Monday, September 19, 2011

Shoot to Score

When I ask, Olivia says she thinks she’s been playing soccer for four, maybe five years. Five years, her mother, Jane, clarifies. So Olivia (Liv to most everyone) has been playing soccer for half her life (and maybe it ought to count for more, since for at least the first eighteen months of her potential soccer playing life she wasn’t yet walking).

Liv plays a lot of soccer. Last spring, for example, she played on a club team that practiced for an hour and a half on Tuesday, Friday and Saturdays, played games Sundays, and had what’s called academy practices on Monday and Wednesdays (of which Liv was only required to attend one, but always attended both). Her own hour and a half practices and extra academies were apparently not quite enough, because on Tuesdays her younger brother’s team’s academy practice was before hers, and Liv would play with them for that hour and a half, too. For the record, Jane wanted me to add this important not-a-tiger-mum-disclaimer: All add-on practices are at Liv’s behest.

One of Liv’s favourite add-ons is when there’s a scrimmage between the girls and boys teams. “The games get stronger and more physical when the girls play the boys,” Jane says. “Like if we really want it,” Liv says, “we have to put more power into the ball, and be more aggressive. So we’re everywhere, running fast, dribbling, passing and taking more shots on goal.” Like having the confidence to race Nascar rules in Ski Cross, the girls’ game goes up a level when they face off with the boys, an opportunity for the girls to show themselves just how much game they’ve got.

All the playing has paid off. Liv’s good. She plays on the best club team for her age. In the summers though there’s no club team, so Liv participates in the local soccer camp. And it was there this summer that Liv’s commitment to and understanding of her sport was tested in a new way.

The girls were playing Around the World, a fast moving drill that mimics game conditions and tests a player’s ability to shoot on goal from different angles. Girls rotated in and out of the goal keeping position, as they chose. Liv was up and took her shot on goal. June, the goalie, a Hope-Solo-in-training, tried to block Liv’s ball with her wrist and broke the growth plate in her wrist. Or at least, that’s what Liv learned later. At the time, June stopped playing, but the no one knew how serious her injury was.

The next day, neither June, nor her older sister, Martha (a friend of Liv’s) showed up to soccer camp. And when Liv called Martha, to ask if she’d come over to play, Martha said she was going to the doctor with her mother and June, to check out June’s wrist, which was probably broken, maybe from soccer camp. Liv hung up the phone and dissolved in tears, telling Jane, “I KNOW I broke June’s wrist.” Jane called June’s mother immediately, to confirm the story.

Despite Liv’s distress at the phone call, later that day, Liv went over to Martha’s for a sleepover, and June acted as if everything was fine between them. It wasn’t until the next morning that things got strange and uncomfortable. At the swimming pool with Liv and Martha and her cousins, June started to act like her broken wrist was Liv’s fault, after all.

Even if it’s been a long time since you were ten-years old (as in my own case), I bet that, like me, you can still remember at a cellular level the pain of being shunned by other girls, no matter how brief the moment. Hell hath no fury and all, well that applies equally to girls as to women. I would not wish it on anyone.

Liv retreated to her mother’s side to recoup her mojo, and Jane recommended she text her club team soccer coach, Noah.

Noah has coached Liv’s club teams for the past two years. His philosophy is to coach the whole person, not just the athlete, and he well understands the leadership and independence he is instilling in his young soccer athletes (his “little warriors” as he calls them), particularly the girls. One of his practice (and game) rules is that a player is never supposed to say, “I’m sorry” on the field, during play. Something I can imagine girls having trouble with, since we’re socialized to apologize for any aggression. After all, a proper girl isn’t aggressive, right? Ha.

An aside, Natalie Angier offers up this perspective, in her book, Woman: An Intimate Geography, “Aggression and depression sound like two different, even polarized phenomena, but they’re not. Depression is aggression turned inward, directed against the self, or the imagined, threatening self.” So perhaps one reason for the significantly higher incidences of depression in women is our propensity to apologize for any aggressive tendencies we might accidentally manifest, say, on the soccer field.

Of course, the girls on Noah’s team can say sorry afterwards, but so long as they are playing clean and fair, there’s no apologizing mid-flight for the accidental hurts inflicted. It’s sports. It happens. Noah’s rule saves a lot of time and breath.

Liv texted Noah that she had taken a shot on goal and broken the goalie’s arm, asking him what she ought to do. Noah texted back, “Get her an ice pack,” and then, “Can’t wait to see you strike the ball when you get back [for the club team season].”

Word got around the soccer camp community about the incident. One coach said to Jane, “If Olivia were a boy, she would have been hoisted on the other boys’ shoulders.” But another coach made a backhand comment to Liv about breaking June’s arm.

