Wednesday, June 14, 2006

I'm Sure There's a Life Lesson in Here Somewhere

Whenever I get a chance, I head over to a nearby park to practice my camogie skills. It's a good-sized park, with 2 GAA pitches and ample space around them. The boy teams from my club use the park for their practices and matches, although they often use only one goal post or only part of a pitch. I'm able to peacefully co-exist with them without any difficulties. The dog walkers are okay too, except when someone comes through with an off-leash, ankle-biting, ball-stealing little terrier. But even that is manageable.

Sometimes Peter comes with me, but I also enjoy going by myself. Just a girl, a hurl, an I-Pod shuffle, a couple of sliotars, and a goal post. I'm a long distance runner at heart, so I don't mind practising in isolation. I told Peter once that I have the discipline of an adult but the enthusiasm of a child. I make up drills for myself. I practice hand-passing, left-handed shots, ground hurling, and (of course) putting it over the bar.

Last week, I made an extra effort to practice because we had an open cup semi-final match this past Tuesday. I found that I did best when no one was around. When it was just me, I was relaxed and loose, which greatly increased the chances of my sliotar flying gracefully over the bar. But when a dog-walker or a fellow lone practicer showed up, I would choke. Definitely a bad case of performance anxiety. I'd become greatly self-conscious and whiff easy shots in the worst possible way. In an effort to not look like a fool, I was looking like a fool.

I recognised the pattern and realised that in matches, I was adding unnecessary stress. Having a couple of women with sticks running at you is difficult enough without a freak-out complicating things. I realised I was going to have to relax in the matches and just worry about completing each little part of playing (lift the sliotar, strike it, follow through, figure out where to go next) instead of just thinking "Oh geez, I hope I don't screw up."

So I arrived at the open-cup match ready to practice what I preach, only to find out I wasn't starting. Yes, I was disappointed but also a tiny bit relieved. I'd get to watch the match for awhile, pick up some pointers, and get myself ready to play. It was a brutal match - several of our players got hurt - and although we made a better effort in the second half, we still ended up losing by a lot (like by at least 2 goals and 2 or 3 points). Unfortunately, I didn't get to put my new focusing philosophy into effect as I wasn't subbed in at all.

I'm disappointed, but not bitter. Seriously, when it comes to camogie, I am an irony-free zone. I love the sport and I recognise that my skills need a lot of work. Attitude can get you pretty far, but you need to have the skills to back it up. I'm much improved, but I have a long way to go.

That said, I am a competitive person and I want to start. And if not start, I at least want to be one of the first forward subs. All day at work today, I thought about getting out to the field to practice. I was really looking forward to it. Nothing like having something to prove to provide some motivation.

The day dragged and I had a few things to do before I could get out of the house this evening. But finally, I was at the pitch. I started practising jab-lifts and hand-passes, moving the sliotar up the field until I was in goal range and then taking a shot. I realised pretty quickly that I had a cramp in my left calf, but I kept hoping it would work itself out. I didn't run all-out, but I still kept practising. (Yes, I can be a bit of a stubborn idiot that way but it felt more like a nuisance than anything.)

My relax philosophy was foremost in my mind and it seemed to be working. I even put a left-handed shot over the bar (and I wasn't trying). A good 80% of my hand-passes were solid and I was starting to feel pretty good about things.

Then a group of young fellas crested the hill and settled down within 20 feet of my goal post. At first, I thought they'd come to play soccer since they had a ball with them and what looked like a carrying case of water bottles. I thought it was odd that they were all in different coloured tracksuits. Then I realised that it was just the nightly drinking party that converges on the park in the summer. I resent this usage of the park because the kids leave their trash everywhere and burn bonfires.

I don't like packs of teenagers, especially packs of teenage boys who look like they'd be more at home drinking down the back of the bus. I didn't feel threatened exactly, since there was a match going on at the upper pitch and a practice going on at the other goalpost of my pitch. Plus, you know, I was armed with a weapon. But I did feel very uncomfortable and every fibre of my being screamed that I should just go home.

But I didn't. I put a sliotar over the bar, which had enough oomph on it to make it into the undergrowth that's about 20 feet behind the goal. For about 5 minutes, I looked like a right eejit poking around looking for my sliotar and was about to give up when I found another sliotar. (I already had one, so it's not like losing it would have forced me to go home. I just hate to lose one.) The lads, meanwhile, were settling into the grass and popping open beers.

I put one sliotar over the bar and flubbed the other shot. A few more iterations of this and I knew that I was going to have to confront the elephant in the room. I walked over to the boys and asked them if I was keeping them from playing soccer. They said I wasn't and I said, "fair enough" and went back to my practicing.

For about twenty minutes, I got to practice both my camogie skills and my new relax philosophy in front of some of Dublin's finest al fresco drinkers. It was fine for the first bit, since it was just the lads, but then a couple of girls showed up. You know how these things go, girls mean you have to impress and how better to impress than to taunt someone who's trying to do something that requires hand-eye co-ordination.

When I felt like I'd made my point to myself and my calf was at the point that I couldn't really ignore it, I changed back into my shoes and then went home. It felt like a tiny moral victory.


At 15 June 2006 at 09:06, Blogger Fence said...

Pity you didn't get playing, and that you lost. But well done on practising through the audience.
Having people watch while you try to learn is always irritating, and off-putting.

At 15 June 2006 at 11:21, Blogger Declan said...

Yeah, I hate the way all our sports grounds turn into open air bars for brats when the sun comes out. I used to run in a local park last year until I had a near run in with some local yobs. Then I switched to running around the sports grounds in UCD. I dont know if they are close to where you live, but they have GAA posts and are supervised by the UCD services dept.When people start drinking the yellow jackets show up and move them on.

I do understand your public performance anxiety. I'm very unfit so trying to run around the sports grounds while a match is on one of the pitches makes me feel like I'm making a show of myself. But the only way to get over it is to keep doing it and deep down the sane part of my mind knows no one is actually bothered to watch me. :-)

At 15 June 2006 at 13:16, Blogger Shane said...

Hearing the phrase: "whiff easy shots" brings me back to any sport I've ever participated in. I love the idea that you have the discipline of an adult but the enthusiasm of a child.

At 15 June 2006 at 20:36, Blogger -Ann said...

Fence - It sure is. It made me want to wear a sign that said "Look, I've only been playing since October. Don't judge me!"

Declan - UCD is not a million miles away, but I couldn't walk there like I can with "my" park. Good on you for running - it's hard to get started but it's worth it in the end.

Shane - Thanks. If I just had the enthusiasm of a child, then I would probably be unbearably hyper.


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