As a kid I was always active, but I was never great at traditional sports (basketball, soccer, volleyball, baseball, etc.). Up until high school I ran cross country, and along the way I also tried dance, kickball, cheerleading (don’t judge me; you can’t hate me any more than I hate myself), karate, ice skating, and nose-picking (technically it was soccer, but I was four years old and always stuck in goal, so I usually focused my attention on the art of booger hunting instead of the game).
Soccer at its finest.
Finally, in high school I was introduced to lacrosse, and I fell in love with it. I played for all four years of high school and for three years at my university’s club team. I didn’t play during my senior year of college, and I miss it terribly. Unfortunately I haven’t found any post-collegiate teams close to me in the Midwest, and lacrosse in France is practically non-existent.
This gentleman has offered to pantomime throwing a lacrosse ball back and forth with me. Merci bien, asshole.
Although I’m not playing lacrosse these days, I’ve realize that I’ve learned a number of life lessons simply by playing the game. I’m not talking about the obvious things that you learn by playing any team sport (the importance of communication, “you’re only as strong as your weakest link”, etc.). I’m talking about lessons that apply in a much broader context. For example, lacrosse is how I figured out:
1. Sometimes you’re going to be treated unfairly. Deal with it.
I played defense for seven years, so it didn’t take long for me to learn this lesson. In women’s lacrosse, there are approximately 57,000 ways you can commit a foul, and about 144,000 ways that players on offense can make it look like you fouled them. Hyperboles aside, if you have played defense in any sport, I’m sure you can attest this verity of this statement.
Here are a few examples:
– I once got called for “tripping” a player, even though she tripped herself and I was at least three feet away from her.
– In lacrosse “checking” is when you hit the head of another player’s stick with the head of your stick to knock the ball out of her pocket; however you can only do this if the player has the ball. I once checked the ball out of a girl’s stick, and the referee whistled me for “empty checking”… even though she was on the other side of the field and we were facing away from her.
– Checks to the head are not allowed (for obvious reasons), and they are rewarded with a nice shiny yellow card. I’ve witnessed my fair share of players get hit in the head through no fault but their own… and yep, the defensive player got the Golden Ticket to the sidelines.
[Note for aspiring lacrosse players: when you accidentally run into an opponent and/or her stick, the trick is to immediately grab your head, wait for the ref to blow her whistle, then fall sobbing to the ground in a crumpled heap. Pathetic, and highly effective.]
Your face should look like this.
Again, when you play defense your entire life you get used to unfair accusations of foul play. You know what doesn’t help? Arguing with the referee.
One time my teammate was given a yellow card, and she was so pissed she threw her stick to the ground. The referee immediately apologized for his error and gave her possession of the ball.
Just kidding. The ref changed upgraded her yellow card to a red card and she was sidelined for the rest of the game.
You will NEVER see a referee take back a call in lacrosse. Sometimes it’s an honest mistake, and sometimes the designated arbitrator of your game is Ray Charles.
Justice is blind, and so is your referee.
And that’s fine, because sometimes in life you will be treated unfairly, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Accept it and move on.
2. You don’t have to like someone to respect him/her.
During my junior year of college, my team drove three hours to a school in the Midwest commonly known to all as “JCrew U”. When we first saw the JCrew U club, we rolled our eyes; they were sporting high ponytails with ribbons, faces caked with thick black makeup, and Jersey Shore-style orangutans (not actual orangutans; I combined the words “orange” and “tan” because I honestly don’t know what color Snooki is).
Snooki, Jionni, and future offspring.
The JCrew U lacrosse team kicked our asses to next Tuesday.
Seriously, it wasn’t even a close game; the final score was 0-19. Let me tell you, there is nothing worse than getting a sound butt-whooping delivered to you by a pack of beauty queens. I know many people consider lacrosse preppy (and they wouldn’t be totally wrong), but the women who play lacrosse are not princesses. Yes, we wear skirts; no, we’re not afraid to get them dirty. At least that’s what I used to think, before overhearing JCrew U’s players gabbing about their pre-game team tanning sessions.
Just imagine this girl whipping you and you’ll understand my crippling depression.
Alas, as much as it sickens me to say this, I respect the game they played.
Okay, maybe I’m a teeny bit resentful they scored 19 times when our offense touched the ball about three times the whole game, but still, I have to admire their intensity. Sometimes, your opponent is just better than you, and I’ve learned to humbly respect the players who kick my butt, even if I’m seething on the inside.
3. Men and women are different, but neither gender is superior.
I don’t know much about men’s lacrosse. I know that players wear helmets and pads, and defensive players have sticks that are 6 feet long. Men’s sticks also have deep pockets (women’s do not). I don’t know the rules of men’s lacrosse, but after watching a few games hearing it referred to as “football with sticks” did not surprise me much.
