Speaking as a former untalented yet not hopeless child athlete, I submit that team sports are unfair (feign surprise if you must).
For example, I played center field for five seasons of little league baseball, not because I lacked talent to play an infield position nor because I displayed particular aptitude for fielding long drives. Instead, I ended up sun-dazed in the suburbs of the actual baseball game because a series of lazy coaches assigned positions this way: “What position did you play last year, son?”
I played center field the first year I signed up for a baseball team. And even though I knew how the coaches assigned positions, I could not force myself during subsequent years to say “shortstop” or “catcher” or the names of other positions I personally preferred to play when these coaches casually inquired about my last season's occupation.
And so I spent most of my childhood a mile behind second base, my view of the sky obscured by a musty glove as I listened to the fading din of a coach screaming about his interest in the location of a ball that would never concern me.
I thought all of that would change the last year I played. During that year – the first season we would pitch without a machine – the coach introduced the team to a barrage of diagnostic drills. I should point out here that I was not a Pee-Wee Cy Young, but I didn't embarass myself. I was also a consistent hitter. But, as luck would have it, that year’s coach happened to be looking when a line drive nearly took my head off.
“Now, boys, I know you gonna be skiddish of the ball time to time,” he said, expectorating into the dirt. “But this is big boy baseball, and you gotta be fielding with your bare hand. That baseball ain’t gonna hurt you."
At risk of making too much of this coach's manners – especially considering that I had been known to make a few sand castles in the dugout and thought "brung" was a legitimate word until I was 19 – he really did have a way with words.
“Worst can happen is your gonna lose a tooth,” he added, a jet of swill popping through his jaundiced chompers.
Guess who ended up in the outfield? And guess who never played baseball again?
When I think about the several years I invested in baseball, all I can remember is the satisfaction of consuming post-game concessions, especially a gooey Star Crunch Cosmic Snack and a sweaty can of Moutain Dew.
I’m going to blame my lackluster performance in tennis on the pressure of our overzealous coach, who sometimes interjected with cheers like “make him bleed” or “don’t be the first person to ever lose a game to this kid!”
For the record, that was a close game.
In other tennis news, I didn’t realize I needed a partner for the Valentine’s Day Doubles Tournament. Actually, let’s not talk about tennis anymore.
The highlight of my young athletic career would have to be my stint as a student of Shotokan Karate, which, according to the prestigious Wikipedia, promotes “the notions of humility, respect, compassion, patience, and both an inward and outward calmness.”
Which sounds great until a grown man in a canvas house dress is advancing on you with a flurry of front kicks, grunting “Keyai!” the whole time. Also, just so you know, karate tournament judges do deduct points from your belt test if you become nauseous and vomit politely outside between warm-up and your Kata performance.
Another fun fact about karate: your second-grade class will find it very entertaining if you perform this choreographed series of karate moves apropos of nothing in the middle of a math test.
Now, before you point out that my pattern of athletic failures seems to revolve around my inability to admit that I may not have been exceedingly gifted or interested in the above activities, let me do some inoculation advertising by simply saying: I am aware of this fact.
I also don't want to disparage the efforts of dedicated coaches or the values of any particular sport.
But similar instances of coaching that are unfair – maybe even lazy, bizzarely aggressive, impractical or just downright confusing (karate) – absolutely qualify as pet peeves and make me even now dread the thought of stepping out of my parents' 1989 Aerostar van to attend practice. And, still, I say I could be playing shortstop today if it weren’t for my inability to lie about my athletic career in the outfield.