I have an announcement to make. I'm not an athlete. Try not to reel in shock. Organized sports and I have an uneasy relationship but I have learned to appreciate some of them. Once upon a time I hated baseball but I've come to enjoy it. I wrote all about that here. Isaac missed last year's baseball season to knee surgery. I was looking forward to watching his games this year...and then he opted not to go out for the high school team. He still loves baseball. I think being a catcher still makes him happy. Unfortunately, our local high school coach is well known as being...um...well the words necessary to describe him are ones my other would not approve of. Pretty much there is no one who really has anything nice to say about him. I can't blame Isaac for not wanting to play for this guy. It made me sad because there are so many boys who just love the sport, have heart and skill, and opt not to play because they just can't bear this man who is such an epic horse's ass (sorry, Mom, they were the nicest words I could find and sorry to all the horse's asses out there who were just insulted by the comparison). Sadly, the same coach more or less runs the town leagues for the same age group.
Isaac was determined to be on a sports team though so he went out for the track and field team. If you've been reading at all you know he's been a high jumper this year. My exposure to this sport had been more or less limited to watching Olympic coverage every four years so I am hardly knowledgeable. Nonetheless, I was eager to attend meets and watch the boy compete. What I found in a pretty short period of time is that there is a lot to like about this sport. I was rather surprised by how easy it was to enjoy. Allow me to share.
First of all, it's pretty straightforward. The athlete who jumps highest, runs fastest, or throws farthest wins. I like that. It's uncomplicated. (Yes, I know once you get to collegiate and world class levels steroid abuse is a pretty ugly aspect but I'm talking about Varsity sports in Elk Snout, Pennsylvania.) The action isn't buried under layer upon layer of inscrutable regulations. Well, he ran faster/threw farther/jumped higher but we are penalizing him for so many yards/seconds/points because he did it on a Tuesday before 5pm and hadn't passed laterally to a player named after his father's neighbor's uncle who was wearing a blue jersey. What??? Naw. He ran faster and crossed the finish line first. Period. He jumped higher than the others did. End of discussion. He threw the javelin, discus, or shot put farther than everyone else did. No ifs ands or buts. I like being able to watch a sport and not have to wonder why some official made a particular decree or why the action stopped or what on earth they are doing.
I'm also rather fond of the elegance of the sport. Yep, there is a lot of ungainly flailing about among some of the less skilled athletes, but God bless 'em, they are out there still chugging along. Among the truly skilled though there is some real poetry in motion and a spectator can see it clearly because it isn't a contact sport. The action isn't cluttered up by elbows crashing into noses and helmets cracking ribs. The grace of a good hurdler seems effortless. The arc of a pole vaulter is nearly a slo-mo play. The rhythms of a discus thrower are like watching an orchestral conductor. A seamless hand-off of a baton in a relay is a beautiful rhythm. There's a lot of finesse to eke out the winning inches or seconds in a given event.
Next, I like that even though you're on a team you generally compete as an individual. Granted, for me, playing a team sport is a horror. My athletically declined self has been berated too many times by skilled people who had the misfortune of enduring my incompetence while on the same team. When I was required to fill a PE requirement in college one of my criteria for choosing was "no team sports." Of course, an individual competitor affects the overall team score at a track meet but unless you're part of a relay team you're competing by yourself. It's a different and interesting dynamic. You stand or fall on your own efforts. There is no blaming someone else for goofing up a play. And even if the rest of the team does poorly but you win your event you can still have that success recognized.
I also appreciate that the athletes all compete. If you make the team you're not going to end up sitting on a bench the whole season hoping you finally get a chance to play in some game that doesn't matter. Yes, there is a lot of sitting around waiting for your event but you're going to be participating when your event comes around. Even that waiting between events seems to lead to...
...a terrific camaraderie. I am a people watcher so when Isaac isn't competing I like to watch not only the other events but the kids and coaches who are "in holding." I like what I see. There is a lot of stretching and preparing going on but there's also a lot of cheering on of team members. I know that's not unique to track and field. Any type of sports team worth existing consists of members who support each other from the sidelines. I see kids from one event acting as cheerleaders for kids in another event and later being on the receiving end of the cheering. I also see teammates helping each other refine technique as they prepare for events. It doesn't have to be a coach who is overseeing the warm-up and prep. More experienced team members are helping the others by offering their feedback on form and how to improve it. In between all the events there is an intriguing window into the workings of the team behind the scenes.
The aspect I was most pleasantly surprised by though was watching the co-ed meets. Of course the boys don't compete against the girls but I liked seeing them on the same field at the same time as they alternated events and esteemed each other's efforts. There isn't some stupid set of gender roles where girls in itty bitty skirts get tossed around in the air for the sake of some overgrown boys bashing each other in. (Yeah, ask me how I really feel about football and cheerleading...) I have seen a boy in a field event ask if he could delay a jump for a moment to watch and cheer a female teammate as she crossed the finish line in a race then shout victoriously to celebrate her win just before going on to place quite respectably in his own event. I've heard other boys speak admiringly of what "beasts" some of the girls on the team are...beast being a description of athletic prowess rather than esthetic attributes. I had already decided I enjoyed watching the sport for the other things it offered but when I saw it building respect between the boys and the girls I was sold.