Live Through This

Smells Like Team Spirit

That’s right, we love ORGANIZED SPORTS. What, we can’t have layers?

Illustration by Cynthia

One of the greatest parts of any Olympics—and London 2012 certainly was no exception—is the Opening Ceremony, where athletes from all over the world march into the stadium together, waving flags from their respective countries and soaking in what must feel like the love and admiration of the entire planet. For a brief time, it feels like everyone is connected through the spirit of sportsmanship and peace, and though most of the athletes walking through the stadium are aware that they have little to no chance of taking home a medal, they’re simply honored and thrilled to be there.

At home, those of us who also have a vanishingly small chance of medaling watch as the athletes enter the stadium; we get excited whenever our favorites hit the stage, waving hands and flags and representing the athletic dreams of the rest of us. We love them and support them because they’re “our team.” When they excel, we celebrate. When they lose, we mourn with them. And when they take home the gold medal, we say things like, “Did you hear? WE won the gold!” Being a fan of the Olympics, whether people realize it or not, is an exaggerated version of how it feels to be an actual team member. You don’t have to be the star athlete to gain something positive from the experience.

Some of my best high school memories come from my time as a member of the swim and softball teams, and not just because our swim coach brought doughnuts to Saturday practices. Organized sports can introduce a great deal of goodness into your life, perhaps in ways you’ve never even considered. So consider these, won’t you?

Friends!

Though high school isn’t the clique-driven nightmare that Hollywood films like to say it is (it’s still 1987 in many onscreen schools, apparently), basic logistics make it difficult to know everyone that you share the halls with. Sports are a great way to meet new people—people you might not have classes with, or people in different grades, or people you’ve just never had a chance to hang out with, for whatever reason. A team spends a decent amount of time together, between practices, games, bus rides (to and from away games), and fun stuff like pre-game dinners, fundraisers, and post-game ice cream runs, so there will be plenty of opportunities to interact with everyone. You may be surprised by what you learn about your teammates—preconceived notions based on shallow judgments made in the hallways can flip as soon as you start getting to know someone.

You and your teammates are bound by one common goal, which makes the process of getting to know everyone a little easier—even if there are clashing personalities on the team (and there are always a few). When it comes down to it, you’re all trying to beat the other team, and the bonding that comes along with that shared objective has a way of overcoming social hierarchies. And if you find after playing for a while that you genuinely don’t like anyone on the team, and that the experience is kind of a bummer? You can quit! It’s that easy. But don’t give up on the idea entirely, OK? There’s another sport, and another crew, out there waiting for you, I promise.

Realizing You Are More Bad-Ass Than You Previously Thought

99% of the universe sucks at everything until they start practicing. I’m sure Michael Phelps was doing expert kick turns in his mother’s womb, but the rest of us are mortals and were not blessed by Poseidon or whatever. The trick is to remember that it’s a game, and games are supposed to be fun. (Think of Coach Bombay in The Mighty Ducks yelling, “More fun! More fun!”)

It also helps to stop comparing yourself with your teammates and focus on your personal goals. That way, you can cheer on your teammate Suzy Full-Scholarship as she kicks serious ass in the pool, and your teammates will do the same for you, even if you come in last place, so long as you’re putting forth your best effort. Maybe you want to take a few seconds off your best time by the end of the season, or maybe you want to score at least one goal, or improve your passing skills, or your technique, or your stamina. And at the end of the season, you can look back and think, Hey! I did that! which is pretty great. Pushing yourself to the limit, knowing that you put in all you could (and having the results to prove it) is a confidence builder that is hard to deny. The only competition you really have out there is yourself—and no trophy in the world feels as good as knowing that you beat your own self-doubt and inhibitions.

The Jacket, Y’all

Yeah, this is totally shallow, but I mean. You could go out and snag a fake varsity jacket, sure. But the real deal, with your name embroidered on the front, Pink Ladies style? Even better.

Structure

If you have a tendency (like I do) to waste a lot of time, sports are an excellent way to keep your days (and your life) structured. Practices and games/meets/matches are always on a set schedule, so you’ll need to adjust your body, and your life, to meet the needs of the team. That might sound horrendous, but it’s actually a bit of a blessing, because it forces you to fight procrastination and prioritize. The discipline, drive, and focus that team sports offer can be applied to every aspect of your life: you need to be on time, you need to try hard, and you need take care of yourself so that you’ll always do your best. And since you need to keep your grades up in order to participate, you can’t slack off on your homework, either, which pushes you to continue working hard and putting in the necessary effort. It’s great practice for post–high school life, whether you’re going to college, entering the work force, or both, because it teaches you how you use your time wisely and to work around a schedule a productive way.

