February 17, 2012

The Love/Hate Relationship

I don’t know how many of you out there listen to Dane Cook, sometimes he can be pretty vulgar, but usually after about twenty minutes of listening to him and becoming desensitized to his choice of words, I can’t help but laugh at his jokes. He tells this one joke about a couple who can’t stand one another, but stays together and has these ‘nothing fights.’ I can never remember the punch line of the joke…I think maybe it has something to do with peanut butter…but I always vividly remember how he describes the way this couple holds hands. He says their hand-holding is not loving at all, it’s like a “rigor mortis, rheumatoid arthritis, red rover grip,” and quite honestly, that description hits home for me in a really weird way.

I think it’s really difficult to articulate an athlete’s love/hate relationship with his/her respective sport. Most of the time when we think about relationships, we think about a connection between two people, and last I checked, a sport is not a person. Even so, I think that the relationship an athlete has with his/her sport can sometimes be a little more frustrating than a regular relationship. There’s really not a whole lot of give and take in an athlete/sport relationship. You can’t compromise with your sport and say, “if you buy the groceries this week, I’ll get them next week.” That would be like saying, “if I work on my dribbling today, tomorrow you have to work on my free throws.” See? It’s what I like to call untranslatable. And yet, a committed athlete spends more time improving the relationship they have with his/her sport than they probably do on any other relationship in their lives (perhaps that’s why so many NBA players get divorced…).

Sometimes I can’t help but ask myself a big fat WHY? Why am I in this relationship? Particularly, those questions of doubt about my relationship with basketball come when I’m getting screamed at for missing a shot or making a bad pass. This year has been especially interesting during those moments, because my mind goes straight to thoughts like, “I could be counseling someone who really needs my help right now,” or “I could be home spending valuable time with my family.” I can honestly say I wasn’t having those types of thoughts last year, but I digress. 

The other issue with the athlete/sport relationship is that an athlete can’t really rely on his/her sport for much. Sure, there is always the promise of getting in a workout, but there is no promise of winning a game, of getting on a hot shooting streak, or making it to the league’s championship game. All you can do is prepare, prepare, and prepare some more. When you strip it down, athletes basically spend their time preparing and dedicating their lives to something with just the hope that any one of those things might happen.

This is why I can relate to that Dane Cook joke so well. Big picture: our team isn’t doing so hot this year; we practice twice a day and have talent, but just can’t seem to put enough together to win games. Small picture: I’ve been playing basketball for fifteen years now and sometimes I will still miss a layup. It’s those times when I want to take a basketball and throw it against the backboard or drop-kick it across the court or inflict a rigor mortis, rheumatoid arthritis, red rover death grip on it.

Reading this blog back to myself, I’m sitting here thinking, “Hillary, you’re right; athletes are bat-crap crazy. Why do you do this again?

The reality of the athlete/sport relationship delves a lot deeper than I’m giving it credit for. When I think about the happiest/most exciting moments of my life, two vivid memories pop right into my mind. One was when I was twelve and made a championship game-winning shot in a CYO tournament against a team we’d never beaten before, and the second was when the buzzer went off after the Elite Eight round of the NCAA tournament my senior year of college and I knew I was going with my team to the Final Four. I’m pretty positive that these memories will only take a backseat to future happy/exciting moments in my life such as a marriage proposal or the birth of my children.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, and after this year, I’m not positive what role basketball is going to have in my life. I’m planning on finishing up my MA in counseling and taking a break from the game for a while. Because just like in normal person to person relationships, when it isn’t working anymore, sometimes the best thing to do is take a step back and give each other some space until you cross paths again in the future.