On sport and growing up

There’s something so amazing about running around like a mad thing until there is no breath left in your lungs. It reminds you of childhood, of having so much energy and no self-consciousness, of reaching and pushing your limits without even trying because you are having so much damn fun. At least that was my rather nostalgic thought as I ran around a touch rugby field in Regent’s Park last Sunday, at one of the O2 Touch taster sessions.

Exercise has changed pretty drastically for me as I’ve grown older. It used to be team sports standing on a freezing hockey pitch as the mist rolled in under the floodlights, taking a rounders bat to the face in the spring and then pretending I was Venus Williams every summer (which I wasn’t, even remotely). I played a hell of a lot of intense – mostly team – sports. Then my family started moving around a lot and changing schools made it harder to get involved in teams. My friends were never bothered, they hated games lessons, and so I wasn’t either. Plus my full teenage ‘oh my god everyone is looking at me’ phase had kicked in. Remember that joy?

When I went to uni I joined a girls’ basketball team but felt awkward the whole time. Any talk of a competitive match made me break out in a cold sweat; I didn’t want to compete. That would mean people looking. And caring when I dropped the ball or fell over or got distracted looking at a bird. Or laughing and saying ‘sorry’ to the girl I just shoulder-barged (the coach was forever pinching the bridge of his nose and saying ‘erm, ok, can you all stop apologising to each other’).

I once went to a tennis practice and on my first over-confident attempt at a shot I missed the ball. Completely. Missed. The. Ball. I just stared at my hands in complete disbelief. What do you mean every synapse and muscle in my body hadn’t remembered what it needed to do to play tennis? What the hell. I never went back.

And you know what university teams with very little funding don’t want? Players who just want to run around and have fun. They want people to join ‘the team’, to play in ‘the leagues’, to commit. No thank you.

But as it turns out, adult sports – after university – can be as competitive or as chilled as you want. Whilst I was there running around like a fool and forgetting all the rules I had been told two seconds before, that nostalgia was like a drug. I was breathless and sweaty and laughed whenever I made a mistake. No-one cared. We were playing for points but no-one was checking you out for the next match, there were no spectators, hell no-one apart from the three friends I went with even knew my name. We were ‘red shorts’, ‘blue shirt’, ‘black shoes girl’ to the coach who ran around with his little whistle teaching us all patiently, praising when we needed it, but not judging or pushing. We want to break a few rules and just get on with the game? Fair enough. You want to have a break because coach there’s sweat in my eyes and my hair bobble just snapped? Do as you please. And then afterwards we went to the pub. Brilliant.

For an hour and a half I ran around and had great fun and there was no expectation that we turn up three days a week to do the same and then play for the trophy. Which is fine by me. I left competitive-Sophie back on a hockey field somewhere with shin pads, cold fingers and a grumpy face.

Aside from the nostalgia, I was also feeling pretty proud of myself as I ran around. I was keeping up with everyone, exhausted but not dead. Then I woke up the next day and realised I had been horribly over-confident. I could barely get up the stairs to the bathroom the morning after I played. At work I still make a pained whimper when I have to get up off my chair. My leg went out from under me yesterday and I literally fell out of my front door. I am a wreck. Touch Rugby killed my body.

I can’t wait for the next time.

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