I went for walk a couple days ago and spent a little time in the basketball court, the air was brisk, the sun beaming down, just the perfect conditions for a pickup game. Both the basketball court and tennis court were free at the time, a sight like that in my youth would be like finding a dollar each time you looked down, pure win. Growing up I lived on the court where I played basketball, tennis, a lot of volleyball and well hockey was just a staple and a given growing up in small town Newfoundland, Canada. Sports like those were a constant in my life and a constant in the lives of my friends, we all had the same passion for high school sports with a camaraderie that still exists today. Certainly, we have all moved on with ours lives but if we happen to run into each other today we immediately start reminiscing of missed shots, long car rides and that time we all got in trouble for someone stealing a Crash Test Dummies CD. Sports did that for me, it provided some of the best years of my life and I think every young boy and girl should get a chance to play something and challenge themselves while they make friends doing it.
I remember the first time that I made a high school team, it was volleyball. I had signed up using the clipboard signup sheet that was always hanging from the coaches door, dangling from an old piece of wool that someone must have brought from art class. For the three days that followed I kept dragging myself to tryouts, each day at 3:15, all intimidated, nervous and unsure that I had what it took. To make matters worst my best friend had actually backed out the day of, so I was really swimming in the deep end now with most of the team consisting of the whole ninth grade, a grade up on me and I was only familiar with a couple of the guys. By the time the last tryout was finished I did get to know everybody but as a consequence to that I then learned that there were only a few open spots so I didn’t really get my hopes up. The two days between the last tryout and knowing if I had made the team were brutal, the suspense nearly killed me.
The day had finally came, the team had been picked and we were to be notified by the coach personally if we had indeed made it, if he dropped by the classroom that would be a good thing. It was pushing 3:00 on a Thursday afternoon when there was a knock on the door, it was coach, I immediately started to try to read his lips. I couldn’t make out what he was saying to the homeroom teacher but after what felt like an eternity he finally addressed the class and spoke three names, just three and those name were “Paul, Paul and Ashley”. Never had my name ever sounded so soothing to my ears, I was instantly relieved, all that hard work had paid off and I was now part of an actual team. (true story see below)
High school for me just kind of happened and I believe sports had a lot to do with that, I kept good grades, actually my grandmother deserves the most credit for that but playing sports was more like a luxury for me and being a good student allowed me that luxury. I see kids playing sports all the time, they’re fun to watch, there’s too much negativity in the world so we need more of the small things and we can find that in our kids. We watch them as they walk in our own foot steps and we vicariously start living through their success because you can relate to how genuinely happy they are playing a sport they love. A few years ago my daughter actually took up sports for awhile, she called one day to tell me she had made the volleyball team, I was so proud, and she was doing on her own merit. I remember barely containing myself hanging on her every word, I was a proud dad, it was indeed a moment (sniff). Although she moved on from sports as some kids do, she did get the chance to experience sports on a team level, she had some fun and created bonds for life.
Speaking of bonds, playing outside as a kid was how I met most of my friends, we played hockey on the street all the time. There was my friend Colin, one time he must have taken a full 30 minutes to get suited up in our makeshift goalie gear only to then take a rock to the lip on the first shot, he was done. Oh yeah, a guy by the name of Corey who had a the heart of a Stanley Cup champion, he loved road hockey. There were moments of my life where shooting a few hoops was a way to talk it out with a buddy, or maybe we’d make plans for the next day with a few jump shots before we called it a night. I remember walking home as a teenager from a school dance with a close friend of mine Willie, who has since passed on, sometimes we would shoot hoops until the sun came up, just chatting it up while taking layups on a dimly lite basketball net. I’ll never forget that, and I will never forget him, he was a good friend.
When I was a kid I would visit my dad for a couple months of the summer, his sport was tennis which then became our sport. He would bring me to the local tennis club and kick my ass up and down that court each match we played but I kept wanting more, some day I’d beat him, it was happening. Every morning and again that same evening I’d battle my father back and forth trying to anticipate his next move, closing the gap and finally getting close enough where I might pull it off. We played all summer one year barely missing a day. I enjoyed that time with my father, for the first time in my life I felt we had connected through sport and for those tiny moments nothing else mattered. We bonded a lot that summer and I learned more and more about him as we continued to play. It was like we were getting to know each other on a different level and I am just now looking back realizing how happy I was. He did a great job pushing me to my limits and taught me the lesson of being humble, I learned how to lose and I learned how to win. I have him to thank for that, he showed me that you can be good but there will always be someone who could be better, so try your best every time and make sure to have fun.
That’s the thing about sports, they bring people together, they teach us a lot about ourselves. Not only does sports help us physically and keep us healthy but it can be very helpful mentally as well. Physical activity can help with stress, you’d be surprised how good you would feel by just getting outside and tossing the ball around. I always look for opportunities to get outside with the nephews and nieces when they visit and they love it, there’s nothing like chasing the kids around the yard and teaching them the concept of a game.
Standing there at that moment and looking in at the empty court I couldn’t quite stop but think of the days where courts like the one before me would have been a forwarding address for me at one point in my life. Take advantage of those moments as often as you can, time flies by so fast so have fun as much as possible. Get out there and kick the ball around, walk to the park and shoot some hoops. Go ahead and put your household title on the line and challenge the kids to a game of horse with the loser getting the dreaded dish duty.