There’s no ‘i’ in team

Monday, February 4, 2013 Permalink

A Finnish reader, who’s also a blogger and all-around lovely person, Satu, has asked me to do a guest post. Naturally I was honoured to be asked, said yes and then went to bed last night pondering on what I might write.

Because I’m well… me, the blog post in my head got as off-track as my on-screen blog posts are wont to do. So, as I don’t want to send her some War and Peace-like tome, I thought I’d share one of my thought-tangents here.

In line with my recent posts about happiness and trying and being your best (as opposed to perfectionism) I’m writing for Satu about the latter: perfectionism.

Thinking through practical examples I got stuck on an episode from my past that is somewhat embarrassing but now that it’s trapped in my head I’m hoping that writing about it will rid me of it – for the time being, anyway.

I was 15 years old (almost 16) in late 1983 and finishing up my second last year of high school. I was also on a ‘diet’. In my case, the diet to end all diets. Or rather (and sadly) a diet that led to the person I’ve been ever since.

Although I’d been a regular in representative teams, I’d finally gotten serious about basketball and increased my training and fitness work quite significantly. But for reasons that escape me now (possibly just for the additional exercise) I started to play tennis.

My father (the original perfectionist) and I used to head to the local courts most days after school (and work) to have a hit. (On top of my basketball training and games several days a week.)

Within a couple of months I was under 50kg (110lb) and then closer to 45kg. Definitely too thin for my 178cm (5ft10). Basketball and tennis were becoming less about the sports themselves and more about the calories burned during the hours I trained each day.

In my final year of high school I signed up to play tennis fixtures in the local competition – having practised all summer. And it was one of the biggest mistakes of my life.

I used to work on a Saturday morning and even now I can remember spending the entire time praying for rain or some other natural disaster which would prevent that afternoon’s matches.

I was petrified of losing you see. Beyond petrified, in fact.

As it happens I didn’t lose a match over the few months I played. But then I quit. Before I could lose.

Before then I’d only played team sports: basketball, netball and during my primary school years, jazz ballet.

As I think back about it now I realise that – because I was (am?) such a perfectionist I’m really not cut out for individual sports. Even in team sports I apologise if I do something wrong or something which gives the other team an advantage. But when I only had myself to blame… it wasn’t pretty.

My legs were constantly bruised as I would hit myself (subtly, I hoped) with the racquet if I stuffed up a point or did something stupid. Or, in all honesty, sometimes I did it less-subtly. “Stupid, stupid girl,” I would say, whacking myself in the shin or calf with the racquet. (Well, actually I probably said, “You stupid fucking bitch,” but I’m trying to swear less!)

I saw a therapist about my eating disorders when at University. Of all things to discuss, we talked about tennis. I explained that I was often invited to play with friends at my residential college, but I’d always say no (particularly to the girls). My fear of losing remained with me. (I’d play with my brother or father though – as per this pic from around 1987!)

“Losing would be more than I could bear,” I told him.

Bizarrely, despite being such a crap therapist (he was Freudian and a psychotherapist so we never moved past my childhood!) he said something quite insightful.

He suggested that I could either: a) have years of therapy, get to the source of my problem and no longer have a pathological fear of ‘losing’ or failing; or b) I could play a match with someone, lose and then deal with the fallout.

I’m sure you can imagine which I chose?

Well, neither actually. Yes, c). He pissed me off so much that I eventually stopped seeing him and… well, let’s just say the racquet from my teenage years remains unused many MANY years later.

Did you play sport as a youngster? Or perhaps you still play something?
Do you prefer team sports or individual sports?


  • Jess
    February 4, 2013

    I couldn’t cope with competition as a kid. I always danced and did gymnastics. Eventually I had to pick between the two and I choose dance as I would get so sick with nerves from gym I would throw up. Ridiculous!! And ultimately I’d psych myself out and not do well!

    • Debbish
      February 4, 2013

      Have to admit I even got diahhreia (a word I CANNOT spell!) before playing bball matches!

  • Char
    February 4, 2013

    I played a lot of school sport because club sport was usually on Sunday and Sunday was reserved for church and all things godly. I was a fairly respectable discus thrower but I could never conquer my nerves in competition. Fear of failure was a self-fulfilling prophecy – I wanted success so badly that I always threw well below my best. I still admire athletes who go out and run or throw PBs.

    • Debbish
      February 4, 2013

      I know Char, I admire those who are brave enough to compete in ANYTHING as an individual! My niece does ballet eisteddfods and modelling stuff and I don’t know how she does it!

  • Priska
    February 4, 2013

    I loved all sport when I was young. Both team sport and individual sport such as running, high jump and long jump.
    Like many, I gave up sport during my teens and have not participated in any type of sport since except the odd social game of tennis, squash or golf.
    It amazes me that competing in sport was so deeply imbedded in my younger years, yet now I have no desire whatsoever to compete over anything.
    Good luck with the guest post.