Mental and Physical Health

Swimming was therapeutic for me—even as my muscles became sore during practice and I swore that my skin was about to turn Kryptonite green from the chlorine. There’s something freeing about being in the water, and I used my practice sessions to physically work out some of the anxiety that I’d been carrying around throughout the day. The endorphin rush that comes with a great workout can be a massive help when you’re dealing with less-than-stellar moods; and because I was doing something I loved, it made exercise (which I usually find super boring) a great release. There were plenty of girls on my team who knew that they’d never win a race, but they came to practice every day anyway, because they felt good doing it and took something positive away from it. It’s not about losing weight or getting ripped or any of those nonsense things that people try to sell exercise with; it’s about connecting with your body and your brain and ultimately feeling more comfortable with—and proud of—yourself as a result.

Fun

Beyond all else, being on a team can be super fun. My friend and I used to spend hours during softball games making up dumb cheers (one of them started off being something about bats, and ended up as a song about lactose intolerance—so, you never know), and our team racked up about 8,000 personal jokes before the season ended. We sang songs on the bus, had poster-painting parties, wore matching (ridiculous) outfits for spirit days, broke into hysterical laughter at nearly every team dinner, and developed a kind of sisterhood that lasted, even after the season had ended. A team can be a family (complete with certain members who fight—it happens), and the bond you make sticks with you. And if you’re a swimmer, you automatically have at least 15 girls in the school who understand why you smell like a chemistry experiment at all times. That’s love.

Finding Your Own Thing

Depending on the size of your school vs. the number of people they can allow on a team roster, it may be hard to actually make a high school squad. That doesn’t mean that you have to give up on the idea of joining a team. There are intramural or city teams that are always looking for members: kickball, dodgeball, and Ultimate Frisbee, to name a few.

You can also start your own squad; when I was in high school, a dance team, a capoeira crew, and a step team all started up, and since I’ve graduated, one of my alma maters has become a proud member of the International Quiddich Association. If you can’t find the team you’re looking for, create it! You just might be opening a door that many fellow students were looking for, and you’ll meet people who share your passion, as well as leave a legacy for those who follow in your footsteps. Who knows? You might discover that you’re a world-class Quiddich player, and you can say you were there at the beginning, when Team USA, brooms in hand, enters the arena at the Opening Ceremonies. ♦

39 Comments

  • heartshapedbox October 1st, 2012 7:02 PM

    I thought this was gonna be about Nirvana, haha.

    • Abby October 1st, 2012 8:55 PM

      Yeah… me too ha. I misread the title in the picture before it was posted….

  • katie October 1st, 2012 7:05 PM

    I’m not athletic at all but last year I joined the bowling team and it was the greatest decision of my life I think (or one of the greatest).

  • MissKnowItAll October 1st, 2012 7:10 PM

    I suck at all and any sports but I joined the tennis team and I;m doing kick-boxing. Best decision ever

  • Kaetlebugg October 1st, 2012 7:35 PM

    I love this! I’m on my school’s track team and I love it so much.

  • Adrienne October 1st, 2012 7:42 PM

    I’m on the girl’s golf team. While I’m not the best, I love that I get to meet people I wouldn’t normally hang out with. And it’s fun! Sometimes, we make In-n-Out runs after matches, and our jackets are actually really snazzy.

    http://theaverageasiangirl.blogspot.com

  • bugaleeto October 1st, 2012 8:18 PM

    I’m a “competitive” year-round swimmer, and I jut don’t enjoy it at all anymore. I moved up to a fast swim group when I was an exceptionally fast 10 year-old. Four years later, I haven’t grown much and I’m stuck in this horrible mental nightmare. I haven’t dropped any time, I’m sick of my coaches, and I’m sick of the group. I find myself wanting to burst into tears at random moments during practice, which used to be really fun. After every race in a meet I want to break down into sobs and I know everyone is sick of it by now, including me. Sorry to post this awful comment, It sounds super dramatic, but it feels better to get it off my chest.

    • bugaleeto October 1st, 2012 8:21 PM

      Also I do not want that to be a warning or whatever to anyone who is thinking of joining a swim team. High school swimming is really fun!!!

    • airplanes.books October 1st, 2012 9:07 PM

      if it’s making you this unhappy you NEED to quit, for yourself! if you still love swimming just not what it’s become for you, try doing it on your own to recreate it as a hobby and passion rather than a mentally harming obligation. i stayed on doing sports teams for the wrong reasons way too long when i was younger and i really regret not stepping up and taking control of my own hobbies/interests/happiness earlier. good luck to you!

    • Loops October 2nd, 2012 2:06 AM

      That is exactly what happened to my friend! She told me not to go in to hectic training because it sucks the passion for swimming out of you. She was going to special training, though. I just train with my school swimming team and I love it. :)

  • jeans kinda girl October 1st, 2012 8:51 PM

    My old school was too poor for sports and I always wanted to have (yes, i admit) the jacket, the friends and the fun of a team sport. This is just what I needed to keep trying…track wasn’t right for me and neither was rugby…maybe field hockey?

