Sunday, December 23, 2007

Starting to think about sport.

I know very little about sport. Two years ago my New Year's resolution was to enjoy playing backyard sports for a healthy body and to avoid passing my sporting neuroses on to my kids. Today, in Sean's parents' backyard, I threw a Frisbee and played badminton and volleyball, Hazel played cricket. I didn't play cricket because I got anxious and I didn't feel I knew how to join in. I'm getting there; I enjoy backyard sports and my children do too but the neuroses aren't yet all gone. Besides, I wanted to play badminton; I'd suddenly remembered absolutely loving the shuttlecock floating over my cousins' backyard in 1983's English summer.

As I spend more of my scarce and precious time playing Ultimate Frisbee my analytical mind starts to try to understand sport; I know very little about sport so I'm doing research.

"What's sport for?" I asked the athletic-looking young man at Sean's work's Christmas do. He replied with a sharp smile, sparkling eyes, and declarative certainty "winning."
"But how can that be? What's good about winning?" I asked.
"Oh, winning's not good. Winning's a vice."
I think he's got something there, but it's not the only thing.

The next day Housemonkey said perhaps I should read this, and until I finished it I found it hard to do anything else, "this" is The Meaning of Sport by Simon Barnes. Among other things, Simon Barnes is the Chief Sportswriter for the Times. He, who happens to have spent most of his working life writing stories he finds in sport, thinks that sport manufactures the need for people to call upon extremes of character, all the better for making stories out of. I love stories and before I played Ultimate my favourite sport was cricket. Cricket is very heavy on the stories and a test takes long enough to tell quite a few.

Barnes also thinks sport is metaphorical and mammalian. Team sports are metaphorical battles, one-on-one sports are metaphorical duels, and races are metaphors about predators and prey. The thesis for which I was awarded my MA was called Mimesis and Make-believe: How We Use Art, and one of the things I wrote in it which I still think true is that other creatures play make-believe. Barnes's mammalian sports and my animal make-believe are the same phenomenon: pouncing on string and other kitten's tails, batting newspaper about, play-fighting. Other mammals' sports are about hunting and dominance whether they are make-believe, metaphorical or both.

At the moment, what I love best about Ultimate is that it can occupy my whole being; a lot of the time that I am on the field I am not multi-tasking at all, I am not even directing my thinking. My self is wholly present in the moment, senses and understandings united; intuiting and acting in a dynamic and embodied way. To be so concentrated is utterly luxurious, mystical and animal, it is how I am when I am pushing a baby out, when I orgasm, and the more of the game I can do it for the better I play.

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Blogger Matt said...

I think, for me, there is something sublime and beautiful about team sports in particular. My standout moments from tuesdays games where when I played really well, but my part was just one link in a chain of good play by my team.

A few weeks ago I put out a piece of brilliant play catching a high and long pass in the endzone looking into the sun. This was good, but it stands out less than the plays on tuesday that required real connection and understanding between team members to score the point.

I have very little interest in playing or watching solo sports. I enjoy watching sports in general, but I much prefer team sports. There is nothing like a good game of cricket or rugby. People individually brilliant coming together to produce something bigger and better than themselves. They would not shine as brightly alone.

I get your feeling of zenlike focus in playing ultimate. It's great. And it's wonderful when it connects with other peoples zenlike focus.

11:30 AM  

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