Sports We Learn to Play & Live

Perspective makes a huge difference.  Most men get their attitudes towards sports from their fathers.  As boys, Dad is the first, safe, ball-playing partner.  As babies, we learn to track a rolling ball with awkward, sometimes amused, unfamiliar, jerky head and eye movements.  At some point, Dad encourages us in high-pitched, baby talk, big smiles, gentle hands, giant gestures, by rolling the ball towards himself, and closing his hands on the ball in broad, wide, exaggerated pincer movements.

Then the light goes on.  We try to copy him.  Wobbly little fingers reach behind, miss, deflect, miss, and finally connect with the ball, grasping it swiftly to our eager mouths, inspecting it for edibility, like everything else at that age.

Once we discover, with some curious disappointment, and numerous bad tasting attempts, that this round thing is not good to eat, we find out its true purposes – toy, play, fun, and time with Dad.  Boys would never learn the skills they need to practice and play without their Dads.

Much of growing up as a boy relates to balls.  Nothing surprising about this, as balls connect us to our earliest ancestors’ relationships with eggs, skulls, bladders, and rocks.  Balls to roll, balls to throw, balls to catch, balls to dodge, balls to bounce, balls to kick, balls to hit with one kind of stick or another, balls to hit other balls, balls to run with.  Big balls, little balls, hard balls, soft balls, pellets, and even balls that are not round, like footballs and rugby balls.

Aside from natural sports, like wrestling, fighting, racing, catching, and spearing, almost every other “sport” involves a ball variant, (e.g. I consider a hockey puck a flat-earth-equivalent of a ball;).  Sports are mostly derived from instinctive self-defense, and evolved hunting/fishing skills. Team sports grow from coordinated hunting/fishing efforts.  Boys learn how to play as part of a team when their Dads show them the power and fun of coordinated efforts in sports.

Until our recent era, spectators were limited in number and influence; pretty much participants only. Sports “reporting” started as the successful hunter/fisher displaying the game/prize, bragging about prowess, belittling the losers; the unsuccessful quietly moaning excuses, and looking for a rematch.

The paucity of witnesses to most events led to plenty of fireside tale telling, and retelling embellished, detailed descriptions of heroic sacrifices, powerful portrayals of excruciating pain, encounters of life-threating dangers, frightening exploits, arguments about winners, extended “if only’s,” and “if it hadn’t been for’s,” bets and guesses on next time, and other highly imaginative exaggerations.  Today, a large part of male friendship still lies in the modern versions of these rapport-building exchanges.  Sons still need to learn the important, intimate skills and secrets of play and sports from their Dads.  So, let’s “Play Ball!”

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