors and Majors levels. I was miffed when I got shuffled into the Minors.

The next year, we went 2-13. We had pretty much the exact same cast of characters on our team the next year, and improved to a riproaring 3-12. We had three pitchers on our team, including me, and since we only pitched two innings at a time we all had a chance to suck equally in each game. I had blazing speed for that age but no control; pitches might go over the plate, at the batter, over the batter, behind the batter. Pitcher #2 had the opposite problem; he could pick sprinkles off an ice cream cone, but threw pitches clocked at one mile per fortnight and therefore got clobbered frequently. The third pitcher was like a batting practice pitching machine; he threw nothing but fastballs, right down the middle of the plate, consistent speed, every time.

The highlight was a game against a team that had already beaten us something like 15 to 2, and one of their players mouthed off before the game about how we shouldn't have even shown up today. We were all thinking Oh, we'll show HIM.

The game was six innings. Each inning had a six-run-per-inning limit. We lost 35 to nothing. I remember thinking on the way home that even ice cream from Dairy Queen wasn't worth that.

I did get on a better team the next year, moving up to the Majors for my last year in 10-12, and we went something like 8-7 probably because I don't remember being called upon to pitch. I figured "One more try" and had Dad sign me up for the 13-15 league.

We only had enough players in our league for two teams, and in their infinite wisdom the managers divvied them up between Kids Who Can Play and People Like Me. We went 0-13 and forfeited our last two games when it became clear that we would no longer have nine players showing up. Half the team didn't have a HIT halfway through the season.
posted by delfin at 8:09 AM on May 25, 2018

Pretty much every single kid in my tiny elementary school class (except me) had played t-ball/Little League since the age of 3 and apparently our gym teacher decided that meant he didn't have to explain any of the rules when we did a unit on softball in 5th or 6th grade. I at least knew that you had 3 strikes, or if your hit got caught, or if you got tagged at the base you were out. Beyond that I didn't know anything about the finer points of baserunning (like when I was caught out because I didn't go back and tag up after the batter was caught out.) It's really not much fun getting yelled at by both the gym teacher and all of your classmates when you have no idea what you did wrong. I don't cringe about that anymore (I have absolved my 11 year-old self of all wrong-doing or embarrassment because how the hell was I supposed to know any of that?) but I do sometimes lament that I missed the Little League boat. Of all the mainstream team sports, I've come to like baseball the best as an adult and realize in hindsight that I might have enjoyed playing it as a kid, given a gentler introduction to it.

...Unlike soccer, which is what I wound up playing for a few years in elementary/junior high. I didn't particularly enjoy practices or games, but it was imposed upon me as a character-building thing. I never really embarrassed myself on the field, but my enduring memory of playing soccer as a kid is how primally angry all the parents on the sidelines always were during games, my normally taciturn dad included. At the time I just remember spending every game thinking, "Why the fuck are you all yelling at children over this stupid game that's supposed to be fun?" It totally turned me off of participating in team sports forever. I was thrilled when I developed a knee problem in junior high that got me out of soccer for good.
posted by Funeral march of an old jawbone at 8:13 AM on May 25, 2018 [6 favorites]

In high school we were forced to either join a sports team or take a general PE class. I said to myself, "I like running!" so I joined the track team. As it turns out, I do not like running. At all. The best (worst) part is that I'm built like a long-distance runner but I had neither speed nor endurance. Eventually my coach just dropped me into the 200 meter since I couldn't sprint for a full 400 - not that I could competitively sprint for a full 200 for that matter, but I think he had enough guys doing the 400.

Anyway, I came in dead last on every single race I ran at every single meet - except one. We were lined up in the blocks and the guy next to me started throwing up. I managed to run faster than a guy who was physically ill and so for once came in 5th out of 6. By a hair.
posted by komara at 8:25 AM on May 25, 2018 [5 favorites]

I never dream about any specific sports memory, but I do occasionally have a dream where I am playing basketball and the shots never go in, which is pretty accurate in relation to real life.
posted by 4ster at 8:29 AM on May 25, 2018

Middle school gym glass. Freethrow relay - half the class lined up on each side of the gym. First person in line shoots until they make a basket, then the next person steps up, and the team which finishes fastest wins.

It took me over 30 tries. The other team was long since finished, and every single person in the gym was staring directly at me as I sobbed hysterically and made failed freethrow after failed freethrow. The teacher wouldn't let me quit. It was an utterly awful, humiliating experience. Why do we take kids, whose raison d'etre is running around outside, and teach them through gym class that this is what 'physical activity' is?
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:36 AM on May 25, 2018 [11 favorites]

I wouldn't say this memory "keeps me up at night" but 40(ish) years later I remember it clearly, it's more amusing than anything else.

Around the age of 6 or 7 I began taking karate, this was back in the 1970s when it was a novelty fad sweeping the nation. We were nearing the end of the class and our teacher had been making a big deal that on the last day we would have to do 100 sit-ups. 100!

The thought of this filled me with dread and I mentioned this to one of my friends. We came up with a scheme to get out of it. In exquisite first grade logic we decided I would simply have to run away. As in pack my bags and just run away from home.

I guess karate classes were more informal back then because the class was being held in the backyard of a friend's house. So I was all dressed up in my karate uniform and just had to walk a few doors down. My friend met me with a bag of supplies and a change of clothes, we had also spent some time making a detailed map of my escape route.

So I began to run, but we clearly didnt plan the route very well because it passed right beneath this hill where practice was being held. So I was running through this path when my teacher saw me and began yelling and watched me run through this cornfield behind the house. I remember looking back and seeing the utter confusion on his face.

Needless to say, I didn't run very far and eventually slunk back home, where I got a serious talking to by my parents. I think this has resonated with me because I never had to do the sit-ups. I literally ran away from my problems with little consequence!

Hmm, I think I need to make an appointment with my therapist.
posted by jeremias at 8:37 AM on May 25, 2018 [9 favorites]

I don't really feel bad about any specific sports incident since I was uniformly bad at all of them and still am. Got to give props to my dad who was a natural athlete in anything and never gave his only son any grief for being shit in every sport. The worst part is that I've always looked like I should be an athlete; by 10th grade I was 6'2" and 200# but couldn't shoot a damn basket or hit a slow pitched softball to save my life.
posted by octothorpe at 8:41 AM on May 25, 2018

I think this may have come up in other threads, but: are there other people here who have absolutely no memory of being taught how to play sports? Gym teachers and summer camp counselors and other adults would be constantly telling us to play basketball or baseball or soccer, and not one single person ever told me what the rules of those games were! So I just ran around like a moron trying to copy what other people were doing, without any clear idea of whether I was doing it right. Ugh.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:44 AM on May 25, 2018 [15 favorites]

So I guess I was designed by god for throwing things up in the air, jumping, and then smashing them to specific places

I'm so sad that I can't draw because I really want a comic about you trying to apply this skill to inappropriate professions/areas of life. Small farmer? Let's see how many eggs we have today! OH NO. Curator of priceless antiquities? Let me just rearrange this display of ancient Chinese vases! OH NO. Simple day at the office? Hey 256 can you pass the stapler? OH NO.
posted by poffin boffin at 8:47 AM on May 25, 2018 [26 favorites]

My dad was *really* into basketball. However, and in spite of his enthusiasm, he was scrupulous about actually playing everyone, not just winning. I uh, wasn't into the sport (or any other), but played on the gradeschool team.

In seventh grade, there were enough 7th graders and 6th graders to make three teams: one all-7th grade, one mixed that would have to play up, and one all-6th. There were tryouts. I had one of the best nights of my life, athletics-wise; somehow I was keeping up with the undisputed best player. I noticed that the head of the athletics association was keeping notes on a yellow legal pad.

At the end of the tryouts, they called us together, and read the teams off a white piece of paper. All the seventh graders--except for me, my best friend (whose mom was on the parish council and unafraid to make enemies in the service of doing right), and one guy who didn't even know how to play--were placed on the seventh grade team. The three of us were placed on the mixed team with the weaker sixth-grade players as homologation goats. My dad would only be allowed to coach our team, not the all-seventh team. Because who wants a coach that plays everyone in a Catholic instructional league?