Liv has had some bad moments, though once she’d texted with Noah, she never revisited any guilt or uncertainty about her blamelessness. That was solidly past tense. She’s glad, too, that the summer soccer camp doesn’t overlap with the club team, so its unlikely the story will get around the gossip mill. It’s just easier if she doesn’t have to answer, “You broke her arm, really? Was it by accident?” And she is sure of this: “I felt bad, because June was hurt, but it wasn’t my fault.”

Liv says the incident won’t hold her back in her game. Three cheers! That’s playing soccer like a girl.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Workout With Purpose

We workout for all sorts of reasons—maybe we do it to de-stress, or to lose weight, to get stronger, or to be healthy, or for all those ends and others. All good reasons, but beneath this first layer of forces driving us out onto the roads or trails, into the pool, to the yoga studio, or the gym, resides a sub-layer that is the deeper core of meaning we bring with us into everything we do. That is: we nurture our physical, emotional and spiritual health, so that we can live our best life.

As integrative physician Tieraona Low Dog, MD, of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona in Tucson, said in an article in Delicious Living, “When you make health the goal rather than viewing it as a resource, it’s easy to get stressed out, rigid, and narrow-minded. Health is what helps you live the life you want—it’s a resource, not a destination. (my italics)” She is talking about the negative stress we can bring to the very act of working out. For example, working out to get thinner, and beating ourselves up every day we’re not thin enough (never mind, by what media-mediated standard we might be judging the result); or working out to get stronger or faster, but in the process actually wearing ourselves down and getting super-cranky.

I would take this resource-not-destination thought another step further, and point out that if you are inclined to feel that we are here for a purpose, and that part of our raison d’ĂȘtre is to make the world a better place (after all, what else could it be? Certainly not to make the world a worse place, right? Besides, what better way to feel that we have agency in our lives, than making a difference in our world), then having the resource of our good health and well being is a key ingredient in our ability to fulfill our purpose.

Pilar Gerasimo, in her Manifesto for Thriving in a Mixed-Up World, goes further still. She says that being healthy is a revolutionary act by which we reclaim our vitality that is both our individual right and our collective responsibility. Big words those—“right” and “responsibility.”


How we are in the world matters. How we approach our workouts is just one aspect of how we are in our lives. Not a separate aspect, mind you. We are one person, consistent within ourselves at our essential center.

Lest this all sound a bit high-minded and unattainable, I’m not talking about becoming Gandhi, quite the contrary. I am referring to the small things, the every day things. Most action we take has the power to make the world a better or worse place. How we treat the people around us. Did you smile at the barista when you got you’re a.m. coffee? Or were you scowling for your caffeine, your mind already hours ahead into your day? The very energy we bring to our life affects those around us, and ripples outward. You know what I’m talking about—those people who make you feel good, just by being around them (and their opposites). And when we are strong and healthy, how much more likely it is that we have that positive energy to spread around. That’s who we want to be. And in the end, that’s really why we workout.

Sounds heavy. But in fact, adopting this perspective can bring an incredible lightness to your workouts. Instead of feeling the pressure of the goals you may have set for yourself (that you may be fixating on, or beating yourself up about), you are lifted in the updraft of energy that purpose creates.

You can also find this on Huffington Post.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Vote, Run, Lead

I was privileged to meet with dynamo activist Tiffany Dufu this morning, whose bracingly organized mind and big ideas on women's leadership had me glued to my chair while she talked. And I tried not to interrupt too much with questions and my own views on how sports fit with her flow.

Tiffany is the President of The Whitehouse Project, which, as you may now guess, means the "run" in the title of the blog post does not refer to the kind of run I'm usually talking about...but have no fear, I'll bring it all together (the function of my somewhat one-track mind). The Whitehouse Project has for the past decade, through its Vote, Run, Lead program, identified, encouraged, educated, trained and generally set women on their way in politics. New initiatives coming will focus on leadership in other key arenas, like business.

One of the difficulties women face on entering politics is their often innate (genetic? socialized?) aversion to public declarations of ambition. Not just, "I want to do this." But also, "I'm the best person to do this." As Tiffany said, it's as if women believe in the Santa Claus of affirmation, like somehow if we do a good job someone will notice and pat us on the back, without us ever having to call attention to our efforts. We know how well that works out. Where is that Santa guy?

Politics teaches women how to own their ambitions. And if you've read my blog before, you probably already know where I'm going with this. But I'll go there anyway. So does sports. There, I said it, again. Because we're not out of the woods, and reminding is reinforcing, until owning our ambition is encoded into our very DNA. Sports (and involvement in politics) helps shift our consciousness from "maybe someone will notice me over here, tucked in the corner," to "here I am and I want this."

You can vote, run (for office), lead, or you can vote, run (on the roads or trails), lead. The important part is to know, own and capitalize on your strength. That means putting your skin in the game (i.e. vote), owning your strength (i.e. run) and mining the value of your strength (i.e. lead). We're here for a reason (here as in, on this earth, in this world). Let's not waste our time waiting for Santa to show.