    • Debbish
      February 4, 2013

      I’m a bit like that, though I think the anorexia and obsessiveness ruined it for me. I remember being invited to train / trial for a State bball team when I was at Uni and the idea of windsprints (suicide runs) was too much for me even to think about… though when I’d trained for a similar team previously the fitness played such a little role. But – days and days of obsessive training just meant that there was too much baggage for me!

      I did play some bball and netball as a young adult, but supposedly informally!

  • Marion
    February 4, 2013

    Hi Deb! You owe it to yourself to get over losing and making mistakes. You need to lose badly in a tennis match and then face it. And then, ask that person for a re-match knowing that you could probably lose again.

    Think about it. You’ve given yourself 0% chance of being a winner if you refuse to play, for fear of being a loser. Being a loser or making mistakes is far better than never being in the game. So just be brave. You’re a big enough person to handle it.

    🙂 Marion

    • Debbish
      February 4, 2013

      Hmmm…. not so sure about that Marion… but, having said that I don’t really ‘play’ anything now. Getting to the gym is enough of a challenge at the moment! (Which is disappointing!)

  • Jo Tracey
    February 4, 2013

    This resonates too loudly. I never played team sports because I couldn’t bear the thought of being so crap that I’d let the team down- but it wasn’t the team I was worried about letting down, I was more worried then that people other than me would know how crap I was.

    • Debbish
      February 4, 2013

      Playing netball after the period of time I mentioned in my post was hard. I was a shooter and so stressed if I ever missed a goal and would constantly be apologising to my teammates. I ended up switching to a wing attack position to avoid the stress of shooting! (And ever failing!)

  • @Kanga_Rue
    February 4, 2013

    I have nothing particularly useful to say.other than *hugs*


    • Debbish
      February 4, 2013

      Thanks. x

  • Lou Lou
    February 4, 2013

    I didn’t do sports, I only did music and didn’t mind a bit of competition. Everyone else in my family did sports, I just never got the knack or love for it. I’m so sorry to read that you have stuggled for so long with this issue, I truly hope you find some peace with it soon. P.S Love the car!

    • Debbish
      February 4, 2013

      Lou Lou, fortunately sports haven’t been an issue for a long time as I’ve not tried to play anything! (Easily fixed!!!)

      Re the car, I know… he was my first car – bought by my parents when I was at Uni – and his name was Bevan. He blew up a few years later and I traded him in. Bright yellow with black interiors. Scary!!!

  • jules
    February 4, 2013

    I played softball and was pretty darn good at it. But stopped after middle school. Being picked last and all that other stuff. I played at tennis and got injured quite a bit at being forced to do gymnastics. I don’t like team sports or competition because of the comparisons I end up doing with my self….my part of perfectionism

    That being said…..

    One thing that stands out for me in this post is the fear of losing comments sprinkled throughout. Not being a psychologist or any of that I will just state my thoughts as I am looking at myself through this post. …… Perhaps the eating disorder and the tennis got confused and meshed….if you go back and translate this post substituting “weight” for tennis that psychologist may have been on to something. For just 5 minutes….pick up your tennis racket and swing it around…in your kitchen or dining room…..use it as a weight…and see what happens….xoxo

    • Debbish
      February 5, 2013

      Thanks Jules (suspect I actually threw out my racquet during this last move, but will check!). Yes, I notice the fear of losing thing. I suspect the tennis thing sticks in my mind as it coincided with my weightloss. Perhaps I only started playing as a sly way to get more exercise in (my parents were concerned at the amount I was doing between basketball and endless jumping around my bedroom – dancing!!! – after each meal). And there was lots of skipping as well.


  • Satu
    February 5, 2013

    I have never been one for team sports myself! When I was in senior high school I did ballet, but there are not competitions in it, only shows. What is sad is that I think I quit writing in my teens mostly because I was so ambitious and put such demands on myself that it wasn’t fun anymore.

    I hope you didn’t exhaust all your tales yet! 🙂

    • Debbish
      February 5, 2013

      Definitely not Satu – loads more tales! It occurs to me lately that my fear of failure / not succeeding is still rife. I had this aim I’d try to make money from freelance writing etc but haven’t done a thing about pitching ideas to anyone and I haven’t approached anyone about partnerships or writing for them. Again… the fear of failure / rejection is too strong!

  • KCLAnderson (Karen)
    February 5, 2013

    I didn’t do ANY sports because I didn’t like them (especially team sports). Back in my day there wasn’t a lot of emphasis on gymnastics (like there is today) but I loved doing gymnastics in my backyard. I often wonder what might have happened if I was able to take a class…knowing myself, and how insecure and unconfident I was, I probably wouldn’t have done very well.

    • Debbish
      February 5, 2013

      I wonder if exercising by yourself helped you today – as it seems you are happy to get your kettlebells and work away, whereas I’m still dependent on others to get me to exercise. (Group classes may be like team sports in my little mind!)

  • Curt K. Obrien
    February 16, 2013

    When you think of team sports, do you stop with baseball, soccer, basketball, and football? These may be the big four, but they’re really just a small part of the wide, wide world of team competition. The good news is, you don’t have to be a whiz at hitting home runs or scoring touchdowns to have fun with, or get great benefits from, team sports.

I'd love to hear your thoughts