I ran out crying after pointing out the paper-color switcheroo.

Turns out the best player was right behind me. His dad (Roger)was at my parents house waiting for the tryout results. On being told the situation, Roger blasted out of the house and evidently almost came to blows about what bullshit it was.

So I learned exactly what a pile of shit organized sports is, and learned that some people will surprise you in good ways, all in the same night.
posted by notsnot at 8:47 AM on May 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

are there other people here who have absolutely no memory of being taught how to play sports

Yep. The thought of playing softball/baseball to this day makes my stomach go cold. I understand the basic rules of the game, but the in the moment stuff was never explained. I'm in the outfield, and a ball comes towards me - there's no hope I'll catch it, ever, but no one ever told me what I should do with the fucking ball at that point; who do I throw it to? Usually there's three people yelling at me at that moment, which doesn't help. It's about more than the rules! You have to help people understand what to do in certain situations.
posted by nubs at 8:51 AM on May 25, 2018 [4 favorites]

Wait a second... can humans gallop??
posted by Grither at 8:54 AM on May 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

Adult me is 6’5” and 290 lbs. Child me was obviously not quite this big, but until high school I was the tallest kid in my grade level every year (except 5th grade, when there was one girl who hit her growth spurt way early and basically the looked like someone had stretched the features of a child awkwardly over the body of a grown woman).

When I was in kindergarten I wanted to take karate, but that was too expensive so my parents enrolled me in wrestling. Wrestling class was separated by age and because I was so much bigger than every other kid there I absolutely dominated. None of the kids were anywhere close to my size and none of them had the experience necessary to have any effective counters to how much bigger I was. I will not lie to you; it felt fantastic.

So after a few months I enter my first wrestling tournament. At this tournament I discovered that tournament competitors were not sorted by age; they were sorted by size. So suddenly I was a five year old who had never wrestled competitively before who was facing nine years olds who had several years of experience and physical development ahead of me. It did not go well.

Also, while it is not exactly a haunting sports performance, special mention should be given to high school intergender water polo and the constant, constant, constant effort necessary to hide humiliating unintentional erections.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 8:57 AM on May 25, 2018 [12 favorites]

More of a parenting failure than my personal sports failure, but: my biological father was always the coach of my teams--flag football, little league baseball, basketball. He benched me nearly every game.
posted by goatdog at 8:57 AM on May 25, 2018 [5 favorites]

I have a few embarrassing sportsfail memories from childhood, but the far more damaging one is musically related. It's 4th grade, I have a solo performance of the melody from Beethoven's 9th on Bass Clarinet. I play the piece, but miss the 2nd to last note.

Cut to 30+ years later of playing the guitar. I'm probably the best (amateur) musician I've ever been in my life, but when I try to play even in front of friends, I get this ridiculous performance anxiety and I can't play a goddamn right note or keep a beat. The most frustrating thing is that I haven't always had the same fear -- I played in the school band and was in rock bands in high school and college. It's only been in the last few years when I've started to practice again more seriously that it's developed.
posted by Saxon Kane at 8:58 AM on May 25, 2018 [3 favorites]

I was probably 11 and it was the championship game for the York Region area (north of Toronto) hockey league. We were playing Maple, perennial powerhouse and our arch-nemesis. With two minutes left we had a one goal lead when one of their players took a shot from the point. It was drifting high, way above the net when I reached up with my stick and tipped it down into the bottom corner. I can still see our goalie's pad sliding across the crease, too late. Needless to say they won in overtime and I never played on a winning team again, until well into adulthood.
posted by simra at 9:02 AM on May 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

Having to go swimming in your underwear because you forgot your kit???
posted by Burn_IT at 9:05 AM on May 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think this may have come up in other threads, but: are there other people here who have absolutely no memory of being taught how to play sports? Gym teachers and summer camp counselors and other adults would be constantly telling us to play basketball or baseball or soccer, and not one single person ever told me what the rules of those games were!

This 10000000 times. The way gym class was run when I was a child seemed designed to intentionally create a humiliating hierarchy of jocks over nerds. Fucking coaches and gym teachers just ASSUME you know how to do whatever the fuck you're supposed to do, and if you don't then ha ha, laugh at the chubby spaz. If they had taken the time to actually, you know, teach and encourage the kids, maybe we'd have less of an obesity problem in this country? Maybe people would be healthier and more active in general? But no, everyone has to go through the same shitty gauntlet of childhood trauma that their parents did, because it "builds character" or whatever. I'm convinced that 95% of the world's problems still exist because older generations have a deep disdain for their own offspring and, despite all the rhetoric about wanting to "make the world a better place for our children," they secretly resent how "easy" kids today have it, and so seek to punish them by making them deal with the same shit that they did as kids.
posted by Saxon Kane at 9:05 AM on May 25, 2018 [9 favorites]

In seventh grade I joined the basketball team, despite having no athletic ability whatsoever. But I was tall, so... basketball. It was the last game of the season, the waning seconds of the fourth quarter, and we were down by one point. It was exactly the kind of Hollywood moment that never happens in the real world, except it did.

For some reason I was actually on the court, and the ball came to me with one second left in the game and me positioned perfectly for a layup and nobody blocking me. Time froze, the crowd somehow went into a complete frenzy and yet seemed absolutely silent. I took the shot, and the buzzer sounded as the ball was still in the air.

The ball tapped off the backboard, and then rolled around the rim of the basket in slow motion. It was agonizing. I could feel it, my greatest moment of triumph, I would be the school hero that day having made the winning basket at the last possible moment.

And then the ball rolled off the side and dropped to the floor. We lost. I was the loser who couldn't even make a simple shot. That moment has haunted my for forty years now.
posted by Lokheed at 9:13 AM on May 25, 2018 [4 favorites]

We had some gym teachers who ran things in an organized fashion, and some who did... not.

My favorite memory of gym class was in high school, on a day in which we were assigned to practice basketball techniques. Instead of putting us in teams and having us play, we were still at the fundamentals stage, so the teacher brought out rack after rack of basketballs and had us all practice dribbling and shooting for a while without a lot of oversight.

After a while, I noticed that our racks were starting to run low, and I heard noises from the other side of the divider separating the two halves of the gym. (It was mostly extended but had enough room to walk around from one side to the other.)

I looked over, and Doug, one of our counter-culture types, was merrily engaged in swiping every basketball he could from our side and throwing them up into the rafters, using an overexaggerated two-handed underhand motion, with the most gleefully goofy look on his face. I think there were three dozen basketballs wedged up there by the time I looked.

I did my best to roll loose basketballs towards the divider for the rest of class.
posted by delfin at 9:19 AM on May 25, 2018 [11 favorites]

The same teacher's idea of 'gymnastics' on a particular afternoon was to set up some equipment and quietly allow most of the uncoordinated guys to wander off into the back room, where there were crash mats and a springboard or two.

About ten of us engaged in a competition to see which of us could pull off the Least Aerodynamic Springboard Leap Ever, with many strong contenders. It was a wonder no one emerged with a broken neck with the way we were ragdolling through the air as aimlessly as possible.
posted by delfin at 9:22 AM on May 25, 2018

I went out for Little League when I was a kid. I have an obvious physical deformity, so I was a bit shy about it, but I was excited to finally be on the team with the other kids.

Opening day, my team and the opposing team were called out onto the field to be introduced to the packed stands. When I ran out, everyone in the stands began laughing at me. Not just one or two rowdies, everyone. Whole families. Mocking the ill-made kid.

