I fully expect a mob of YOBBERS to tie me to the whipping post when I say this, but I love sports and I love competition. I love the push, the struggle, the fight toward victory. I love the way my chest burns when I am on the brink of exhaustion and the tiny voice in my head that says faster.

My love for sports and competition had always been there, but for years it had been buried. Buried beneath the thickest layers of shame. It was only through a powerful friendship that I was able to unearth these passions.

As I’d learn, the shame that drove me away from sports alienated me from the very thing that would, in some ways, heal me — that thing happened to be community.

Guys who were willing to be close to me whether I was masculine or not.

Guys who would encourage me to be better and teach me when I was humble enough to ask for help.

Guys who would let me take the lead, even when I didn’t think I was good enough.

The more I played, the more I saw good things in myself that I hadn’t seen before.

I began to test my limits with guys who were bigger and stronger than me. I got knocked down a couple times and walked away confused when my body didn’t move as fast as I thought it would. I remember running directly into a guy and hitting him — it felt like I’d hit a brick wall, and it was awesome!

It’s good to honor your power and also to honor another man’s.

For years, I had specifically avoided football because I sucked at throwing the ole pigskin around. I couldn’t get the ball to spin through the air; it just kind of flopped. Then, one day I owned my fear of embarrassment and threw the football around.

I’d rather suck in solitude, but I swallowed my pride and we played for a while. Yeah, I still sucked big time, but I kept throwing and eventually was able to throw the ball as well as a seven-year-old.

I began to allow myself to confidently engage in activities. I had never really given my all or allowed myself to experience the desire for victory. As a kid, my dad would periodically play with us, and his thirst for victory would always spoil the fun.

I decided long ago that aggression was bad and I wanted nothing to do with it. Aggression would always lead to shouting matches on the field and feelings being hurt; it was sinful.

But now I was seeing that one can be wildly passionate and assertive in his pursuits.

I was letting go of all the fears that I had about sports and competition. The more I played, the surer of myself and my abilities I became.

Yeah, I’m as skinny as a toothpick and have weak knees, but I am no less capable. I am so glad that when the guys invited me out, I said yes.

So, in the words of every umpire: “PLAY BALL.”

Talk about your experience with sports and competition. Have you always hated sports, or have you come around to them? Share a pivotal sports moment you’ve experienced — triumphant or shameful.

* Photo courtesy madanaelu, Creative Commons.

  • I never got into the sports thing because I felt that I wasn’t good enough. I was always weak and effenant, never good enough, not as strong or masculine as the other guys. I played soccer for about a year in 1980 and got a participation trophy for ‘Best Sportsmanship’. I was so proud of that, till I found out what that meant. I still have it somewhere, but I don’t display it anymore. For years it had meant that I was a part of a team. But as I didn’t have a man in my life, I wasn’t encouraged and sucked at everything, except standing on the sidelines.
    I withdrew from everything sports related, hating everything about it, but if I am truthful about it, envying those who could play and be athletes, because I wanted to be like them and was always comparing myself to them. I didn’t even come close.

    • I also have awards and such from sports in high school,but I could never bring myself to display them.
      I remember my dad coming to my very first sporting event to support me. I did poorly and he yelled at me from behind the gate,the yelling that reminded me that I wasn’t good enough. That I was an embarrassment.

      • Part of me wishes I had my father in my life to yell at me, but at the same time it probably would have led to further isolation. Being SSA was like a runaway freight train and it coming at me head on and I was like a deer caught in the headlights.

        • In yelling at me,he was shaming me and that is not helpful at all. It pushed me farther away from him.
          He let his pride come before encouraging and uplifting his son.

          • I understand. I now lack the ability to even be interested in sports for my oldest son. I can’t throw him a ball or play catch with him. I feel so useless and unmanly, which is almost as bad as not having a father.

          • I don’t have children so maybe the other readers can speak tp that. In my opinion the manliest thing you can do for your son is be there. Be present. I WISH I HAD THAT. Maybe you two can grow together in other areas

  • Hebrews 12:12 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.
    Athletic pursuits and sports are about much more than competition and aggression. Much of it has to do with training and discipline and self control. There is no competition without training and discipline and self control. Aggression comes when self control is lost. Proper training and discipline brings self control.
    Having said that, I have never been a sports fan. I am not a watcher. I always liked to play whatever we were playing in gym class and I always enjoyed the locker room. I especially enjoyed wrestling. I’m from Iowa. It’s what young guys do here; not that I’m young anymore. Grappling with a hot sweaty man in tights on a rubber mat is fun. It gets very up close and personal. Looking back, it was kind of like foreplay. I like being manhandled and I really didn’t care if I won or lost. I always got caught up in the process. It was a kind of bonding for me more than competition. I enjoyed football for the same reason. I would tell them to put me on the line and NEVER give me the ball. It was a plan that worked well. At 220 lbs, I could usually bring down whatever was in front of me. Dude, it was fun.
    Nuff said. Your post was excellent. Try some wrestling. Straight guys like it. So will you.

