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Friday, June 5, 2015


Everybody loves a “good sport”; those gracious playmates and teammates and friends who live in their own skin with such ease that nothing seems to faze them.  They roll with life’s punches, congratulate you on your win, go with the flow—not because they lack self-esteem or a competitive edge, but because they are so confident in their skill set that they can take life as it comes without being threatened.  Good sports totally rock!  And I am not one of them.  In fact, if there is such a thing as a “terrible sport”, that could be me.  I think it might, at least in my case, be an inborn trait, because I do not remember a time in my life when I was not a bad sport.  My very earliest memory in this world is of watching my older sister and brother playing outside in a massive snowfall; I had been deemed “too little” for the activity and in fairness to my Mom, I was not yet three.  But I remember exactly what my toddler brain was thinking as I watched my siblings frolicking in the cold:  “It’s not fair.”

Part of my attitude problem might be attributed to “nuture” as well…when you grow up in a house with a lot of kids and you are one of the smaller ones, you tend to become a “counter”.  I have noticed this phenomenon in other children as well, not just inborn bad sports like myself.  For an example, one of my favorite dinners growing up was my Mom’s chicken and dumplings.  I, however, could have lived without the chicken part.  It was those dumplings I craved:   yeasty lumps of culinary perfection (at least to the under-10 palette).   The minute Mom started scooping those divine dough balls out onto the plates, I started counting…would I get my fair share?  Or would my brother, who at the time was twice my age and size, get what was in my mind a disproportionate allocation of the bounty?  I’m certain you can guess the answer.  So I became a chronic counter, always fretting about whether or not I was getting my due.
This idea that I was “due” anything also contributed to my poor sportsmanship, because from a supernaturally early age I had a very clear sense of who I was, including the specifics of my likes and dislikes, and I genuinely believed that it was unfair to force me to do things I did not enjoy.  Fortunately for me, I enjoyed things like reading and school; I did not, however, enjoy sports.  And I come from a very sporty family.  This meant that I spent the vast majority of my brother’s illustrious career in both football and basketball under the bleachers putting slightly torn ketchup and mustard packets under the heels of enthusiastic spectators so they would go home with condiments on their pants cuffs.  Total bad sport behavior.  Worst part?  I enjoyed doing it!  Hand in hand with my dislike of sports was my dislike of most outdoor activities, especially when food was involved.  Picnics were a sheer insensible hell:  who would eat where flies and ants and spiders were free to crawl on you and your food when there are so many empty rooms with doors and window screens where you can eat in relative peace?  Needless to say, I spent many a family outing eating in the car.  Worst sport ever!

Then, when I was in high school, I was recruited to sell Cutco knives, as the fine people at Cutco had good, solid evidence to support their belief that high academic achievers also make great salespeople.  This evidence, in my case, turned out to be false.  Not only am I a bad sport, but I am a piss poor salesperson as well.  They are actually related, I have realized.  Because in spite of the fact that Cutco knives are TOTALLY AWESOME (30 years later, my “sample set” are still the only knives I need), I just didn’t have the gumption to try to convince people to buy them unless A) they were already in the market for knives and B) it would not present any kind of financial hardship to pay for them.  Because those knives are expensive; how else to justify sending teenagers door-to-door on a commission basis?  The Cutco people paired us off into sales teams and intuitively matched me up with another bad sport…she and I referred to ourselves as “The F*ck Up Division”.  We were never going to get rich selling anything to anybody.   Unless they really needed it and the price was right.  And we didn't have to go to their house to sell it to them.  We were useless.
Now I am a Mom, and my opportunities for poor sportsmanship have exploded! I am the chaperone with the attitude problem, the “soccer mom” who hikes on a nearby nature preserve rather than watch her son’s practice and the one who serves store bought cupcakes at a birthday party.   Last December I received a call from the school’s assistant Principal telling me my son had qualified to participate in the 4th grade spelling bee and I was strongly encouraged to attend.  That night at the 4th grade holiday concert (I sit in the way back so the good sport parents who are pretending the chorus doesn’t suck won’t see me chortling) I hunted down the family of another child I knew was in the competition.  My approach:  “Which one of you chumps is going to this spelling bee with me?”  The answer:  they would both be there, along with extended family.  They hoped there were enough seats!  “You can have all of mine”, I offered, but not in a good sport sort of way.  “I’m the only one I’m going to make watch 9 year olds SPELL WORDS.”

Somehow their enthusiasm did not clue me in to the fact that this was a big deal.  So I arrived, surly, on the Thursday before Christmas, grumbling about all the stuff I needed to get done before the holiday.  12 fourth graders were competing for the title, and I knew enough of the parents to engage in a little bad sport smack talk before the event.  “My kid is taking your kid DOWN!” I crowed, knowing full well that I had done nothing to help my child prepare and he likely would go out in the first round.  Everyone acted amused; I am pretty well known for my attitude problem and most good sports seem to take it in stride.  But then the unthinkable happened:  my son won.  Crap.  Now he was headed for the regionals.  As I watched the first runner up cry at his loss, I couldn’t help but think to myself:  WOW.  I am kind of an asshole.  So now I just own it:  I’m a bad sport.  This does not mean I do not have many other wonderful qualities; it just means good sportsmanship is not among them.  So when I roll my eyes and crumple up the chaperone request form for the kid’s 15th field trip of the year, please understand:  like Lady Gaga, I was born this way.

1 comment:

  1. The irony is that your (admittedly sardonic) goading would have been accepted on most kids' fields and courts today. You would not have been likely to feel a twinge of guilt if your child won the soccer tournament. Maybe we need a new word for principles play. Bee-manship?