By Vado Porro • March 16, 2010•Writers in Residence
I remember, as a third-grade student, standing on the soccer field, absolutely still, hoping the ball would come nowhere near me. I remember playing basketball and ducking out of the way. In softball, I would watch the entire field move in when I came up to bat. When the ball was passed or kicked to me, I would inevitably embarrass myself. It was safer to not try. When the ultimate humiliation happened and my classmates chose teams, I was always standing there alone at the end.
It didn’t take long for these small embarrassments to lead to an inevitable conclusion: I hated team sports. They were terrible opportunities for disappointment, defeat, and letting other people down. I hated being the person that everyone blamed for their failures. For an already-picked-on kid, it was an additional opportunity for bullying. I didn’t realize at the time that I wasn’t the problem. The problem was that nobody understood being on a team in gym class. When the game is required, everyone just wants to win; and kids get mean and scapegoat a member of their "team".
When I got to college, I began to learn the meaning of the posters that my middle school gym teachers had hanging on the wall. You know, the ones that say, “there is no I in team.” When I began to play ice hockey, playing for no other reason than the love of the sport, there was no humiliation. No teasing; no blame. New players were welcomed by the team, whether they were a rockstar or a rookie, and when the coach tried to reduce people’s playing time in favor of playing the more experienced players, the team revolted. As an adult, I play on a local women's team, I start every season with a few new faces and some old friends; there are some players who are playing in their first or second game and they get the same playing time as the rest of us. Most importantly, what develops on every team I've been on, is what female law students and lawyers are looking for – sisterhood, mentorship, and guidance.
The thing I have been the most surprised about team sports is that adults who have paid their fees and shown up simply to play for the love of the game is that the blame disappears. Adult athletes whose team loses will blame themselves, or chalk it up to bad luck or a crummy day. They do not blame other players. If they do, they do not voice their blame. If they do voice their blame, it's in the form of, "if you keep both hands on your stick, you'll be able to get more force on the puck." Or it’s in the form of, “all of us need to step it up and skate harder.” It’s never, “that last goal was your fault because you let her have the puck.” When the blaming disappears, so does the humiliation. When the humiliation goes, confidence begins to grow, and it starts to power how you play. Confidence begets confidence, and that spills out of your Sunday league into other aspects of your life.
My experiences have taught me a lot, and they have convinced me, resolutely, of one thing. Every woman, particularly every female law student or lawyer, should play a team sport. And I don't mean as part of an emotionally crushing gym class. I mean, at some point in her life, every woman should lace up her cleats, her sneakers, her skates, and take to the field or floor or ice as part of a team. It's more than a confidence builder, it is a chance to learn everything that being on a team can offer.
Considering much of law school and legal practice involves being on a team, skills like competitiveness, cooperation, and losing gracefully are things that you will need to learn, and you can learn them by bumbling as part of your study group or law firm, or you can learn them in a safe environment where your mistakes don’t count.
There are other reasons to join a team. Team sports are a great way to become more "well-rounded" as an attorney. They give you something to talk about on interviews because they show you have a life outside of law school, they show that you are able to work with a team, they show that you are probably a little competitive, and they can make you seem cool. They will help you connect more with other people you work with and give you something to make small talk about. They might even give you a social advantage at work, especially if some of your co-workers play with you.
I'm not saying you should do something that isn't fun for you, but I do think that you should give things a chance. Maybe look into your law school's inter-mural program or see if there is a local rec or adult league. Consider taking up a sport you have always wanted to play, but never had an opportunity to learn. If you are still getting over elementary school gym class trauma, pick a sport that is really foreign or bizarre, that everybody has to learn. Basketball is much more likely to attract high school hotshots than an adult curling team. Another important thing to remember is that many leagues are looking for more people to play, so sometimes they simply need bodies on their team and could care less if you're terrible - if they need people, they will be grateful to have you. (This is particularly true of teams that are co-ed and require a certain number of girls.)
If you are still not convinced, think about what you have to lose. If the cost of the sport is low, and the chance for social, physical, and professional gains are high, isn’t that a risk worth taking?
So you want to join a team, but you’re afraid or don't have time. So assess your options. What kind of time do you have? Do you have an hour a week? A weekend? Do you have a lunch break? If you are short on time, consider a sport that is played mostly pick-up style, like Ultimate Frisbee, or a sport that doesn't involve a lot of pressure or expense, like kickball. Are you completely lacking in any kind of athletic ability or talent? Pick a sport where you get points just for being on the field. I'm a remarkably good dodgeball player, because even though I can't throw or catch, I'm good at doing what I've always done in sports - ducking and running out of the way when balls come flying at me. Many cities have leagues of sports for young adults; some have teams for parents or adults. An important thing to remember is that many leagues are looking for more people to play, so sometimes they simply need bodies on their team and could care less if you're terrible - if they need people, they will be grateful to have you. (This is particularly true of teams that are co-ed and require a certain number of girls.)