    • “Aggression comes when self control is lost. ”
      I have never heard that before and I really like it! I can apply that to life in general.
      I have a really good friend of mine that Ive wrestled with a lot and I like it.

  • When I was about seven, a Little League was organized in my home town. I lived in a sparsely populated area with few children my age, so I had no significant experience with ball, bat, and glove. Since I had no skills, but everybody was allowed to participate, I was assigned to a farm team (which was then the baseball term for what we now call the minor leagues). Now I realize that people would try to develop skills in me. Back then, it seemed to me that I was unable to play the game and continuing in Little League would mean continuing failure. So I never went back.
    In high school and for one year in college, gym was mandatory, and I somehow learned to dribble a basketball. At my college, basketball was the major sport, and I attended a lot of games.When I got to the monastery, I joined other scholastics (potential monks) and student acquaintances in pick up games of basketball, and I didn’t realize I was playing with real intensity until one of the students said, “Take it easy, brother.” Since then, nearly fifty years, the only competitive sport I’ve participated in is sailboat racing, and it’s about forty years since I’ve done that.
    Although I’m a nonparticipant, I regularly watch the Boston Red Sox on TV; and if I walk into a restaurant or bar where a TV is tuned to a game of almost any sport, I can easily become fascinated even if I’m unfamiliar with the teams. Soon I’ll have a favorite.
    To answer the question: I never hated sports, although I generally considered myself inadequate for them, except basketball. I might also have been good at track, if it had been suggested to me at the right time. Your experience getting into sports is enviable.

  • I’ll admit that I hate sports. I don’t really understand why our culture places so much emphasis on athletic performance. It seems like every time a guy steps onto a court or playing field, his masculinity must be proven over and over again. There is nothing wrong of course with being a good athlete, but our society really idolizes these people to a degree that I believe is sinful. For me, I believe that my failure to do well at sports was the beginning of my SSA. If you’re good at sports, you’re one of the boys. If you aren’t, you’re not.

    • I don’t think that sports participation is a pre-requisite for manhood, but I am not sure if the things I have learned about myself through playing soccer, could have been learned anywhere else.

  • The whole phenomenon of sports was my downfall in school. The year I turned 8 my family moved from our home town in eastern Massachusetts to Western New England. I had been happy, well adjusted and popular on my home town but, in my new community, phys ed was emphasized a great deal more. Being the new kid on the block is always a problem but my disastrous performance in Gym class marked me for ridicule, taunting and bullying. The team sports we played during Gym were the worst of all. I was poorly coordinated – overly long legs, a short torso and equally short arms. To make matters worse I was chronically asthmatic and had difficulty running. Worse still, I had practically no eye to ball coordination. My classmates used to fight over who would NOT get me on their teams. Although I did manage to make a few friends in that school I essentially felt like the school outcast. Recess often became a nightmare. Although the physical abuse was bad enough, the verbal taunts and slurs were by far most damaging. In those days (the mid-1960s) children knew nothing about homosexuality. Nonetheless, the taunts I endured were often assaults on my masculine character. I went from being happy and enthusiastic about life to being depressed, morbid and utterly insecure – especially with regards to my masculine identity. I never really felt different from other boys until gym class became a bid deal. Now my identity revolved around being “different.” That sense of being “different” worsened after I entered Junior High School. To protect me from further humiliation in gym class, my mother had our doctor write a note to the school nurse to have me excused from phys-ed. Although this ended the taunting in gym class it also heightening my sense of being “different” than other boys. Moreover, “sports talk” was now dominating boys’ conversations and I was no good at it whatsoever. This only isolated me further from my peers. I was more than happy to isolate myself from them, however, as the bullying I experienced became near-lethal in 7th grade. The principal did nothing to stop it and I gradually became content to shut my peers out and be by myself most of the time. Is it any wonder that in 9th grade I started having homosexual masturbation fantasies? Praise God that He brought me to Christ during my Freshman year in college just as I was on the verge of diving into active homosexuality. When I transferred to a Christian college to get my mind straightened out I finally found a peer group of loving male friends who cared for me as a brother. Because the Lord and academics dominated out conversations, we had things to talk about besides sports. My levels of SSA decreased and, over time, I felt less as less “different” (I will admit, though, that even today the mindset of being “different” kicks in, although it is nothing compared to what I felt in childhood). I am still no good at “sports talk” and don’t follow any sports. Football is something I actually detest, although I could endure a Super Bowl party with a group of Christian guys who really loved me and wanted to get close to me. I do have some affection for baseball, however, because it is less rough than football and has more of a feeling of wholesome tradition. When the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 (86 years after their previous win) I could not get the TV station on my rabbit ears. Believe it of not, I actually went to a sports bar to see them win. As hard as it was to imagine, it was actually thrilling to experience that day surrounded by wild, cheering fans. I think, however, that it is the deep sense of tradition associated with the Red Sox – holding onto the same stadium they have played in since 1912, the baseball park organ and the man selling hot dogs and cracker jack – that attracts me most. Other than that I am hopelessly bored with team sports. Then again, when I lived in Florida, I went to a polo game where Prince Charles was playing. Mind you, I was there more to see the prince and the creme of Palm Beach society at play than to watch the actual game (the President-elect’s first wife was there). Nonetheless, I was fascinated with the sport and found it exciting to watch. I guess I have to have sports dressed up to like them – like putting a delicious sauce on that nasty broccoli.
    As Mary Poppins said “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down!”