    • ali October 3rd, 2012 2:57 AM

      I live in Australia, where we don’t do school sports teams, plus my school is tiny, but everyone (EVERYONE) plays sport outside of school, often with all age groups. As much as I would love a jacket, I like this system better :)
      I play hockey, field hockey, and I adore it!! I started playing when I was about 6 and I’m 17 now, with a large collection of jumpers from various rep teams, not because I’m a spectacular player, but girls in older age groups are rarer as we play mixed teams until we are 18 (let me tell you,that’s awesome fun! Haha hOckey boys are hot) anyway, most girls drop put because it becomes a struggle to keep with the long legged boys, and go to play all girl teams. But that opens up more options for me on rep teams!
      I started off playing with sone kids, some from my primary school, some home schooled kids, some from other schools, and now we’re all best friends. All 15 of us. All because we play hockey and thus grew up together.
      Anyway. Play hockey! In what other sport can you run around with sticks?!

  • mangonut October 1st, 2012 9:11 PM

    I’m a senior and just finished my final girls tennis season with a not too shabby first in division (: Reading this post, I felt a bittersweet nostalgia: getting out of last period for the away matches, the thrum of exitement when you toss the ball up for that first serve, swallowing your losses because your friend’s up 5-4 and you really believe cheering makes you hit harder, that lightheaded silliness when you and your doubles partner win in the third set in overtime and it doesn’t matter that you’ve got a lab report due tomorrow and executive board meetings and your bf blew you off because you WON.

    My strongest memory isn’t that last match when it started to hail and the lights were on and my win by 2 secured our first place spot(though that was epic), it’s the long bus rides home where all we did was braid hair and look out the window, books in our laps and phones in our hands.

    The jacket is pretty fly though (:

    • Maddy October 1st, 2012 9:20 PM

      Aww :) I kinda want to try a school sport and I’d like to do tennis! I’m worried that I won’t have time or that the girls will be really clique-y (I know some of them, they kinda are)

      • mangonut October 2nd, 2012 5:02 PM

        hi Maddy! You should totally go out for the team! It’s a very fun sport, and it’s the type of game where once you learn the basics, you can continue improving for decades, (like seriously, there ae some 70 somethings that frankly mop the floor with me, and I’ve been playing for 12 years!) For some reason the sport does have this “cliquey” connotation that people associate, but I’ve never run into anyone who thought they were cooler than everyone or mean. This goes for all sports: its amazing the different kinds of friends you will make. email me if you have any questions!
        m.b42024@gmail.com

  • Caden October 1st, 2012 9:16 PM

    I never did team sports in school. Now I feel like I’ve missed out on a lot! I’ll look into college teams now :D

    http://screenverdict.podomatic.com/

  • Maddy October 1st, 2012 9:24 PM

    I quit my sport this year (fencing, not in school) and I feel gross cuz I’m not moving but mostly I feel guilty for leaving and stuff. Basically, all the people I knew moved up a level and it was either continue being OK with the 12 year olds or move up and pay more and not be allowed to compete against the kids who competed internationally because it would be a waste of their time. Sigh now I can’t join back and can’t put it on applications and spent all that money. It was also a good challenge. I encourage people to try it.
    ~
    This has been on my mind: My teacher recently told me, in a room of all boys, that he wanted to slap me because I was too quiet. I don’t know what I’m feeling but I keep thinking about that. I nearly failed one of his quizzes today because of a simple error and that basically killed my whole day.

    • koolkat October 1st, 2012 9:42 PM

      Are we the same person? I just quit fencing too! I mean, I moved countries, but I was going to anyway because, yeah, basically all my friends were on the GBR team but me :( Also, I find it soo hard to socialise with people. Sometimes I literally lose my vocal cords because I barely speak in school! And my math teacher hates me haha. Your teacher sounds really mean, don’t worry about him, he’s a jerk.

      • Maddy October 1st, 2012 10:16 PM

        Hey! whoah coincidence. Did you do saber? Probably not but that would be totally cool. GBR team like Great Britain national team? There were some people at my club who were on the US national team and who won world cups n’ stuff. Yeah there are some classes where I don’t talk. Math is one of them because it’s too slooow for me. What country are you in now? That’s a pretty big change but that’s cool. :)

  • fox in the snow October 1st, 2012 9:25 PM

    jeans kinda girl, I was at boarding school for one semester and i played field hockey. I am not athletic at all. my idea of exercising involves bike riding the .6 miles to the bookstore, spending 1 hour there, and riding back home. When I had to choose between soccer and field hockey at school, I picked field hockey, because at least I would have some sort of weapon to defend myself with. I have to say, if you can find a team, go for it! at first it may seem difficult, but it gets really fun! And if you live near Chicago, I would love to play field hockey with you sometime!

    fox-inthe-snow.tumblr.com

    • jeans kinda girl October 2nd, 2012 6:30 PM

      Thanks fox in the snow. I’m like that too–not big on exercsing. And that’s one of the main reasons I was thinking field hockey—learning how to handle a big stick!

