Getting picked last for the team. Or not at all.

Growing up, my parents always involved me in activities.  I took tennis lessons, piano lessons, ballet, and gymnastics.  Even Judo.  There were certain things that I desired to get involved with.  My Mom, being overprotective and dead-set on me learning our language, refused to involve me in activities that met on Saturdays.  Luckily, she was a stay at home Mom and she shuttled and chauffeured me to all my weekday activities.  But Saturdays were off limits.  Reserved specifically for Armenian School…where I could learn my language, mostly reading and writing.  Her reasoning: “What if you want to write your Mother in law a letter some day?” or “You should at least be able to read an Armenian newspaper.”  I had to make her proud.

Sadly, there is always an added pressure to being Armenian.  Something about preserving our race, our ethnicity, and our endangered language.  It didn’t help that my paternal uncle would humiliate me from time to time, trying to get me to read an Armenian newspaper before the rest of the family.  Fast forward 20 years, a couple of his own grandchildren can’t even speak the language, whereas I perform in Armenian theater.  There’s something to be said for Karma.  But that’s a blog for…another time.


So there I was, a little Armenian girl, thick black hair, slightly pudgy (looking back, not really!), but always taller than everyone else.  I wasn’t “indoorsy” yet.  No, not at all.  I loved growing up in my small town, in the foothills.  I loved the mountain views, the trees.  I loved holding caterpillars and pulling bark off trees.  I loved chewing on lemon grass, running outside, and I don’t recall getting picked last for any sort of PE team.  And even if I did, it didn’t affect my self esteem because I definitely made up for any of my outdoor inadequacies in the classroom.

As a first or second grader, I recall taking home an AYSO flyer and asking Mom if I could participate.  Her quick response, “Not if it interferes with Saturday school.”  Ok, Mom!  T-ball was the same.  Even Ballet performances—practices were held on Saturdays.  I could take lessons, but I was not available to rehearse for group performances.  I was simply too busy learning how to write letters to my future mother in law!

Recess wasn’t a bore, either.  I was always active—on the swings, not afraid to climb the jungle gym, not even to hang upside down, up at the top of the tower…where one fall would have left me easily paralyzed.  Thankfully, no one had sued the school yet and we walked around in wood chips, on the playground.  Today, it’s all padded and our giant jungle gyms are a distant memory. A liability, most probably.

So Recess came twice a day.  I advanced to the “server” position in 4-square…no problem.  Dodge ball was fun.  I liked competing. P.E. was ok.  Sure, I didn’t love running laps…but everything else was fine.  I couldn’t run the fastest 100 meter…but that’s ok, I enjoyed jumping rope and playing competitive sports.  Bottom line, I didn’t dread it.  When playing basketball at boot camp in my late 20’s, my leaders asked if I’d ever actually played competitively.  Heck! It turns out I am naturally skilled.  But still, I had to admit that I hadn’t. And that was that. Why hadn’t I?

Well, it was the summer of ’92, I had just graduated from elementary school and I was on my way to a brand new junior high.  Fall sports were around the corner.  I was eager to try out for the Volleyball team…and I did so, cheerfully.  Imagine the confidence. Several days later, the team roster was pinned up in our locker room.  I hadn’t made the team.  No.  Not the Junior Varsity team either.  I realized, I wasn’t an “athlete”.  I’d never be like the other girls, svelte, tan, athletic.  I’d never roll my short sleeves up, have pictures in the yearbook with sweat glistening on my forehead, wear short shorts, and knee pads.  I’d never get to miss 6th and 7th period because I had to sit in a van and go to another school to play a sport. It just wasn’t in the books for me. 


Several months later, I signed up to play Volleyball with my Armenian friends.  I had a uniform and everything.  I knew I sucked at it.  But I participated nonetheless.  One day, they changed the practice schedule…it conflicted with Sunday school, this time. And there I was.  Off the team again.  Not as direct as it was at school, but I accepted it as a rejection nonetheless.  I’d go be a good Christian at Sunday school, instead.

In high school, I did play Tennis.  I did visit schools.  But I found myself being more a score-keeper than a competitor.  At least I had the chance. I can thank the stars for that.  It made me feel far more special than being in PE class.

But what would I say today to the coaches and teachers who made me feel like a non-athlete?  Y’all darkened my prospects at being an active adult.  You really did. I wanted to have something to look back on, a hobby, a routine, a habit.  I wanted to feel like someone wanted me on their team.  I wanted to realize that I wasn’t merely a classroom intellectual, but I was someone that could shine on the field as well.  I wanted days in the sun. I wanted to run on the grass. I wanted to carve physical activity into my day—naturally, effortlessly.  I wanted it to be done in such a way that I felt like I belonged.  I wanted to grow up with it, like I did with reading books, like I did with church, like I did with being an involved-Armenian.  I wanted that physical component to be an actual, regular, natural part of my lifestyle.

It wasn’t.

It isn’t.

Does it affect me still? Of course.  I’m the first person to say no to a hiking activity.  For me, picnics on the beach are about s’mores…not beach volleyball.  It’s a mental block, a social block, a physical impediment.  A ball comes my way and I scream.  I get stiff.  I am afraid to catch it, throw it back, block it…whatever.

It’s sad to say but I am afraid I’ll never be able to reverse it.  I’ll always feel awkward on a fitness machine, in tennis shoes, or with a weight in my hand.  The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry says sports help children develop physical skills, get exercise, make friends, have fun, learn to play as a member of a team, learn to play fair, and improve self-esteem.  []

I’ll always be a little behind on developing certain skills for success in life.  Being deprived of sports has shaped my values, differently.  It has failed to contribute to the positive behaviors I wish I had in my adult life. And I’m completely sad that I can’t go back and change it. 

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