I grew up confident that I was bad at sports. Specifically, that I was unathletic, awkward, uncoordinated, and easily fatigued. I heard it from the gym teachers who wouldn’t let me use the bathroom because they assumed that I was just trying to get out of class. I heard it from my peers. I heard it from myself.
And to be fair, my gym teachers, my peers, and I weren’t totally off the mark. When I asked to go to the bathroom during gym, I was just trying to get out of class. In middle school, I walked the presidential-inspired, school-mandated mile jog test—and did it backwards, just to be a little shit about it.
But ultimately, I was wrong. Not to believe that I was bad at sports, but to believe that whether I was bad mattered. Because sports can actually be really fun, even if you’re bad at them. Especially if you’re bad at them. If, like me, you’re a perfectionist in other areas of your life, permission to be terrible at something can feel like freedom.
That’s why I cannot overstate what a transcendent experience it is for me to quiet my mind, tune into my body, strap a snowboard to my feet and a helmet to my skull, and spend hours falling down the side of a mountain. But I don’t just want you to know that I’m a terrible snowboarder—I want you to understand that you can be one too. Here’s how I picked up a fun new hobby that I am delightfully awful at.
Let your whims be your guide.
My initial foray into the world of sports was rowing. I was in my first year of college, and a stranger turned to me at the end of a class and said, “You’re tall. Meet me at the gym tomorrow at 5 a.m.” The fact that I went is a testament to the incredible loneliness of the first year of college, and to the power of random whim.
Rowing turned out to be cold, wet, painful, and exhausting. Somehow, I loved it immediately. In fact, I enjoyed myself so much that I went back the next day, and the day after that, and somehow by my senior year I was cocaptain of arguably the worst DIII varsity rowing team the NCAA has ever seen (go Gryphons!). Trying out rowing altered my understanding of myself, for the better. I no longer understood my relationship with athletics through the simplistic binary of “good” vs “bad.” I had never expected to succeed, so the standards of achievement that ordinarily governed my experience of an activity simply didn’t apply. I realized I could just enjoy a sport.
Six years later, a couple of friends asked if I wanted to take a day trip to a nearby mountain and learn how to snowboard. Sure, by that point I had developed an improbable and fierce love for a sport—but rowing consisted of sitting in one spot and doing the exact same motion over and over again. I was still unathletic, awkward, uncoordinated, and easily fatigued. Also important to consider was the fact that snowboarding seemed like a new type of cold, wet, painful, and exhausting.