Despite having virtually no knowledge of men’s lacrosse, I spent the majority of my playing years telling anyone who listened that “playing men’s lacrosse didn’t require talent, just the ability to beat the crap out of other players”. When others would suggest that women’s lacrosse was too boring, slow-paced, or complicated to enjoy, I was immediately defensive. In fact, I would even argue that it’s not our fault that we have so many rules and penalties, and lament that we weren’t allowed to be as aggressive as male lacrosse players. You know, even though being aggressive is just beating the crap out of each other and requires no skill whatsoever (sheepish grin).
It only recently dawned on me that men’s and women’s lacrosse shouldn’t be defined by their contrasts. In men’s lacrosse, the game is pretty simple, and a lot more brutal. In women’s lacrosse, there are a lot of rules, so instead of just “playing the game”, a whistle is blown every thirty seconds so that we ladies can all analyze the situation at length, and discuss how to prevent it in the future. Does that mean male players are just brutes looking to break some hearts skulls? Does that mean women’s lacrosse players are weak, so they need a thousand rules to protect them from getting hurt?
Women’s lacrosse may have a thousand rules, but not helmets. Goggles are basically the same thing though, right?
Of course not. Regardless of gender, any athlete who plays lacrosse has to be tough (Also, you really shouldn’t drop the ball). Beyond those two things, the overlap between men’s and women’s lacrosse is slim. But why does it matter how the game differs? I wasted a lot of time bashing men’s lacrosse- something I knew very little about- because on a subconscious level I felt that if I supported men’s lacrosse, it would devalue women’s version of the game.
Being proud of your womanhood doesn’t mean you have to burn your bra (kudos if you do, I guess). In the same vein, being honest about your manhood doesn’t mean you’re misogynistic. I’ve finally learned that it’s healthier to accept and embrace our differences than to claim inferiority or superiority. Duh, right?
Guys, don’t deny it- I know you’ve made WNBA jokes. Knock it off
unless it’s hilarious.
4. Passion is more important than natural talent.
As I said before, I was never very good at popular sports. I think part of the reason I kept trying new activities was my wishful thinking that I would discover my own untapped talent. For a long time, I had a negative attitude about my athletic ability because I didn’t think I had any natural talent, and I had started some sports too late to play catch up (in grade school if you hadn’t started playing volleyball or basketball by fourth grade, you could kiss any hope of making a decent team goodbye).
The beauty of being introduced to lacrosse in the Midwest is that the sport had only recently gained serious popularity in the area. I didn’t go into my first practice with fantasies about being an all-star (my parents wisely bought the cheapest lacrosse stick available because they weren’t sure I would stick with this sport any longer than ballet or karate). For the first time, however, I didn’t feel self-conscious about how “bad” I was because everyone was starting at square one.
[Note: You can always spot a rookie in lacrosse because frankly, they just look awkward. Cradling- the art of keeping the ball in your stick without dropping it or getting checked- is something that takes a lot of practice and patience to finally do right.]
Definitely a rookie; the head of her stick is facing the wrong way.
Letting go of my insecurity that “I’m not athletic” allowed me to not only fall in love with lacrosse, but get pretty damn good at it, too. Lacrosse taught me that if you want to get good at something, practice your ass off and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Once you give yourself an honest shot at success, you may be pleasantly surprised by the results.
For example, last year my friend begged me to play a soccer game as a substitute for her intramural team. I laughed in her face but finally agreed to do it on the condition that I would play defense. I had a blast that game, and remembered feeling shocked at how well I played (I didn’t even pick my nose!). I was no Mia Hamm, but I didn’t let my shortcomings affect my attitude. I played for the same intramural team this spring just for the hell of it.
5. If you’re not having fun, then what’s the point?
The ultimate reason why I quit lacrosse was because I wasn’t having fun. Sure, there were other issues (I needed to get a job; I resented my role as a club officer; the team dynamic was shifting and I didn’t see a future with the new group), but ultimately it came down to the fact that I wasn’t enjoying myself anymore.
I don’t regret my decision. I still love the sport and would pick it up again in a heartbeat, but at the end of my junior year I was burned out. I decided I’d rather opt out than commit half-heartedly. That wouldn’t be fair to my teammates or to me. Besides, I had a blast learning how to ballroom dance and play racquetball during my senior year.
So there you have it; lacrosse has taught me how to shrug off petty injustices, appreciate a good ass-kicking, value gender equality, work my butt off, and enjoy life. What lessons have your activities and hobbies taught you?
Here’s an unflattering picture of me playing lacrosse (photo courtesy of Paul Gitelson). As you can see, I did not partake in pre-game tanning sessions.