    • Buck, I very much relate to this post. Because I was never good at sports, I developed no interest in them and to this day can’t really “talk sports”. If I get into a group that is talking sports, I usually smile and nod and keep my mouth shut. If a verbal response is required, I will usually say “I don’t really follow sports enough to have an opinion.” That said, a Superbowl party or a group of friends going to a game can be fun just for the camaraderie. I think that there are a lot more guys in our situation than care to admit it.

      • Yes! There are times I have participated in something, because my friends enjoy it and I wanted to be with them!

    • 8th grade gym class was where I believe I first internalized “feeling different,” I saw it before, but I now felt different. I also don’t relate much to sports talk, and sports tv bores me so much,I need to be physically engaged.
      My college experience was similar, the guys who loved me also pulled things out of me that I had long forgotten. Sports and music being probably the two I enjoy the most. And like you,if I understood you correctly,through those meaningful interactions and time my ssa became less severe.

  • I hate some sports… Anything that requires a ball. Especially basketball. I tried for so long, and I had good friends that I’d play with, but I always was the guy that people would purposely pass the ball to, or move out of the way for me when i took a shot, or give me awkward compliments like “youre doing so great, man!” …. The sort of niceness that makes you feel like a child. I was left out of the male aggression side of things.
    But I realized that there are sports im good at. Im a fast runner and a fast swimmer, so I ditched basketball and focused on what I was good at.

    • I am terrible at basketball, don’t count on me for a win! So I rarely play but like you, I found other sports that Id rather do. I like running too!

  • I wasn’t good in sports. I’m still not, and I’m not interested in trying. The deep pain and rejection I experienced as a teenager in school definitely took a negative toll on my life psychologically, mentally, and emotionally. I experienced no benefit from it. The intended benefits of exercise and fresh air were drowned out by the daily sense of shaming I felt. I was ostracised and called gay. So I don’t see reengaging in sports a possibility at this time.
    The reasons why SSA develops in some people are complex and remain a mystery. Each individual brings his/her own unique life experiences that contribute negatively or positively in their lives. While I don’t question the therapeutic and healing benefits involvment in sports can bring, I’m cautious concerning any intentional or unintentional suggestion that involvement in athetics or sports is magic cure-all for SSA. There are the professional athletes who have come out. So while I support the statement that involvement in sports does have it’s benefits, it isn’t a tipping factor determining the existence of SSA.

    • Kids were so cruel! I would sometimes pace the gym perimeter instead of participating. And I agree,ssa is complex.

  • Yikes, I was never good at sports, since I have limited eyesight. You would never know it and I function very well, drive a car etc. Growing up, I was always the last guy to be picked on any team in school and the pain of being ridiculed and rejected was hard.
    Since moving to the south, it seems like everyone here is into sports or follows some team “religiously.” I am, once again, the “odd man out” since I don’t have much interest in such, and I am pretty sure I am the only Christian who is SSA here in this town of people who exhibit hostility to anyone who is SSA/SSO/gay. My interests and hobbies are more into reading, travel, railroading, museums, beautiful music, gourmet foods…and the guys around here are into pickup trucks, beer, BBQ, hunting, fishing, country music and sports. At least that has been my observation.