I left before the start of the game. Quit the team, quit sports and haven't looked back since. (Although I still wish I'd learned to throw a football. Never have figured out how the darn things work.)
posted by SPrintF at 9:23 AM on May 25, 2018 [7 favorites]

oh gawd fourth grade. Have just transferred from our rural, literal one room schoolhouse. Where, due to the fact there were about 10-15 people total in the school, the most organized team sport we played was kickball. And where my ADHD tended to manifest, as it does for many girls, as long, rambling walks around the schoolyard daydreaming and daydreaming and daydreaming, the walk needed to get the energy out. Now in one of the largest elementary schools in the state. And not only that, it's still a small-ish town, so everyone in the class have grown up with each other, and here I am, daydreamer girl who's also pretty short and has committed the horrific sin of being a smart girl. So suddenly there's this new, strange kid in class getting perfect scores on tests and other accomplishments, and everyone's just becoming old enough to recognize what the differences between "red birds" and "blue birds" really mean. And I'm as of yet blissfully unaware of what is wrong, only that something is. And who just wants to have her long rambling day-dreamy walks during recess back, but who has been forced to play things like soccer, which at least I was okay at (thanks kickball) and running, but still - complete confusion in this new class called P.E., with more than a few humiliating moments that had everyone else breaking down in hysterics, and did not help in my general ostracization.

But now it's winter: basketball time. I've never ever ever even seen a basketball IRL- this may seem strange, but it was just wasn't done in our little rural area. So 1st day, we all line up, I think for some kind of throwing practice. The P.E. teacher, who has grown increasingly exasperated with my tendency to just wander off during gym class, has to herd me back in line twice. *I'm* not interested in whatever is happening. *He's* not really interested. But the entire class, who has made it their mission to zoom in on this weakness - let's face it, kids can be cruel - are quite interested. So the whole gym goes quiet when it's my turn.

I get the ball - someone throws it at me, and it bounces off my hands and rolls away so I have to chase it. Already all the kids are snickering. I pick up the ball. I've never held a basketball before - no idea what to do. And I wasn't paying attention when everyone else was making baskets. I realize I'm supposed to put the ball in the net-thing, but have no idea how. So I do what seems the most natural - I try to throw it like a baseball.

Only, you know, they're not weighted the same, I'm a short kid with very small hands, and when I rear my hand back, since I've misjudged both the size and weight, I fall over backwards. And like a slo-mo movie moment, the ball makes this little pffft up in the air and comes back down and hits me in the face.

The laughs of all those kids echoing around the gym still haunts my dreams. I was teased about it for months. But the P.E. teacher laughing is the traumatic moment that returns. It was complete agonizing humiliation, and my whole social situation just came crashing down on me in that moment. After that I stopped trying in gym class, and basically got Cs and Ds, to go with my attitude that I had no athletic ability.

Luckily I had a P.E. teacher in jr. high who taught me that while I'm not great at things that require a lot of speed and power in a very short amount of time - the kind of sports we tend to play in gym class - I'm very very very good at sports that require endurance, which helped me to succeed with other things by re-phrasing them, so to speak.* And like has been noted about assumptions that kids know how to play sports, I also wonder if the perception many kids get that because they're not good at the sports we play in gym means they're not good at sports in general also hurts a lot of people's belief in their own fitness and ability to be active.

*The year I was the only kid in school to get both the Presidential Academic and Physical Fitness Awards, then got to rub it their laughing little faces was awesome - it was on the front page of our (small) town paper and everything! - I'm shallow enough to still get a kick out of it and I admit it.
posted by barchan at 9:30 AM on May 25, 2018 [9 favorites]

When I was around 6 or 7, the opposing team for our soccer game didn’t have enough players, so without any hesitation my coaches sent me over to play for the other side.

In retrospect, it was the “everybody chases the ball” level of play where none of us knew what we were doing, so the coaches probably just picked me because I happened to be close enough to hear what was going on, but man, did that sting.

Then I did a couple years of baseball, which I quit shortly after scoring an RBI off my thumb.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:40 AM on May 25, 2018

i get the sense things are a little better at least for middle-class kids nowadays, in that by about age 6 they’re already being sorted into the elite and the not-elite, and nobody wants to waste time on the not-elite.

so if you’re good you’ll be on a brutally competitive travel team and your parents will hatch increasingly desperate schemes to get you into training camps to get scouted.

however, if you’re bad people don’t want to waste the resources on making you fail at sports and you are allowed to aim for other extracurriculars to make yourself a more well-rounded college applicant.
posted by vogon_poet at 9:43 AM on May 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

I also wonder if the perception many kids get that because they're not good at the sports we play in gym means they're not good at sports in general also hurts a lot of people's belief in their own fitness and ability to be active.

I think the big flaw for a lot of public schools in the US is that the gym teachers are almost always also the sports team coaches, who don't really care about kids that underperform in their narrowly set guidelines of athletic success. If you are lucky enough to have a gym teacher who is genuinely interested in overall fitness and not just on having a winning team, then it can work out not just for the star players but also for the kids who should be steered away from team sports and into things where individual effort is the goal: gymnastics, track, swimming, etc.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:47 AM on May 25, 2018 [7 favorites]

Not exactly "childhood", but I was terrible at HS volleyball. Between blocking with my face (well, football instincts say "don't raise arms, use face" OR "never parry the ball to the front", in GK mode) and being completely unable to do any kind of serve. One time managed to hit the rafters of the gym with an underhand. Hitting an overhand was a wild serve and uh, hitting the walls (including the back wall if I did a knuckle serve) was not uncommon.

posted by lmfsilva at 9:52 AM on May 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

After that I stopped trying in gym class, and basically got Cs and Ds, to go with my attitude that I had no athletic ability.

And that's another terrible thing -- GRADES in gym class? So you can basically tell a child that not only are they bad at having a physical body, but it's codified and officially recorded for all time by the adults that you suck (and are probably ugly too).
posted by Saxon Kane at 9:57 AM on May 25, 2018 [5 favorites]

I played Little League every year from t-ball to about age 14, when I realized I wasn't actually that good at the game. However, my worst, or maybe most questionable memory is from when I was coaching 8 or 9-year-olds playing basketball.

It was my 2nd season coaching. The previous season I had to deal with an especially assholeish parent who didn't appreciate my attempts to actually teach the kids the game, without a 100% focus on winning. So he took his kid, and another one of my better players, and started his own team the next season. And here we were in the playoffs, with 2 or 3 seconds left in the game and us leading by one, and a shooting foul called on my team, giving the kid that had been my team the season before two foul shots with a chance to tie or win the game.

Yes folks, I called timeout and iced a 9-year old.

It worked.

In my defense, it wasn't 100% about icing the shooter. I did want to talk to my kids about making sure they rebounded the ball, then held it to let the clock run out.

I felt a little better about my decision when the county called a couple of days later to tell me they were vacating my win because the official scorer reported that I didn't play all my players the minimum minutes. I got that dropped by pointing out that the official scorer was the opposing coaches wife.
posted by COD at 9:59 AM on May 25, 2018 [11 favorites]

I was a bookish, smart, but unfortunately tall girl in the fifth grade who had no idea about sports. I will never forget the traumatic experience of being yelled at by my dad for what seemed like hours when my parents decided I needed to be in track and basketball. I had a full-on sobbing-til-I-couldn't-breathe meltdown because they were forcing me to do this crap that I didn't want to do. I was not athletic in the least and I was afraid of the public, not to mention that the athletic girls were mean and cruel. I especially hated my dad for years for making me do these sports. Upon reflection, I think my parents thought I was a "backward and shy" child, so they were perhaps trying to socialize me more, and I'm sure it was all about teamwork and all that stuff too, but that didn't make it right for them to make me feel that way. I was allowed to drop track in high school, but had to take up volleyball, which I was mildly okay at. Finally, they let me quit sports entirely when I was a junior in high school. Why don't parents get that not all kids are athletic or want to be in team sports, or even understand what teams are? I live in a small town where if you're not athletic, you might as well not even exist. Sports are the be-all and end-all here, which is quite ridiculous, but I suppose it's cultural too.
posted by cass at 10:03 AM on May 25, 2018 [5 favorites]

The way gym class was run when I was a child seemed designed to intentionally create a humiliating hierarchy of jocks over nerds. Fucking coaches and gym teachers just ASSUME you know how to do whatever the fuck you're supposed to do, and if you don't then ha ha, laugh at the chubby spaz.

