Yesterday my grandson played his last T-ball game of his first season. At four-years-old, Baker has shown an amazing ability to concentrate when they’re in the field, hit the coach’s pitches, and run the bases tagging each one. Watching his team, I’ve been impressed at how skilled they are to have played for such a short time. I don’t remember the same kind of gains when my sons were little and playing on their first teams. The familiarity and access to activities and skill development has really increased over the years– just like advances in all areas.
Now, on some of the teams, there are girl players. It was easy to spot them in their pink batter’s helmets, hair in pony tails and trailing down their backs. Girls’ sports have come a long ways.
When I was young, it was quite a different story. Living in our small Southern town in the sixties, there were no sports for girls and we were never included on boys’ teams. I had a short stint playing Rec League basketball when I was in middle school and then was on a women’s softball team the summer after I finished high school. It was formed by Lee County Hospital where I worked as a nursing assistant to see if I wanted to major in nursing in college.
My experience before that was playing softball in my yard with family or neighbors and an occasional church game during the week of Vacation Bible School. I’d never owned a glove until that senior summer when I learned how to use the bulky thing instead of catching with my bare hands. Our coaching was limited, with some tips on batting and fielding. Somehow, I was put in as a pitcher of what would have definitely been slow-pitch ball–back before women were playing fast-pitch. I mostly remember being coached on getting it in the strike zone–but nothing about technique.
Even on a Rec League team, I felt the pressure of competition for the first time. My stomach was tied in knots before the games as I envisioned myself standing on the mound and messing up. I’d never been one that liked being in the spotlight– at least not for very long. In that position, the players and coaches, the friends and family in the stands, would see every time I threw a pitch.
I wished I had an older brother who’d played sports and would know what I should do to calm my pre-game jitters. My parents hadn’t played so they couldn’t help. Some people would say, “It’s just a game; don’t take it so seriously.” But it was my nature to take things seriously, especially competition; I just wasn’t equipped for it.
I showed up for every practice and worked as hard as I could to use what little the coaches gave us. My Christian faith was important and growing at that time and I prayed for calm before the game, and confidence when I walked onto the mound. One day, I found a scripture that became my “go-to verse” to keep in my head when my anxiety increased as game time approached:
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13
I don’t know what real athletes use to calm themselves; that became my prayer, my mantra that I’d say over and over before the game, and would come to me when gripped by fear on the mound.
Overall, I had a good record and there was only one game when they took me out during a bad inning. I remember being extremely embarrassed because I was placed in the outfield.
These days, with sports psychology and the advances in kids being coached, I suspect girls who come up in a sport learn tricks for how to calm their pre-game jitters. Now that I’m a sixty-seven-year old woman, I don’t expect to be playing on any more teams. But I do expect to encounter situations where I’m anxious, afraid of how things will go. For me, the area that most applies to is the ‘playing field’ of dating– particularly in this new era of the sport– online dating.
How hard it is to find yourself thrust into the single world at a time when you thought you’d be settled into your life. It’s a completely uncertain situation, one where you don’t know the outcome. You’re not prepared; you were never coached in the skills you’ll need to play the game. Those you had when you were a young woman, don’t always apply to the new game of online dating.
You wrestle with the choice of whether or not to sign up for a team– in this case subscribing to an online dating site. Putting on a uniform, posting a profile and pics, means you’re accepting the risks of the game. If you take the route of playing, you’ll be in situations where you’ve had no experience before.
You could choose to sit in the stands and watch the others, living vicariously through them instead of bravely putting on a uniform. That way you can’t embarrass yourself by striking out or being moved from pitching to the outfield.
When you play, you go up to bat and do your best to make contact with the ball. You don’t know what kind of pitches will be thrown–and do your best to keep your eyes on the ball and swing at the right time; but you can still swing and miss, despite your best efforts.
You know there’ll be people in the stands watching, yelling out their cheers, arguing with the umpire’s calls, giving you advice on how and when to swing your bat. All this advice from someone who hasn’t donned a uniform and taken the risk to go after their goal in front of others.
I’ve been speaking in a metaphor of baseball to what has been a very personal experience for me of dating as a baby boomer–predominantly through online acquaintances. I’ve had lots of first ‘meet up’ dates–the coffee at Panera kind; I’ve had a couple of relationships that have lasted longer; and one guy that felt like we had potential for the future.
Recently, when I was trying to figure out how things were going with that guy, I experienced those pre-game jitters that I had at eighteen. I questioned myself with, “How do you handle your anxiety while staying in the game?” We had things to discuss that were uncomfortable and what I really wanted to do was run away– but I needed to stay present. Unlike when I was eighteen, I realize that lots of situations in life produce anxiety–especially if you don’t have complete control, or you’re taking a risk and trying something new.
I remembered back to that verse in Philippians and how it had helped me. Eventually as I was sitting outside, gathering myself before he and I would talk, the only verse that came to me was the first sentence of the 23rd Psalm:
“The Lord is my Shepherd I shall now want” and the word “want” refers to “lack.”
I started repeating
“The Lord is my Shepard, I shall not lack ___________ “and filled in the blank with all that my anxiety was producing in me at that moment:
“I shall not lack confidence to handle this situation”
“I shall not lack the right response to him.“
“I shall not lack love and care.”
I kept repeating this until I felt more calm and in control. Finally, I was ready to be present in our conversation and not run away, to face the unpleasant. Part of relationships, whether they last or they end, is to talk about things openly and honestly. This is true whether it’s the guy you’re with through online dating sites or the proverbial guy you happen to meet in the produce section of the grocery.
We had our conversation; it was difficult but necessary. I stayed in the game even though it was a rough inning. I’m learning that even if your heart is broken, you have to get up, dust it off, and go back into the game. While it hurts for a while, it’s better to be fully alive and playing on a team than watching safely from the stands.
I like to think that I’m like those girls playing baseball today; I’ve learned the skills to play with the boys and not be daunted by fear, to play with grit and eventually be rewarded. Now, we’re the
“Girls of Summer” taking on a sport that was dominated by guys and now we have the confidence to play, too.