How I Learned to (Literally) Play the Field: Getting Over My Fear of Football

I’m the world’s very worst sports fan. Meaning, I’m not a sports fan. I don’t follow it, and am so utterly ignorant about the whos and whats of sport it’s embarrassing. In fact, it’s been a concern of mine since, well, as long as I can remember, standing there swaying in the bleachers at Boston College, or at someone’s Superbowl party, feeling truly alien, or that I was missing some kind of vital gene that makes you American, or human. I remember being at a Superbowl party and one of my friends was asking me who he should bet on as he was using the Colorado Sports Betting App. I had no idea what to say to him so I picked a random player and he actually won a bet because of me! Nowadays I know exactly who to bet on!

My own personal sports history is just as pathetic: Years of staring into space out in left field during girls softball in grammar school; a few basketball flashbacks from junior high that make even the shellac-smell of a high school gym panic-inducing.

So don’t ask why on God’s earth at this age I would take up touch football. But I have.

Why I Took Up Touch Football

I did so because of a few reasons: One, because I was invited-more than once. My improv friends from the Magnet theater all signed up to play a year ago and I said, “Have fun you guys!” And more than once they dropped that I was the only one of our friends who didn’t play. Why?

touch-footballI couldn’t say because I am personally terrible at sports, which would be a good enough reason if it were true. But it’s not. In fact, I’m quite athletic and competitive. I have danced, done yoga, run, worked out for years and years. I’m fit, flexible, strong.

The real reason I declined initially is that I’m embarrassed, and afraid. I suffer from persistent and ruthless imposter syndrome, and if you could be arrested for being a sports imposter, the Feds would be on me the minute I stepped onto the football field.

But why I ultimately decided to just do it was because my last excuse I held onto? The team plays on Sundays. And that’s when I get work done.

Work? Is that my excuse? Because when I heard myself say it, even I couldn’t let myself get away with that. I recognized all the hang-ups in my head had nothing to do with football at all. They were about beliefs I had about people who played:

–They all have been playing with their brothers since high school

–They have to love/watch/follow said sport to do it.

–That they all know something I don’t, and thus must be better than me.

So, the reason I can’t play touch football is because: I don’t have a certain kind of history; I don’t have brothers; and everyone’s better than me? Those are similar excuses to the ones I don’t do LOTS of things. It’s made. up. shit.

I’ll add that as a self-employed professional, I don’t need more to stay home. I need more reasons to leave! And to get out and do something physical. And be around people whom I like and who like me and are begging me to play.

So, I’m in.

Game Day

The first thing I realized is that I didn’t get the football glove memo. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as football gloves, and instantly I knew I would fail without them. I looked around; everyone, every girl, every guy seemed to have them. Oh god, I’m such a fraud. I reassured myself that in fact if I HAD had them, I would have felt like even more of an asshole because WHO THE FUCK AM I TO HAVE FOOTBALL GLOVES WHEN I’VE NEVER EVEN CAUGHT A FUCKING FOOTBALL.

My team is the most lovely, fun, friendly group of people you could ask to baptize you into the world of football. And so that relieved the intimidation factor.

Since I know nothing about the terms of the game, save for what to do, where to run, and the difference between offense and defense, I can’t even give you a play by play of my first game. Except that it involved a lot of running in one direction and quickly changing directions, and several near-misses with Andre, a runaway train who certainly would have flattened me if I’d been an inch to the left.

Worth Getting Out There

Here’s what I learned my first day on the field: To get out of people’s way and into others’. No one threw me the ball and so my no-gloves was a non issue. I ran like hell and chased women who were so fast it was like I was trying to catch a deer on foot. I panted and sweated. I may have peed myself a little.

But what I was relieved to discover is that regardless of how I felt out there being a fraud, no one’s looking at me or caring who I did or didn’t play touch football with growing up or whether I have brothers or skipped this year’s Superbowl entirely. Everyone’s focused on one thing: the ball. That’s it.

I completed my first game, which my team won, with no help or harm from me. I suffered no injuries, though I will add that I’m sore in places that puzzle me. My groin and leg muscles, ok. But why my shoulders are sore, I’ll never know.

So, Get Out There

I tell you this is because there’s a reason people use terms like “play the field” and talk about “putting yourself out there.” This harmless game (though I worry that I’ll lose teeth) is nothing more than a metaphor for going out and doing a thing. There’s no reason I can’t learn and play and get better and enjoy myself out on a Sunday, and feel, if for a fleeting moment, that I’m in a real-live beer commercial.

And there’s no reason you can’t, either.

It’s fun to see yourself doing something you never thought you would. Whether that’s asking someone on a date or showing up to one, gunning for a job above your pay grade, or trying some completely alien activity for the first time. But you can’t have the experience if you don’t shut out the negative, critical voice in your head. The one that tells you you’re a joke before you ever even try.

You can feel like an ass, an imposter, a fool. But show up. Do it. You may not win every time, but every time you let fear get in the way, it’s a guaranteed forfeit.