This sort of sentiment is commonly expressed by nerds because nerds as a group believe that anything that is not immediately engaging to them is stupid and not worth doing.

If I showed up for my first day of geometry and was unable to tell the difference between a triangle and a circle I would not expect the teacher to have much patience with me while I caught up with the rest of the class. Physical education is education; it should be treated like any other form of learning. People should be exposed to it early and gradually build on it with each passing grade, just like math or science. No one is born knowing how to play soccer, but most people can learn the basics of it in an hour if they make even minimal effort.

Although the most accurate ranking of my high school social categories would probably put down as primarily slacker/burnout, at the time I thought of myself mainly as a nerd. I spent my lunch every day playing GURPS with the math club. My sophomore year my best friend joined the water polo team so I joined him there because I wanted to hang out with my friend and because it got me out of the more general P.E. class.

I was really, really bad at it for a really, really long time. I swallowed a bunch of pool water that tasted like pee because it probably was. I finished my laps several minutes behind the next-slowest kid. In the weekly weight training classes that we did for conditioning I noticed that the weight that I could bench press was equivalent to a Strength score of 1 (the lowest possible score) in the gothic supernatural roleplaying system that I played. I felt humiliated, because I was a nerd and I thought that being bad at a thing in front of people was an activity designed by adults and my peers to attack me specifically, and I lacked the basic human empathy to recognize that everyone has areas in which they are going to be the worst in the group and school is place where those weaknesses are going to be exposed a lot and everyone feels self-conscious about that.

I kept at it because I felt social pressure from my friend on the team and I gradually got better and over time I realized that that is what learning is. Learning is doing a thing at which you are terrible until eventually you are not terrible at it. I lettered in two sports my junior and senior years in high school, which I guess some people would say qualifies me as a jock (although my nerd friends were quick to remind me that water polo and swim team were "the two faggiest sports" because nerds are not in any way less cruel than anyone else).

If a group activity is happening and you do not know how to do it, learn. If everyone else knows how to do a thing, figure out why it is that they know something that you don't and then do what they did to learn. Learn. Learn. Learn.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 10:09 AM on May 25, 2018 [4 favorites]

I wasn't even a good "fourth-grader who returns the balls after the high school varsity soccer team kicks them over the fence." After one particularly entertaining/humiliating incident in front of most of the town, I never considered team sports again.
posted by infinitewindow at 10:11 AM on May 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

Plus several non-sports related failures.

yeah, I seem to have done a fairly good job of submerging my sports-related humiliations*. But other stuff from my childhood and teen years tends to rise up periodically and taunt me (haunt me?). I'll not bother with details -- just speak to one of the things I try to say to kids that I know, particularly as they enter into adolescence. "Don't be part of somebody else's humiliation. It's one of the worst things you can do. That's a wound that will scar them for life."

* that said, I did get an entire novel out of something that happened to me once in baseball tryouts. Maybe I don't rate it as particularly humiliating because it was a static thing. A moment of not doing anything at all (for reasons), as opposed to making a bunch of noise and drawing attention.
posted by philip-random at 10:17 AM on May 25, 2018

If I showed up for my first day of geometry and was unable to tell the difference between a triangle and a circle I would not expect the teacher to have much patience with me while I caught up with the rest of the class.

So, do you shame the kids for that or do you shame the primary schools for not covering basic shapes in their curriculum? Because most PE teachers do the former.

And this is a bullshit example anyway because high school geometry deals so heavily in proofs, so you necessarily have to define what a triangle and a circle are anyway in mathematical terms as part of deriving the proofs that you're going to use in the rest of the class.
posted by tobascodagama at 10:18 AM on May 25, 2018 [16 favorites]

Wait, is karaoke a sport?
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:20 AM on May 25, 2018

If I showed up for my first day of geometry and was unable to tell the difference between a triangle and a circle I would not expect the teacher to have much patience with me while I caught up with the rest of the class.

Hold up, what do you think the definition of "teaching" is?
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:22 AM on May 25, 2018 [28 favorites]

If a group activity is happening and you do not know how to do it, learn. If everyone else knows how to do a thing, figure out why it is that they know something that you don't and then do what they did to learn.

You mean...be taught? Like, the thing a teacher is supposed to do?
posted by Sys Rq at 10:23 AM on May 25, 2018 [15 favorites]

If a group activity is happening and you do not know how to do it, learn. If everyone else knows how to do a thing, figure out why it is that they know something that you don't and then do what they did to learn. Learn. Learn. Learn.

most schools don't actually offer gym tutoring or remedial gym classes. most athletic coaches don't have the time, the energy, or the interest in spending extra one-on-one time with the kids they perceive as athletic failures in order to help them do better at a 45-minute 2-3x weekly team game where they're gonna get picked last no matter what. most kids don't have time outside of their regular homework to study professional basketball in order to have a better technical understanding of 5th grade gym class which won't carry over into their actual physical performance because this example is terrible and i hate it, it's bad.

"git gud" is the dumbest and most dismissive statement possible for the situation at hand.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:23 AM on May 25, 2018 [22 favorites]

Hold up, what do you think the definition of "teaching" is?

in theory or practicality.

I have an-ex teacher friend who once described it (after a few drinks) as herding thirty-odd cats toward a distant door, which is next year, whatever unlucky bastard gets them all next year.
posted by philip-random at 10:27 AM on May 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

and i am saying this as an aggressive and high performing extracurricular student athlete who still failed gym class, as in i had to go to summer school for gym class, because the stupid halfassed team "sports" we were forced to do were tiresome and stupid and geared solely towards the extant football and basketball teams.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:27 AM on May 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

If I showed up for my first day of geometry and was unable to tell the difference between a triangle and a circle I would not expect the teacher to have much patience with me while I caught up with the rest of the class....If a group activity is happening and you do not know how to do it, learn. If everyone else knows how to do a thing, figure out why it is that they know something that you don't and then do what they did to learn. Learn. Learn. Learn.

Wow. Does your approach to swimming lessons involve throwing people in the ocean and seeing what happens? Because that way you don't have to have patience with those that are behind the curve.

I'm going to share a story. My profession is social work, and as part of the training for that profession, students are sent into the field for practicum placements; a chance to learn in an actual setting. Some years ago, the social work school at the university here introduced a new program for the Master's level which didn't require a Bachelor's degree in social work, but rather any bachelor's degree.

In the first year of that program, I took on a Master's level student who was going through this new stream. I can't recall what her first degree was, but it was a little bit outside the usual related topics. About two weeks in, we were having a conversation about something - the details don't matter - but we were going in circles, and both of us were getting a little frustrated. And it dawned on me that the reason we were going in circles is that I had assumed that a graduate level student in my field would have an ingrained understanding of some things around our professional values, ethics, and processes that this student did not have. She had not been exposed to them in any meaningful way, in terms of what they meant for actual practice. As a result, she was not able to fully interpret my statements and questions in a way that allowed her to respond "correctly".

My response to this was not to lose patience with her, or send her away to figure it out on her own. My response, as her field instructor, was to check my assumptions and to back the fuck up with what we were talking about, to a level where she could grab onto what I wanted to share. I went back and filled in the knowledge she was missing, the knowledge I assumed she would have. I gave her some readings and engaged in different discussions with her to help her fill in those gaps. And then I also discussed the issue with my contact at the faculty, because I felt this was potentially a common issue across the students in this new approach.

I did this because I believe part of my role when I take on a student is to help them, not throw them to the wolves and let them sort it out on their own. The response of a system & a teacher to a kid who shows up in a class without pre-requisite knowledge should not be to make them figure it out on their own, it should be to help get them to that pre-requisite knowledge, whether that's sending them to a different class or whatever.