  • I have always loathed sports.. other than soccer. I attended a Christian school all my school life, and was forced to play sports in gym class. I was no good at them, and had no clue how to play football……which made me hate it more. I was picked on and bullied a lot, and a lot of that was related to sports. I was always picked last, and they’d actually argue in front of me who got me…..no one wanted me on their team.
    The exception was soccer. Once I understood it, I excelled at it and the other boys actually wanted me on their team, Unfortunately, soccer wasn’t played much.
    To this day, sports bring up a lot of bad memories…… i can’t see me ever liking, or even tolerating sports.

  • Hate is a strong word to use with me and my affinity with sports in general. It is all relative depending on the sport in question. The first sport I was introduced to was soccer. I can’t say I either loved or hated it since I can barely remember any practices or even games except for the one I arrived late. This was followed by baseball in the 4th grade and I can’t say I was enamored with this either. I was a bit thrilled to be a part of a team. Yet, I didn’t feel I made any significant contribution to our 1st place victory.
    If anything really pivotal happened with me and sports it was when I played junior high football (7th & 8th grade) with the city league kids, not my own school and classmates. This proved to be quite a therapeutic breakthrough in my upbringing. These guys became my teammates and friends without harboring any preconceived notions or ill will towards me that my own school classmates already espoused. I was a fresh face on the team, but we suffered the hardships and reaped the benefits of practices, scrimmages and games collectively. This entire struggle worked to bond us together in strengthening our team unity and mutual respect for one another. In retrospect, I knew I wasn’t the best player on the team; however, the coaching staff saw me contributing in my own unique way and awarded me a “spirit award” trophy at our end of season awards ceremony. To this day I don’t know what exactly set me apart from the other players, but I felt honored nonetheless. I know I didn’t have deep personal friendships with all my teammates, but the ones I did grow close with are some of my best friends today despite our long distance. Again, you tend to bond or at least have respect for those who struggle alongside you. I dare say I would do just about anything for them. Maybe even die for them.
    There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15:13 NLT

  • I wish I had done what you wrote about, Bradley. Thrown the pigskin, bounced the basketball, batted the baseballs until I achieved a reasonable amount of skill. I didn’t. My lack of athletic skill resulted in two painful realities that contributed to the development of my SAA. First, I was incompetent at all sports and most athletic skills and this made me the butt of jokes and bullying by my peers growing up…I felt less than my male counterparts. Second, my father, who was a star athlete couldn’t connect to his non-athletic son well. I always felt his love was conditional and that I failed him. I never felt good enough. Blow number two to my acceptance in a male world.
    My father forced me to play a whole season of Cub Scout softball when I was about ten years old. This experience was so humiliating and painful, it is painful to think about it today. I had no skills, and no interest. I was the worst player on the team, stuck out in the outfield where the least skilled kids were stuck. I think I was simply praying that no Cub Scout would hit a ball in my direction…so I wouldn’t be embarrassed in front of the kids and their parents. I couldn’t hit the bill with the bat. I couldn’t catch. I couldn’t throw.
    Needless to say, I survived this, but I was scarred with shame and my self-esteem was wounded. No great wonder, I hated sports and avoided practice, which in hindsight, could have spared me future shame. Gym class was my least favorite class. I had two gym teachers in elementary school who also bullied me and shamed me.
    As an adult I have made peace with most of this, by learning to enjoy sports as a spectator with my peers. I understand all the American sports well enough to explain them to foreigners. Can’t say I know much about Cricket or Rugby or some such… I do play tennis, enjoy hiking and swimming and I exercise regularly, but I will never play competitive sports.

    • I am totally blindsided by how similar the comments are here. So much pain. I am glad you made peace with the pain that you endured. What is it about sports?

      • Well, as our culture has changed radically, I think that most boys no longer learn trades from their fathers. As we have lost this connection, masculinity has been somewhat redefined and sports, hunting, sexual promiscuity, drinking, etc. have been elevated to signs of masculinity–coming of age as a man. These are mostly shallow things, unlike a godly character, honesty, hard working, devoted to the welfare of others, vital faith in God. But, if a man doesn’t exhibit some of these “cultural norms”, he seems to be an outcast. A lot of the pain that I (and these others) had, in some sense shaped us into the men we are today. It was a painful road to take to manhood, but working through a difficult past with God’s grace can make us stronger and empathetic to others who are bullied or shamed.

