I want to be better at basketball. I’m pretty tall. I can run. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t be a pretty dominant player on the court. I play once a week, and I always imagine the other team’s perception of me, of my game. Everybody’s shooting around, everybody’s sizing each other up. Then I line up for the tip off. I jump for the ball, hopefully it’s not even close. But after that, I worry that I’ve already peaked.
Sure I can sprint down the court really fast. Yeah I can stand right under the basket and block any inside shots. But rebounding? More often than not I’m just swatting the ball away. It’s like I can never get a grip. It doesn’t matter if it’s well within reach or just slightly out of my arm’s way. Even though I know that I should be grabbing the ball and bringing it close to my body, I always wind up just slapping it, like it’s a volleyball game, a bad volleyball game.
It’s got to be a coordination thing. Sometimes the ball will bounce right at me, and I’ll still miss the rebound. Passes that should wind up directly in my hands sometimes hit me in the face, followed by my own hands, also hitting me in the face, trying unsuccessfully to follow the ball, to get some sort of a hold on the object of the game.
After ten minutes of game play, the other team is on to me. As long as they can move the ball around and keep it outside, the majority of my advantage is successfully neutralized. On offense, I’ll score a couple of baskets every game, really just due to a combination of my height and dumb luck. But I don’t know. I should be better. If my brain just knew what to do on a second to second basis, I think I have a basketball player’s body. Something’s got to click eventually.
I wish I were a better skier. I’m fearless. So it’s not any sort of built-in inhibitions holding me back. It’s the technical aspects. I’m really good at holding my legs together and going straight down the trails, but where’s the skill in that? Where’s the technique? I’ll be effortlessly flying down the mountain, not really doing anything other than standing there on my giant skis. And then I look to my sides and I see these seasoned pros artfully dodging moguls and cutting symmetrical zigzags in the snow.
I try to do that. If I cut the snow on my right side I can kind of do it. I have to be going really slow. But I can’t get my body to swivel at all the other way. My right leg always gets stuck trying to bend. I’ll fall over trying these techniques out at slow speeds. Again, it’s not a matter of a lack of practice. I go skiing every season. It’s got to be an internal block, some kind of resistance holding me back.
When I was playing hockey growing up it was the same problems, a miscommunication somewhere between my brain and my legs. I could never really get the hang of the hockey stop. And when I did, when I finally learned how to stop after my parents sent me to a weeklong intensive training camp, it was still only on that one side. No matter how hard I tried on the other, I’d always wind up cutting the blade into the ice at too dramatic of an angle, instead of slowing my momentum I’d stop way too abruptly, falling and tripping over my own legs.
Whatever, sports are supposed to be fun, just a way to blow off some steam. But still, even though I know I’m doing this stuff purely recreationally, I still get into it, I still want to get better, sink more baskets, master those moguls, stuff like that. I have the energy to do it. I even have the knowledge of what I’m supposed to do, in theory. But in the moment, my body is always moving much faster than my brain. I’d love to be able to stop and think it through, but it’s usually the case that I get my moment and blow it before I even have a chance to realize where I am or what I’m doing.
I really don’t take myself this seriously. I just wish I were better, faster, stronger. And I wish I knew how to play lacrosse, and golf, and motocross, and hang gliding also. Hot air ballooning, skateboarding – I’ve never even been able to ride a block on a skateboard – cross-country skiing. I’ve never played tennis. Maybe I’m really good at tennis! I’m terrible at ping-pong. There was this kid at college that destroyed me in Super Smash Brothers every game, regardless of what character he picked, it didn’t matter that I was Captain Falcon every time. Sure I’ve changed a flat tire now and then, but oil changes? Coolant leaks? If I ever break down in the middle of nowhere without a cell phone, I’m fucked, I’m at the mercy of passing strangers. And maybe one of them will come up to me and, while they’re helping me call a tow truck, they’ll be like, “Wow, you’re pretty tall. Any good at basketball?” And what am I going to say, am I going to start going through this whole boring speech about my reflexes and how I’m pretty good at defense but otherwise I’m a huge spaz? No, I’ll just be like, “Yeah, basketball. Any word on when that tow truck’s coming?”