I have sports I love to play, lest you think I am just some "nerd" and you dismiss me. I quit football in high school because I got injured during tackling drills, and the coach was a fucking smirking jerk about it. The next year, I played rubgy, where the coach taught us how to take a hit and fall to the ground safely. Hell, he taught us how to tackle safely too. And he also took the time to explain to me, after a game, what I was doing wrong that caused a couple of offside calls - calmly. I learned, the basics first, and then more of the strategy. I learned from good coaches how to play the sports I liked. I learned from bad coaches and shitty teammates to fear and avoid others. The same, shockingly, goes for academic subjects. Maybe I would have liked and been good at those sports. I'll never know.

I still hate softball, but the last time I was in a group where a pickup game was happening and I had to play, I took a moment with a friend and said "Look, I suck at this. I don't know what to do when I'm in the outfield and the ball comes my way. What do I do?" And he said "If you can't catch it, pick it up and throw to first. That will cover you for pretty much most situations." That made the game bearable for me. And that's all it took, somebody taking a moment to teach what everyone else assumed everyone knew.

In short, be a helper to those that don't know things but seem like they want to learn.
posted by nubs at 11:09 AM on May 25, 2018 [23 favorites]

I lost in the 2nd or 3rd round of the second grade spelling bee - I had been one of the 3 or 4 favorites to win - on the word lobbyist, which I had never encountered before as an extremely over-read 7 year old.

Such painful failures run in the family. My dad lost his spelling bee in the first round for the word hose, used in the sentence 'Cindy brought the hose to her mother in the garden,' that he spelled h-o-e-s.

l-o-b-b-i-e-s-t? wtf? that doesn't even make sense
posted by palindromic at 11:10 AM on May 25, 2018

I think this may have come up in other threads, but: are there other people here who have absolutely no memory of being taught how to play sports? Gym teachers and summer camp counselors and other adults would be constantly telling us to play basketball or baseball or soccer, and not one single person ever told me what the rules of those games were!

I'm on the leading edge of GenX, so I went to school in the Dark Ages, and nobody taught physical skills. We were expected to either just know, or figure it out by ourselves. I think there was a feeling that kids are born knowing how to play, and sports are an extension of play, so kids don't need to be taught to move their bodies, they "just know" by instinct. Of course, that's not how it works, that's not how any of this works, etc.!

And I think there was also the idea that parents would teach their kids what they needed to know. And, some kids are just clumsy/uncoordinated/unathletic, and welp, no point in teaching them.

We think about physical/kinesthetic skills differently than reading, writing, math, and other skills we think of as "learning." Nobody would say that kids "just know" how to read, and that it's the parents job, or god forbid their peers, to teach them.

In elementary school, I also think that "throw the kids a ball and turn them loose" PE was a way to give teachers a break.

I don't think this is/was malice (haha I'm going to make those pampered little snowflakes suffer!) but ignorance (physical skills don't need to be taught, children are resilient).
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 11:11 AM on May 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

I don't have any particularly bad sports related memories. I was mostly a nerd, but I was generally amongest the tallest and generally healthiest in my classes.

I remember even our worst gym teachers would explain the rules. But I can easily see how if you're worried about performance and humiliation you won't be properly ready to learn and observe and it would be quite easy to immediately forget that rules were ever mentioned. I also can easily imagine PE teachers who would find it fun to not say the rules and get mad at those who don't learn.

In 2nd grade, we were learning touch foot ball. We were tought the rules of downs and out of bounds etc. We were doing tests where how far you could kick/throw the ball determined your grade. The teacher mentioned little about how to kick other than demonstrating once, "You pull your leg back, step forward and kick the ball." I was *lucky* to kick the ball far enough into the D category and usually was in the F's. Finally another kid took pitty. "Your shoe isn't tied properly, make sure it's tight here and here. Aim to come in contact with the ball here with this part of your foot." Including him watching me retie my shoe he spent at most 20 seconds on me. All the rest of my kicks were A's. The teacher never said anything beyond "Try harder." I was obviously trying enough; I just didn't know enough technique. And I was willing to listen/learn enough that a peer (and one I didn't like much at the time at that!) gave me 20 seconds of instruction with immediate results.

It's like Lisa Simpson and the dance teacher's "Tappa tappa tappa."
posted by nobeagle at 11:18 AM on May 25, 2018 [9 favorites]

And I think there was also the idea that parents would teach their kids what they needed to know.

I've been thinking about this thread all morning, and does that hit home. My parents grew up poor and then had a small struggling working ranch on the side of their "real jobs". They didn't have time for any of that - they were exhausted. And as we got older, the physical labor we could do got harder and more taxing. I could chop wood, I could break up the ice in a trough with an ax. By a certain age, I could run all over a hay field and throw hay bales on a trailer, I could hoist a bale over my shoulder and run it down to feed cows. Haul bags of feed and fertilizer. Shovel shit. There was play, things like "fence hopping" up and down a fence by hopping from post to post - which requires a lot of agility and balance. The constant labor of upkeep on the irrigation ditches, aw geez. I could run down a calf and wrestle it down. And I could shovel snow, oh I could shovel snow. Run all around giant hay fields all day long. And on and on and on. This morning I realized there was a tremendous amount of strength, endurance, flexibility, agility, balance, and just doing all the time in these activities, and all day long at times - all the things that an athlete requires. Yet, because my parents had never shown me how to spike a volleyball, I somehow grew up thinking I had no athleticism. It seems . . . barbaric somehow.

While most people don't have this kind of upbringing nowadays, it does serve as yet another example of how many people probably have some unrecognized or unrealized form of athleticism or, let's say, ability to be fit* and don't realize it because of how our culture defines the terms. I really want to read the book from this thread and ponder how they fit together. . . .

*there's sure to be a better way to put this
posted by barchan at 11:53 AM on May 25, 2018 [9 favorites]

I can't remember any specific mortifying childhood sports memory, but I remember basically the whole of my irregular childhood sporting career with a sense of regret at a lack of self-knowledge and self-determination that lead to all the slow-burn stupidity and confusion and discomfort that ensued. Twice!

Like, I did, at my first little league tryout, run straight to third on a hit. I was probably pretty chuffed to have hit the ball; I was almost certainly embarrassed to have run the wrong way. But that moment doesn't keep me up at night and never did that I can recall; it makes a good sliver of a story but didn't traumatize me, didn't crystalize in blood-freezing memory like so many other dumb little moments in my childhood and adult life have.

But it is emblematic of basically everything that was weird and regrettable about doing organized sports as a kid, which is that I had no real interest in sports for their own sake. I was just a kid with spare energy and a kind of fascination with applied physics, and I wanted to run around and do dynamic things sometimes, and on a couple occasions the idea of participating on a sport team seemed interesting enough to get me shuffling with increasing momentum and more or less proportionally decreasing certainty toward this or that team.

So when I played baseball in the third or fourth grade, I did it as someone who didn't know the rules to baseball basically at all, had no concept of tactics, didn't know the jargon, and basically found out what you could and could not do under the rules when I got hollered at for doing something prohibited, or failing to do something necessary. I had sort of vaguely imagined showing up, hitting the ball very well, running around the bases, and feeling good about myself. Instead I played deep right field, failed to make plays even when I understood there was a play to be made, threw to the wrong bases when the throws even made it, and so on. My only memorable at-bat all these years later was the time I hit seven fouls in a row and they threatened to just call me out if I did it anymore, which was especially galling because (a) that was the most ball contact I'd made in a game ever and (b) I had actually learned that "fouls count as strikes one and two but you can't out on them" rule and for once I thought I was on firm ground.

I did one season of that, soldiering through basically on the strength of being a quiet kid who didn't understand he could quit shit he didn't like. There was pizza sometimes, that was okay. I didn't play baseball again.

But then in middle school I joined one of our lesser basketball teams after doing a mediocre job at tryouts as a scrappy featherweight stringbean who couldn't shoot or dribble or pass all that well but could run up and down the court like crazy. And it was little league again, but with bonus teenage hormones: someone who doesn't watch or play or talk or understand basketball, being allowed to play basketball by people who had no plan for the possibility that someone who spoke no basketball was under their coaching responsibility. I learned about three in the key, about over and back, about moving screens, about who knows how many other things, by being hollered at by refs about it, which is to say I learned about them in very dizzying in medias res moments where I was simultaneously trying to do a good instinctive job, stop doing a Bad Thing, and derive from context and short hand what the nature and parameters of the Bad Thing were. It was a lot to process.

