By Annabel Monaghan
“Each of us, in our own way, is trying to do something as impossible as hitting a tiny white ball with a narrow wooden stick.”
Spring sports are winding down and the whole thing seems like a blur of driving, costume changes, and sandwiches eaten in the car. There was the requisite amount of elbow jabbing, name-calling, and bloodletting. But there were also the niceties of sports, the repeated rituals, words and actions that sort of smooth out the bad moments. Every time I see them, they give me pause; I dream of incorporating some of these niceties into my own, non-athletic life.
Like when it’s 5 p.m. and everyone in my house is starving and I’ve forgotten to defrost the chicken. A text comes in telling me that that there’s a game I forgot about in 10 minutes, and the uniform required for that game is soaking wet in the washing machine. I look at my annoyed but unsurprised teammates. I want them to shout, “Take a knee!” and then do so until I get my act together. Maybe they’d even clap as I limp off the field.
Any time I’m off my game, I wish a coach would approach the mound. I feel a wave of relief every time I see this happen in baseball. On that mound, the Little League pitcher is the only person in the world, alone with his own self-doubt and terror. Enter a calm adult to address this stressful situation and either diffuse it or fix it. The coach offers a hand on the shoulder, a few words of encouragement and a few very direct suggestions. Sometimes the coach just pulls the kid. Everyone applauds as he goes back to the dugout. He can try again another day.
I wonder if certain world leaders who are consistently throwing wild pitches ever yearn for some company on the mound. Maybe they could use a few tips or even the hard truth that they might be more comfortable in left field. The crowd would offer a supportive clap while we warmed someone else up on the sideline. (I can hear an imaginary coach whispering in my ear as I’m writing this. “Hey kid, I see what you’re trying to do. Stay with it, maybe try throwing a little more to the right.” Okay, I tell him, I’ll try.)
I also love the way parents in the stands yell nice things like “good idea!” when a kid has completely messed up. When it’s my kid who’s messed up, I want to hug those parents. Who couldn’t use someone like that following them around on the off chance she hit a parked car because she totally thought a station wagon would fit in a compact spot? Maybe afterward, as she backed out and avoided hitting the car on the other side, someone would shout, “Good eye, kid!”
The third base coach brings a little Tony Robbins magic to baseball. He calls to the nervous batter, “Come on kid, you’re a hitter!” The child rolls his shoulders back with new confidence and often goes ahead and hits that ball. Each of us, in our own way, is trying to do something as impossible as hitting a tiny white ball with a narrow wooden stick. Let’s start telling each other that we’re hitters.
Obviously there’s nothing better than Silent Sunday. I’ve rarely seen two words that are more harmoniously matched. What a joy it is to watch an entire sporting event in silence. It’s as if soccer has been temporarily turned into golf. The kids rely on their teammates and themselves, and the spectators get to mind our own business for a bit. Some of us walk away with the odd realization that screaming nonsensical words like “defense” and “offside” wasn’t really helping the team after all. Silent Sunday. I don’t know how it gets better than that.