When I was about seven, my father enrolled me in a local kiddy league team. I’m sure he had visions of watching me plow through the opposition and score tries, giving him the opportunity to turn to other dads and say things like, “that’s my boy.” Sadly for him, though, I didn’t last the season.
I’d be standing in the full back position with the full back, minding my own business, wondering when dad was going to buy me a hotdog, and suddenly the ball would land near me.
Dad says I was always quick to react. I’d be straight over to the ball – hands outstretched as though to pick it up.
The first few times this happened, Dad says he’d get all excited.
‘This is it!’ he’d think. ‘Grab it, son, and run! Run!’
Only I wouldn’t. Instead I’d circle the motionless ball, hands still fully outstretched as though to pick it up, but my hands wouldn’t come closer to it than two feet. And then the opposition would arrive and score a try.
“Why won’t you pick up the ball?” he’d ask, and I’d shrug and eat my hotdog and pretend I didn’t know. But I’ll tell you why: even at 7, I wasn’t stupid. I’d seen what happens when you pick up the ball – the other team comes down the field and beats the crap out of you. Far as I was concerned, they could keep it. I was only in it for the hotdog.
Had I actually more fully participated in the game when I was seven, we might have found out I had a little problem a lot earlier. Because I’m basically blind in one eye my depth perception isn’t all it should be, as evidenced by the assortment of fence and automotive paint I’ve collected over the years on the front and back of my car. As it was, it was only when I once again ventured out onto the footy field, this time instead of hotdogs I was chasing the attention of girls, that we discovered how bad my problem was.
Let’s just say living in a 2D world doesn’t help on the sporting field. Catching a ball, to pull an example out of the air completely at random, was not easy. And it wasn’t like I wasn’t trying.
“Here!” I’d yell at my team mate on the field when I was in the open. I’d see him turn and pass. I’d see the ball leave his fingers. I’d know it was coming. I’d prepare, hands out ready to receive…and I’d feel the breath of wind as it passed by my stomach, chest or head. Or worse, slammed into my stomach, chest or head and bounced away. You can only blame the guy passing you the ball so many times. Apparently.
Eventually they stuck me in the scrum where the only balls I had to worry about were the ones my team mates were traumatizing by grabbing a handful of my already tight footy shorts, wrenching and yanking so hard their fingers turned white.
The only sports I was in any way successful with were the ones where there weren’t balls. The three r’s – rowing, running and reading. (I include reading because I would speed read). And I genuinely loved these sports.
Having said that, and with hindsight being twenty-twenty, I think dad gave up too easily and I perhaps missed an opportunity to be a great sportsman, possibly of international standing.
If he’d been on his game he would have enrolled me in soccer – not touching the ball with your hands is a really big part of that game and I was a natural at that.
I could have been a star!