I scored five points all season, three from free throws. It turns out my best qualities were creating defensive pressure by breaking haaaard up the court when we took possession (which freaked out other teams until they figured out that my team wasn't gonna actually pass me the ball because I couldn't receive or pass or shoot reliably), and drawing fouls by being an absolute pest doing manic but clean defense on big slow shooters until they got frustrated and laid me out.

I didn't do that again either.

And the thing is, as folks said, there's this weirdness where while I was probably never gonna be terribly good at baseball or basketball, the fact that I knew basically nothing about the actual process of comprehending and playing the sports made the whole thing ridiculous in a way that it wouldn't have been with like a couple hours of hands-on explanation. But, on the other hand, I wasn't going to an instructional sports camp; I was joining a team of my own (muddled, confused, compromised) agency, so it's not odd that I would be assumed to have some sort of idea what I was getting into.

My dad follows sports, and was supportive and came to games and such, but he never really had a "son, it looks like maybe you don't know the least shit about this game, do you want to learn more about the rules?" talk with me about either sport. And I didn't ask. And, I mean, I should have asked? And I probably shouldn't have needed to? The whole thing was weird. Childhood was weird.

So I look back on all of that as just kind of a years-long smear of childhood confusion and lack of a real sense of myself or my agency in connecting an interest with a plan. These days I'm a grown-ass adult and I look into hobbies because they seem interesting, learn about them in the process of deciding whether or not to actually pursue them, and stop doing them if I'm not digging it. Which seems like a very straightforward concept, but when you're a kid you're basically constantly improvising and deeply full of shit in a million ways.
posted by cortex at 12:14 PM on May 25, 2018 [4 favorites]

My dad follows sports [. . . . ] I mean, I should have asked? And I probably shouldn't have needed to?

I mean, I think there's definitely a US cultural assumption that if you're a guy your dad is not only going to teach you sports but that you'll absorb a bunch of basics more-or-less by osmosis because Dad (and you) watch sports.
posted by soundguy99 at 12:46 PM on May 25, 2018 [5 favorites]

are there other people here who have absolutely no memory of being taught how to play sports?

I don't have any memory of it either. But I also don't think that my schools had us play common team sports very often, either. Instead, we did things like track and aerobics and ... line... dancing...

I wonder if I avoided a lot of the P.E. because these kinds of activities didn't assume a lot of background knowledge/skill I didn't have. I'm not saying it couldn't be traumatic for other reasons, but I never really felt discouraged because I didn't know stuff. Also: when we did have teams, we didn't pick them ourselves. Apparently, my P.E. teachers had watched a movie in the last forty years and knew why that would be a bad idea.

To this day I am still vague on the rules for most common team sports. I only know the little bit because I have friends who are fans and will explain to me if I ask.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 12:49 PM on May 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

2 years Little League; no hits.
posted by thelonius at 12:52 PM on May 25, 2018 [4 favorites]

I must have been around seven, standing out in right field during my first night game. Nothing had been hit out of the infield yet, and the light was kind of dim out there, but the batter was almost in a spotlight, and the whole thing had kind of a surrealistic feel to me.

I started imagining what I would do if the ball was hit toward me, and suddenly I had a moment of doubled vision, where the batter took the pitch, but simultaneously hit a high fly ball out to right field.

I ran over to catch that imaginary ball, and threw it back in to the infield, and for the rest of that inning, I ran all over right field catching fly balls and grounders, and throwing them home or to 2nd or 3rd base.

I was vaguely aware of laughter coming from somewhere, but it didn't matter.

When I came off the field after the inning was over, Coach was waiting for me and angrily demanded "what the hell were you doing out there?", but nothing still seemed quite real to me, and I merely looked up into his face and said "I don't know", at which his eyes widened and he turned away.

I spent the rest of the game on the bench, but I wasn't upset, just preoccupied.
posted by jamjam at 12:57 PM on May 25, 2018 [5 favorites]

I played soccer as a kid and for some reason I had to take my glasses off for games, so I was always getting yelled at for either kicking the ball when I wasn't supposed to or not kicking the ball when I was supposed to. But without my glasses, I had no idea what was going on.
posted by mogget at 1:00 PM on May 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

My dad follows sports, and was supportive and came to games and such, but he never really had a "son, it looks like maybe you don't know the least shit about this game, do you want to learn more about the rules?" talk with me about either sport. And I didn't ask. And, I mean, I should have asked? And I probably shouldn't have needed to? The whole thing was weird. Childhood was weird.

I suspect your parents, like mine, saw their child making extraordinary efforts to absorb everything that caught their interest and assumed that their child would do the same thing for activities that they were interested or invested in. I also suspect this is common in fully assimilated families with the eldest or only children.
posted by infinitewindow at 1:14 PM on May 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

And speaking of cultural assumptions, my freshman/sophomore college roomie (poor guy) was 6'5" and had already developed the habit of introducing himself as, "Hi, I'm (name) and I don't play basketball."
posted by soundguy99 at 1:27 PM on May 25, 2018 [3 favorites]

I won't go into the details of mine, but suffice it to say that vomiting while wearing a full fencing mask makes a reeeaaalllll mess
posted by Expecto Cilantro at 2:29 PM on May 25, 2018 [6 favorites]

Mine's not humiliating but I remember one time we were playing flag football in high school PE and the coach stacked the teams. My team had me--the fat kid--and, like, the skinny girl, the nerdy kid, and basically every unathletic stereotype you can imagine. The other team was basically the starting varsity football team. Basically it's SpaceJam and we were not the Monstarrs.

He didn't know that I'd played and liked football and moreso I was pissed about being set up like this, so I wound up quarterbacking and doing crazy shit. Short screen passes when they wouldn't cover the slow kid. Quarterback sneaks when they wouldn't cover me. I'd launch a Hail Mary downfield and trust the gangly kid to come up with it because he was Spiderman with 20 foot gangly arms. Zany flea flickers. Whatever was in the trick play playbook.

I don't think we won, exactly, but we put on a good enough showing he sauntered over and asked me why I'd never tried out for football. I just laughed. BECAUSE YOU'RE AN ASSHOLE THAT STACKS THE TEAMS, JACKASS. I hate coach bullshit. I love sports but I hate coach bullshit.

On that note, I tried to play little league baseball but we had coaches with boys they'd clearly decided were going to The Show and the rest of us were obviously just fill-ins for their future All Stars so the main method of imparting rules and strategy was yelling. I remember the coach asking me at one point "Who taught you how to hit?" and blurting "Uh, you?" and getting an annoyed grunt in return. But it's not like my mom spent a decade hitting dingers for the Yankees.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 3:53 PM on May 25, 2018 [6 favorites]

I was a nerdy bookworm who spent (and still does) all my time in my head. But I have two little stories.

First, I wanted to play baseball something fierce - because, it seemed, all my friends had done so over the years. Some of them even played t-ball! SO jealous. I don't know why parents weren't enthused about letting me play but I suspect it was about scheduling and who would drive me and pick me up from it. When I was about 10 years old my friend's dad became a coach and my parents agreed to let me join the team. I had zero knowledge of the rules of the game but didn't want to tell anyone.

My friend's Dad put me in the outfield somewhere and, as an easily-distracted kid, I got completely lost in kicking dandelions and looking at bugs flying around and so, when the ball came near me I didn't notice. It just sat there on the grass a few meters away. My friend's Dad yelled, "VioletU, look alive!" (or something similar) and I was mortified - everyone was looking at me! I had failed baseball! I went home, cried my eyes out about how humiliating baseball was, and told my parents that I wanted to quit immediately - they made me call my friend's Dad to tell him myself. It was one of the most awkward phone calls I've ever made even though my friend's Dad was mostly just confused that I was quitting after one practice and quite lovely about it, IIRC. I still cringe when I think about it - 30+ years later.

