As I have discussed in some of my other FIFI posts, learning to play sports in mid-life means slowly and awkwardly developing new skills as an adult. It also means managing my expectations because I lack some of the durable motor memory skills that other players may have already developed during their childhood play.
However, I’ve been thinking about how some “durable” learning from my own childhood sport, baseball, perhaps has not been entirely beneficial for me as an adult player today.
When I started to play softball at 9 years old, my coaches put me straight into right field for the season. I remember standing way, way outfield, watching the tiny players running around infield, and looking up at the sun shining down on me from the sky.
In following seasons I improved my catching and throwing skills. I was moved to other positions infield (eventually to pitcher). From this experience I took that infield position was where the power and glory was. Right field was where you put players with little skill or game know-how. You couldn’t mess up the game too much from way out there.
After changing up my playing positions in my two rec team sports over the past few months, I noticed that I have brought this childhood assumption—my “right fielder thinking”—that novices should play certain positions.
Now in my third year of curling, I tried skipping during a few “fun” nights. I have an interest in game strategy, but I realized I couldn’t easily adapt when rocks were thrown in ways I wasn’t expecting. I also tried playing the second position, thinking that because I was a better player than when I started I would contribute more. But without the rhythms I had established for myself in the lead position, as second I had the worst game in my 2.5 years!
In soccer, we’ve been short some players as the Christmas holiday season approaches, so I’ve tried playing midfield and striker. I still don’t have consistently strong cardio or ball-handling skills: I watch my own feet like a novice ballroom dancer. But overall, I have had more success shifting positions. It turns out I like running to get open and try to receive a ball rather than wait for opposing players to come to me, as I would in a defence position. My impatience helps me to want to find solutions to problems.
Playing in these new positions has allowed me to watch players in my old positions. In soccer, I see some defenders not as novices but as tough players and strong kickers. In curling, my skip tells me that while the least seasoned player is often put in the lead position, that position is critical for starting the ends, reading the ice, and calling the weights. I am slowly getting better at those key skills with practice.
New positions have brought into relief the errors of my old right-fielder thinking that tells me certain positions are my only option. That logic falls down in many ways. Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, and Roberto Clemente were all right fielders, and they were some of the best players in the game ever!
Another small but clear memory surfaces of 9 year-old me standing in own home field outfield. I remember how, when a ball did come, I was the only outfielder who had to make the catch with the sun directly in my eyes. I still managed the catch once in awhile, and that was something.