One of the great things about being a parent is that you get to watch all of your foibles, inadequacies and quirks enacted by a miniature version of yourself. ‘Ah’ you get to think ‘So that’s what I look like when I lurk around the periphery of a group conversation instead of joining in!’ Or, ‘Wow, so that’s what I look like when I try to block out the mundanity of hanging out the washing by plugging in headphones’, or ‘Ahah! I like the way he’s running down the basketball court at just the right pace to create the impression that he wants the ball, but all the while actually never getting into a position to get the ball, and inevitably miss the layup’. That last one is particularly apt. I’ve been taking Josh to basketball every Saturday for the last few years, and I fast saw myself becoming that Dad who tells his kids what to do in their sporting endeavours…knowing full well that he didn’t do it when he was a kid…and certainly wasn’t doing it now.
I hate those guys.
So I decided that if I was going to tell Josh what to do on the basketball court, I should probably be able to do the same myself, so I committed to joining a basketball team. Although this was a bit easier said than done, as I didn’t know anyone playing basketball…let alone someone who was looking for a new player. So I figured that if I just started hanging out at the local basketball courts, and showed some hustle, then eventually someone would put me on their team and take me under their wing, and while it may be a bumpy road, eventually I would repay their faith in me by pulling off a crazy dunk to win the game!
But then I remembered that this was actually just the plot to 1990’s movie ‘White Men Can’t Jump‘…and so I was back at square one.
After a bit of research I found an organisation called Just Play that basically provides a service for lonely people looking to find a team to play with…it’s a bit like Tinder, but for people who long for balls to play with and who love to get sweaty…no wait…it’s exactly like Tinder!
So after grossly underestimating how large the ‘medium’ singlet that I ordered was going to be, I headed off to Coburg Stadium for my first game.
Now is probably a good time to explain that I’m actually not that great at basketball. I really like playing it, and I may have spent 40% of Year 10 skipping music class to go and shoot hoops with some friends. But I’ve only really ever played socially. So I was kind of banking on this being a good chance to meet some new people, get a bit of exercise, and have fun playing basketball with a group of people at about the same skill level as me.
After five minutes of playing my first game, I realised that this may not be going to happen. The game moved so fast! It was like landing in a foreign country with no language skills and being dropped into the city at peak hour. I could see everything happening around me, but couldn’t get my head around any of it quickly enough to actually contribute. I took one shot that kept everyone guessing by not only missing the goal, but missing the entire court. My only score was one magnificent Falcon where a pass rocketed through my hands, into my face, and then out of bounds. I did however manage to keep the scorers busy by racking up three fouls, and one of my teammates suggested that maybe I head to the bench, given that I was now 2 fouls away from being kicked off the court for the rest of the game…and we were only quarter of the way through the first half.
This was not the glorious return I had hoped for.
After a few games
Thankfully after about 3 games I started to get into the rhythm of the game. I certainly wasn’t contributing a great deal, but at least fewer balls were smacking into my head.
But in terms of my role within the team, the damage was done. I was clearly the weakest link, and so I spent the most time on the bench. Plus our resident alpha-male had taken it upon himself to let me and the rest of the court know when he was displeased with my efforts…which was pretty regularly. In terms of putting myself in Josh’s shoes, I was pretty much putting on a masterclass…except that in his case,I had been the one telling him everything that he was doing wrong. This was meant to be a story of inspiration to him…not one of pathos to me!
The great irony was that we won our first 10 games in a row, but I was hating it. After 10 years of triathlon training, it was nice to do a sport that wasn’t; swimming by yourself, riding by yourself and running by yourself. But I certainly wasn’t making new friends, and I had forgotten how much I hate the macho bullshit that comes hand-in-hand with guys playing sport. Worst of all, I could see myself doing all of the things that I had been chastising Josh about; the apparent lack of passion, the reticence to be the ball carrier, the resignation to warming the bench.
So what should I do? Adult me knows that I usually learn the most about myself when I’m pushed out of my comfort zone…but adult me also already knows most of the things I’m learning about myself by playing basketball, and would be a lot happier without the weekly reminder.
But ‘parent me’ knows that ‘Hey kids, just remember to quit as soon as things get difficult!’ isn’t exactly a life-lesson I was hoping to instil in my children. So I don’t know if I’ll play again next season. Fortunately I’ll be away for the last 6 weeks of the season…so I’ve bought myself some thinking time!