Second, I had a dream of being a ballerina. I had two friends who were involved in competitive dance at a young age and I was super jealous. As a compromise to the expense of ballet classes, my mom enrolled me in "modern jazz" dance lessons and I was thoroughly convinced that I was going to be a professional dancer some day. I was very serious about my lessons, about practicing at home all the time (and forcing my parents to watch 'dance shows' to Michael Jackson songs).

At the end of the year, my mother went in to talk to the teacher about how I was progressing. There was an uncomfortable silence, followed by the teacher saying, "Well... VioletU is... certainly enthusiastic." I was devastated for a long time but, honestly, that's now sort of my mantra when it comes to a lot of things I enjoy doing. A long pause and "well.. I'm enthusiastic."
posted by VioletU at 5:20 PM on May 25, 2018 [5 favorites]

This sort of sentiment is commonly expressed by nerds because nerds as a group believe that anything that is not immediately engaging to them is stupid and not worth doing.

Wow, way to blame the kids for not automatically being awesome at sports. Are you a PE coach by any chance?
posted by Saxon Kane at 5:49 PM on May 25, 2018 [3 favorites]

And seriously, how the hell did you get the impression that anyone here thought sports were "stupid and not worth doing"? You then go on to say Physical education is education; it should be treated like any other form of learning. People should be exposed to it early and gradually build on it with each passing grade, just like math or science. No one is born knowing how to play soccer, but most people can learn the basics of it in an hour if they make even minimal effort. which was my whole fucking point -- this stuff COULD be taught if gym teachers gave a flying fuck about helping the students learn rather than trying to scout for players on the JV team. Yet, somehow it's still the kids' fault? Hey, I'm so glad you were able to stick out the tough times and get better at your sports, but fucking OBVIOUSLY others of us were driven out of sports at an early age because of the shitty way we were treated -- but I guess we just should have been "tougher" and stuck with it? Gah, I'm so goddamn irritated.
posted by Saxon Kane at 5:56 PM on May 25, 2018 [3 favorites]

I lost in the 2nd or 3rd round of the second grade spelling bee

Oh man, I have a shitty spelling bee memory too... Second Grade, my class goes to some other school for an academic competition. Because I'm the best speller in the class, I'm placed in the spelling bee. First round, there's maybe 10 kids total, and hey give the first word -- something difficult but I don't recall what exactly it was -- and the kids start dropping. The first seven kids before me all get it wrong, so there's now just 3 of us on stage. I also get the word wrong and am eliminated, but the next kid gets it right, and then there's a multi-round face-off between the 2 remaining kids until one of them wins.

So then it's time to give out medals, and they call me back up on stage. I'm not sure what for, but then they give me the 3rd place medal, because I had been the last person eliminated before the 1 & 2 kids. OK, I go back and sit down, I'm a little confused because I didn't think I did anything but kinda happy too because they gave me a medal. Then some teacher or organizer comes up to me a minute later and says, Oh, sorry, we have to take back the 3rd place because you didn't actually get any words correct. So they take back the trophy they just gave me.

Now, even at the time, I understood their reasoning: I was just the last of the kids eliminated in the first round, I didn't actually do anything to come in 3rd place but be in the right place in line. But man, it was devastating. I felt so humiliated; it was like the adults had just publicly announced, "Hey, we thought you were smart, but actually you're not smart and we want everyone to know that." And so, of course, I still have this irrational fear that every accomplishment I've ever made is just due to random luck, and I'm waiting for someone to come and say "Whoops, we made a mistake, you don't deserve any of this" and take it all back. I'm also still irritated that whoever ran the event was so fucking disorganized that they gave and then took away an award to a 6 1/2 yr old kid within the space of 5 minutes (snowflakes and participation trophies MY ASS).

And here's the kicker: we then go to lunch and I'm sitting with 2 of my classmates, crying but trying really, really hard not to cry about losing the trophy. The girl classmate, trying to comfort me, says "But you probably have a lot of sports trophies, right?" because I'm a boy so of course I should have tons of sports trophies. The boy classmate, who was one of my better friends, says sadly to her, "No, he doesn't play any sports," and I just burst into tears. The end.
posted by Saxon Kane at 6:23 PM on May 25, 2018 [5 favorites]

I guess I have a few childhood sporting events that stay with me. I didn't have any experiences nearly as negative as what many here are reporting, and was fortunate to have had, for the most part, very supportive coaches (though we had a substitute basketball coach in high school who benched a few of us for an entire tournament).

But I do have a few that stuck with me. I should say that nobody ever made me feel shame over these, but I still come back to them. They're powerful still.

One from Little League. Because I always choked in the try-outs, I was put in the "B" league in spite of being much larger and stronger (I haven't grown an inch since I was 12) than most of the other kids. It was the playoffs, and we were down to our last out in a close game. We had a running joke that my mom was paying me $5 or something every time I hit it to the fence. I think she offered it up thinking I couldn't do it, and then I did it a few times. Anyway, I went up to bat, and my coach told me—and I remember every single detail about the way he crouched down in front of me, and the tone of his voice—"Whatever your mom's paying you, I'll double it." I struck out.

Two years later, when I was 13, again in the playoffs, we were down to our last out. I got on first and stole second. I hadn't been caught stealing that year, and so tried to steal third. I beat the tag. The umpire, from home plate, called me out. Even the third baseman said "What? I didn't get him." The call stood and our season was over.

I didn't play organized baseball again. When I was in that "B" league in Little League, it had been fun. Everybody—the coaches, the players, the parents—were really supportive of one another and nobody took it too seriously. But that year it started to get cutthroat and competitive. Players would berate others who weren't doing well, and it was all about winning, not the game. I just didn't like it anymore.

But these memories can be positive, too. For whatever reason, for most of my youth, I believed I was mediocre at sports. I think it was because I wasn't all that into sports. I mean, I liked playing baseball and basketball on the playground, but I never watched them at home, and my two best friends at that age were better than me at them and played hockey and everything else.

One day, we had track try-outs. Me and another kid got together and decided we ought to try out even though we'd never qualify in hopes that we'd get to go along to the big track meet as volunteers (and thus miss a day of school). I decided to try out for the event that I thought would require the least effort, the 100m dash. There were two other kids lined up to race, and this was a big deal: there was much debate on the playground as to who was the "fastest kid in school" between the two and it was thought that this race—officially sanctioned by a teacher!—was going to settle it once and for all. I lined up alongside them never thinking I'd win. But somehow I ended up in first place. And it's still a vivid, powerful memory that still feels, in many ways, like my greatest triumph even edging up on 25 years later.
posted by synecdoche at 6:30 PM on May 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

This is the story of the one time I actually managed to NOT embarrass myself playing organized sports as a kid.

My next door neighbor and best friend all through elementary school was the biggest, strongest kid in our class and also very much into every sport that existed. He was a local star in organized sports at every level, starting with 3rd Grade Basketball, and up through Middle School and High School. In college he played on an NCAA Division 1 basketball team and nowadays he coaches one of the top collegiate women's basketball teams in the country.

Meanwhile I was basically non-athletic and completely mediocre at every sport. But thanks to my friend, who filled literally every moment of free time with basketball, baseball, football, hockey, etc etc etc and made me his first teammate in each of those in turn, I knew at least the rules and basics of the most commonly played sports.

So, when we were about 10 or 11, we both joined baseball teams at our local Little League. My friend was the star of one of the better teams, played first base, and normally hit multiple home runs or big multi-base hits every game. When he was at bat, we would send our outfielders way, way back compared to where we played against every other player in the league--and still, he would usually hit it far over our heads.

Meanwhile, I was a very mediocre player on one of the more mediocre teams. We weren't usually right at the bottom of the league, but battling it out for maybe 8th or 10th out of 12 teams.

I could throw and catch OK. I didn't even TRY to play infield, which is what anyone with even a modicum of athletic interest did. But in the outfield, where they put the more or less hopeless cases, I worked my way up from right field to left field to center field over the years, and usually did a creditable job of catching things that came my way, backing up my barely competent teammates, throwing balls to more or less the right place, once we got them, and so on.