          • If by paternal, you mean only one’s own father, the answer is “no.” Some of us don’t have fathers, or if we have fathers, our fathers are not capable of affirmation. If you mean perhaps a “father substitute or father figure”, then probably the answer is yes. Men can not become men outside of male community. Men need attention, affirmation and affection from other men in healthy non-sexual ways. Without these things and the healthy connection to other men, most men will get “stuck” on their journey. SSA is a sideways and unhealthy way seeking for those healthy things. To become masculine, those needs must be met in male community.
            This is a bit long, but I think it is helpful:
            The Need for Men to be in Community
            (Excerpt from A Bigger World Yet ~ Faith, Brotherhood & Same-sex Needs by Tim Timmerman)
            “Friendship is the antidote for the alienation that is inevitable in our culture, as we know and are known.” ~Sam Keen (The Fire in the Belly)
            [Sam] tells his own tale of how he and a group of about a dozen men have been meeting every week for a dozen years. …Speaking of the GROUP Keen writes,
            “Over the years, outsiders have observed the profound effect the group has had on its members. A cocaine addict for two decades kicks his habit. A man on the verge of suicide, heavily medicated by his psychotherapist, stops the medication, fires his therapist and is filled with hope. A son, defeated by shame because he could never live up to the expectations of his powerful father, stands tall and creates a business that fulfills his own dream. A husband who is reduced to jelly by his wife’s anger stands his ground and learns the art of loving combat…”
            When asked the secret of the changes of the men in the group, Keen says,
            “The superficial answer is that we don’t do anything except talk about the things that matter most to us, and listen to each other. We laugh a lot. We challenge each other. But a more profound answer is that almost by accident we discovered the missing ingredient that is necessary to the health of the male psyche as vitamin C is to the the health of body — the virtue of community. Medicine. What I found was that men in our culture share a common experience of growing up male and as a result I no longer feel left alone in my struggle.”
            Keen echoes directly David Richo’s observation that:
            “The experience of choice combined with the support from others offers the best conditions for departure from the depressing sense of yourself as a victim. Instead, you get on with your life in a powerful, adult, and confident way.”
            The men in his group listened to and challenged one another, and they were able to make different life choices when they received the support they needed from one another. Keen goes on to write,
            “Within the community of men, I have learned that men’s loneliness is a measurement of the degree to which we have ignored the fundamental truth of interdependence… There is no way we can recover a secure sense of manhood without rediscovering the bonds that unite us to others and reaffirming our fidelity to the “We” that is an essential part of “I”. To pretend that a man standing tall and alone is virile is to base our view of manhood on a metaphysic of separation that has been shown to be an illusion to almost every advance of the physical and social sciences of our era.”
            Timmerman makes this conclusion:
            “…all men desire to have brothers who know them and walk with them in this life. Any man who would say he doesn’t is either asleep or dead.”

  • During my time at school, PE was the subject I hated most.
    Especially when team sports (especially soccer) were on the timetable. Soccer
    is something every normal boy is supposed to like in the country where I live. I
    hated (or rather I feared) the aggression, the emotional atmosphere and the
    competition that are important elements of this game. You write: „I decided
    long ago that aggression was bad and I wanted nothing to do with it.“ I think
    that was also my problem. I always found soccer etc. as incompatible with my character
    and nature. Now, in my early 30s, I regret this decision that probably
    contributed a lot to the alienation from my peers.
    Team sport is much about feeling „as one of the guys“, as equal among equals.
    I believed I don’t need that because I felt so different from others.
    Today I deeply regret my decision “soccer sucks”. How could my live have been if I had allowed myself to discover (healthy) aggression, competition and team spirit as something positive?

  • During my time at school, PE was the subject I hated most. Especially when team sports especially soccer) were on the timetable.
    I hated (or rather I feared) the aggression, the emotional atmosphere and the competition that are important elements of this game. You write: „I decided long ago that aggression was bad and I wanted nothing to do with it.“ I think that was also my problem. I always found soccer etc. as incompatible with my character and nature. Now, in my early 30s, I regret this decision that probably contributed a lot to the alienation from my peers.
    Team sport is much about feeling „as one of the guys“, as an equal among equals. I believed I don’t need that because I was feeling so different from the others.
    Today, I ask myself: How could my life have been if I had allowed myself to discover (healthy) aggression, competition and team spirit as something positive?

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