  • ickyteenagegirl October 1st, 2012 10:04 PM

    Where I live we don’t have varsity jackets (at least I haven’t seen any). I always thought it was something only in movies and now I’m a little upset that they exist and I can’t have one.

    ….although I don’t play sports so I wouldn’t get one anyway.

    • all-art-is-quite-useless October 2nd, 2012 11:11 AM

      We don’t have varsity jackets here either, school sports team members just get a boring black hoodie with the school logo and their initial stitched on… not very pink ladies. The only good reason to want one is that we can’t wear any other kind of hoodie or sports jacket in P.E. in winter apart from these ugly blur rugby shirt thing, which are worse than the hoodies!

      Don’t really do sports either so I haven’t given myself the chance of getting one anyways…

  • Blou October 1st, 2012 10:34 PM

    I love this article (and theme)! Joining my highschool swim team is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. :)

  • NotReallyChristian October 2nd, 2012 5:11 AM

    Also: it’s never too late! I started rowing in college (it’s the most popular sport here and it was free to join) and even though I suck it’s surprisingly good – especially the club dinners, which are SO much fun!

  • Ruby A. October 2nd, 2012 6:28 AM

    Awesome picture Cynthia!

  • eliselbv October 2nd, 2012 9:52 AM

    Ouuuh I think I’m gonna love this month theme! I didn’t feel concerned by the Drama theme. Maybe it’s because in european high school there’s no real “drama spirit”. Anyway this article was great.
    PS: this made me laugh so much !!!”if you’re a swimmer, you have girls in the school who understand why you smell like a chemistry experiment at all times.”

    http://www.iloveyourjokes.blogspot.com

  • vanguardinspace October 2nd, 2012 11:29 AM

    I really appreciate this article! I used to participate in sports year round, and stopped a few years ago because I was depressed, and then coming out of depression had sort of defined myself as an “artsy” person with no interest in what I viewed as the the caveman-like activity of sports (which is ridiculous, btw)…but I’ve started running again and joined a lacrosse team and realized that it is great for my mental (and physical) health, a great way to make friends, something I enjoy, and in no way in conflict with my appreciation of French new wave films

  • ellajean October 2nd, 2012 2:02 PM

    Synchronised swimming all the way!!

    • Graciexx October 3rd, 2012 8:10 PM

      oh yeah! I just started this year and it is SO fun!!!!

  • jenaimarley October 2nd, 2012 2:08 PM

    Sometimes out of school teams can also be great for all these reasons and for meeting people not from school. Especially for small schools that merely have flag football and mathletes and for girls like me who are into Kung fu, roller derby, and rock climbing (sports schools don’t normally have). But team sports have made me SO happy! And the different team dynamics (e.g. Roller derby / all girls vs. climbing: girls and boys of all ages) are fun to explore!
    Thanks for the ode, Pixie!

  • Cutesycreator aka Monica October 2nd, 2012 3:02 PM

    Awesome article! I have more respect for sports after reading this. (I’m not a very sporty person :P)

  • GlitterKitty October 2nd, 2012 5:44 PM

    After being a very non-sporty child (I do ballet though!) I decided to join my high school field hockey team in grade 9. I mostly joined because there were no tryouts and I wanted to try a sport, it was so fun. I joined again this year and although I’m not that amazing at the sport, I love being on a team. Seriously, teams are amazing. Although it’s stressful learning how to play a sport when you have never played any sport ever, just being part of a big, lovely team is great. Just join something! Thanks for the tribute Pixie.

  • LittleMissE October 2nd, 2012 8:38 PM

    Can being a weird actress count as a sport?

  • Ireallylikepandas October 2nd, 2012 10:44 PM

    I use to be on a softball team when I was younger. I wasn’t good though, I was that one kid that was always benched, but it was okay. My parents use to bring me snacks and I would just sit there and eat while the other girls played.

  • SweetThangVintage October 3rd, 2012 1:31 AM

    I wasn’t athletic until I decided to join a roller speed skating team. (NOT roller derby, it’s like ice speed skating, only on inline or quad skates) This is where I met my two best friends in the whole world! My team’s like my second family.

    Plus now I have the MOST awesome thighs/butt. ;)

  • leaaislinn October 3rd, 2012 8:26 AM

    ahh oh my gosh! i remember trying out basketball in third grade and it was an utter disaster. i play roller derby now, it’s really grand.