But--I could NOT hit the ball. Absolutely not. I went years and years with literally zero hits. I think I got on base once or twice via walks. But absolutely never, no way, no how a hit.

(Looking back at this 40 years later, I think there must have been something very fundamentally wrong with my swing, like maybe it had a huge dip instead of being level, or maybe I swung way too early or late. Maybe I closed my eyes while swinging or put my gaze on the exact wrong thing somehow. With as many at-bats as I had, anyone would have a hit or two just by pure luck. But no--nothing.)

So one of the very top teams had a pitcher who was well known to be un-hittable. Like just fastball after fastball, at whatever the Little League equivalent of 100 mph was. He had many, many no-hitters and pretty much every time our team played against him, it was a no-hitter and we lost miserably. It wasn't just our team--most of his games were no-hitters against every team, from the worst to the best. He most often struck out my highly athletic neighbor--which was a thing that just Did Not Happen--though if I recall my friend had one or two successes against him over the years, which he (rightfully!) bragged up quite a bit. Often it was Friend's Team and Ace Pitcher's Team battling out for the league championship.

One night my own Team Mediocre was playing Ace Pitcher's Team. In a game like this, I had literally zero expectation of getting any hits. I always struck out with EVERY pitcher, no matter how pathetically bad they were. But this guy--I'd batted against him a few times before, and I just knew I was done before we even started.

No expectation except routine humiliation.

We get to the bottom of the final inning. Our team is at bat. The score is tied--0-0 or 1-1, if I recall. (If we had 1 on the board it would have been due to a combination of walks and maybe one hit. Ace Pitcher's Team didn't get a lot of practice on fielding, so if you could move the ball at all you had a chance.)

Our ace pitcher fans pretty much everybody. But towards the end of a game, he would get tired and start to throw quite a few balls.

So he's walking people. Pretty soon we're down to two outs but the bases are loaded with walks.

And--guess who's up to bat?

Yep, you got it--Mr. Never-Hit-the-Ball-in-his-Life.

On top of all that, just then it started raining--hard and cold. It was getting dark and the lights came on. Dark, wet, and very cold.

I remember barely being able to feel my fingers holding the bat. Our uniforms were designed for heat, not cold. The umps called a time-out to talk about whether to call the game. While they were talking up by the mound, the opposing catcher and I had a little friendly chat--which we NEVER had with any opposing player--and we agreed with chattering teeth that we both were miserable and just wanted to go home right now.

The umps came back--"Play ball!"

So we're at the bottom of the final inning, two out, two strikes, and Mr. Never-Hit-the-Ball-in-his-Life-Against-Any-Pitcher facing Legendary-Ace-Fastball-Pitcher with bases loaded.

He throws, looks like the usual 100 mph (LL equivalent) fastball, I desperately pull the bat around and--TWOING!

It's a pathetic little dribbler, barely more than a bunt.

And my fingers and the bat were so cold, just getting that little piece of the ball stung so hard I thought my hands were going to erupt in flames.

My first-ever lifetime hit trickled down the infield just to the pitcher's left and stopped about halfway between him and first base.

I threw my bat and ran like the dickens.

He was an awesome pitcher--but so awesome that he didn't get much in the way of practice fielding hits against him. You could just see the surprise and unbelief in his eyes as Mr. Never-Got-A-Hit actually did get a hit off of Mr. Major-League-Prospect.

This was absolutely not what he was expecting.

While he was looking stunned and figuring out what to do, I was beating it to first base and our runner at third was racing for home--where he scored and won the game.

First and only time I have ever been a sports hero of any kind. And it was BY FAR the biggest game our team had ever won.

And it was so cold, wet, miserable and sting-y that I never, ever wanted to repeat it again.
posted by flug at 9:38 PM on May 25, 2018 [3 favorites]

In my extended family on my dad's side everyone is sports-crazy and most were athletes. Except me.

For a few years in elementary school, despite having little interest and no talent in the traditional team sports, I nevertheless attempted, first, pee-wee basketball, then little league baseball in an effort to get some attention and affection from my dad (who was otherwise indifferent or angry). And it worked, sort of -- of all the activities I was involved with through my childhood, those two attempts at team sports were literally the only things I did that he attended or even expressed any interest in.

Of course, I was mortifyingly terrible.

The single-worst sports memory I have was pee-wee basketball in third grade. In the first game, I just panicked and stopped mid-court in front of where my dad was sitting and pleaded, in tears, for him to tell me what to do. He didn't yell at me, but he was extremely embarrassed.

Even so, in sixth grade I played little league baseball. The coach was a friend of the family who was a super nice guy -- he made it easy for me, I played (infrequently) left-field and batted last. I recall, though, a fly ball coming my way, which I failed to catch, and it rolled in the grass to lodge at the bottom of the chain-link fence. People were already yelling because I didn't catch the ball, then clumsily ran after it, but it was my confusion and hesitation about the ball caught in the fence that created the moment I'll never forget. It seemed like it was both loud with people yelling and quiet at the same time. I don't even remember what happened after that.

However, the other kids on the team were talented and the coaching was strong, so we never lost a game and won the town championship. Overall, those are good memories, not the least because by that point I'd become adept at getting the other boys to like me despite my athletic ineptitude. Maybe also because I'd had surgery on both hips the year before, they gave me a pass. But no one gave me a hard time for being incredibly inept. I was always pretty ashamed of myself, though. And about that time I gave up on attention and affection from my dad. I did PE in junior high, but used my health as an excuse to not be required to take PE in high school -- a decision I have zero regrets about.

Back in my day, we played dodge-ball in PE, from elementary school on. Is that still a thing? Because dodge-ball has always seemed to me to be diabolical in its design to bring out the worst in kids -- my memory is that the teachers enjoyed watching the cruelty.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:17 PM on May 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

I missed a penalty in the state soccer quarterfinals my junior year. I struck it well, but not perfectly, and the goalkeeper guessed correctly and made a great save. We lost on the next kick. I think of it every month or so, wishing that I'd aimed right instead of left.
posted by Kwine at 6:36 AM on May 26, 2018

If everyone else knows how to do a thing, figure out why it is that they know something that you don't and then do what they did to learn. Learn. Learn. Learn.
It's not a kid's fucking job to reverse-engineer the rules of team sports on the fly, especially when they're already getting shit from all sides for not knowing them. Jesus Christ.
posted by Funeral march of an old jawbone at 8:50 AM on May 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

To be honest, PE should just focus on improving dexterity and coordination, plus teaching basic fitness drills. If there's trying to run before learning how to walk, teaching team sports is, dunno, trying to run with a ball before actually knowing how to run.
posted by lmfsilva at 10:26 AM on May 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

I went out for Little League when I was a kid. I have an obvious physical deformity, so I was a bit shy about it, but I was excited to finally be on the team with the other kids.

Opening day, my team and the opposing team were called out onto the field to be introduced to the packed stands. When I ran out, everyone in the stands began laughing at me. Not just one or two rowdies, everyone. Whole families. Mocking the ill-made kid.

I left before the start of the game. Quit the team, quit sports and haven't looked back since. (Although I still wish I'd learned to throw a football. Never have figured out how the darn things work.)
posted by SPrintF at 9:23 AM on May 25 [7 favorites +] [!]

This comment literally made me cry. I am so sorry this happened to you, and I am so angry that it happened.

It took me a long time to figure out how to respond because I didn't know how to make it not about me and how to not diminish the trauma of your experience or invalidate it.

But I want you to know that I am involved with a special needs Little League team and every child and adult I have encountered there has been warm, welcoming, and giving. I want you to know that there are good people out there who are working to make this kind of environment a good place for kids with all kinds of issues, physical, educational, emotional, or otherwise.

My team participated in an event with the Mariners and they made a video about the event: https://mobile.twitter.com/mariners/status/1003071743869644801/video/1

If anyone reading this has a special needs child in their lives who might benefit from this kind of organized activity it is called 'Little League Challengers' and I hope you can find one in your area.
posted by bq at 1:18 PM on June 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

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