Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about what shapes a person. And one of the most formative times of someone’s early life is inescapably what happens at school. It is the first major social interaction most children have independently. You’re thrown together with everyone else your own age and expected to forge a personality and sense of self out of the milieu. It is in these early years that you get a first glimpse of yourself, and it shapes who you are and how you experience the world. After an argument with a friend about why he cares so much about sport, I decided it was high time I figured out why I didn’t.
Sport has always been a bit of a mystery to me. When I was younger I was told that sport was vital for the health of a growing lad. I played despite not really wanting to. I played football at break-time with everyone else and I played rugby after school. It was just what you did. Luckily, I was pretty nimble and could outsprint a lot of the other kids so no one really minded that I didn’t fully understand the rules (or bother to). I got by. I was able to be considered ‘sporty’ without really being that into sport. It served me pretty well.
At school, if you weren’t sporty you were considered a bit lame, sometimes nerdy, and always different. As time went on, to my great surprise, I started to actually enjoy rugby. I started to learn how to play properly and it was something I could practice with my dad. He was never really into football, but rugby, that was a sport for men. I got pretty good and soon was playing for my school. Maybe being sporty wasn’t too bad, it certainly made me popular. But still, I didn’t really feel that inspired, I started to think that maybe I’d prefer to be doing something else with my lunchtimes than playing football, a game I didn’t really like, with people I didn’t really like. But then again, what else was there to do? Even when the field was closed due to rain, we played on the concrete. Football was the lifeblood of the school. I was stuck with my lot, and it wasn’t really too bad. I could’ve been the spotty kid after all.
Then, disaster struck. I developed a condition known to the medical world as Osgood-Schlatter Disease. To me it was simply the weird-knee-agony-thing. I’m not going to pretend I fully understand it, but it basically something that causes acute knee pain pretty constantly for a while, and takes a couple of years to sort out. What’s more, I had it pretty bad, and in both knees simultaneously.
Fuck. I wasn’t sporty anymore.
To make matters exponentially worse, it was around this time we moved to a different part of the country. So there I was, in the impossible position of starting a new school and not being able to play sport. How on earth was I going to make friends? Would I spend my time at the new school as an outcast weird kid? I was terrified and so I made a rash decision. I’d work through the pain. I could deal with a bit of discomfort if it meant fading into the pack. Being unexceptional but getting along seemed an alright life. So I was settled, I’d endure a little bit of agony for a comfortable life. An oxymoron if ever I saw one.
Nope. Unsurprisingly working through the pain did not work. At all. I was able to do it for all of one week before I was off. Back to the doctor for me. I’d made it worse.
So, there I was, young, insecure, and facing a new school without an identity. So I turned my back on sport almost entirely. It wasn’t for me. That’d be my claim. I was aloof. Superior. Above physical exertion. Sport was simple, I was sophisticated. Not a great way to make friends.
Luckily, this school, unlike my previous one, had something I could throw myself into, and with gusto. Theatre. Yeh, I know, typical. This school had ‘drama’ as a part of the curriculum. I absolutely loved it. It was a way to expend a great deal of energy while still being thoughtful, creative, and expressive and, above all, funny. It took me out of myself and allowed me to experience a plethora of different experiences. It opened my eyes to the vast array of diversity in humanity. I was able to one minute experience life as a down-and-out bohemian, and the next a high-class Edwardian. It was amazing.
I was worried when I went to the school I’d be considered a weird outsider. And, to be fair to myself, I was. I became a ‘theatre kid’, but it was entirely worth it. And I was pretty good. Finding theatre was my salvation. I had my niche, and it helped shape who I am today.
With this post, I’m not trying to exalt theatre and it superiority over sport as a pursuit at school. The story i’ve tried to tell (admittedly very windingly) could be flipped. You could be reading about a theatre kid who sprained his vocal chords with a bit of over-dramatic shouting who then found their solace in sport. Whatever the pursuit it doesn’t matter. The fact that people have avenues of expression and release that others don’t understand is what extra-curricular hobbies at school are for. Finding that thing that inspires you, teaches you and enriches you is fundamental to becoming who you become. The most important thing, to me, is finding something that lets you out of yourself, for however long you need.
To this day, I still struggle somewhat with understanding sports. I’ve managed to start playing some of them (none of the impressive ones) and I even go to the gym! But, still, when my friends talk about football my eyes glaze over. I know the basics of what they’re saying, but I don’t really understand why they care so much. But then again, they probably do exactly the same when I try to talk about Brecht.