Back in 10th grade I decided to jump to the Varsity basketball team a full year earlier than most do. Back then I spent nearly everyday at my local YMCA, the driveway outside my house and recess playing basketball. I took an ungodly number of midrange jumpers and threes from 2 feet beyond the arch to hone my shot. I was (or at least believed I was) a legitimate threat from the outside. At the time the jump to Varsity was a big deal for me, a chance to show that I belonged in a higher level, and as it turns out I did. In my first game I put up 15 points, and while the three I drained to tie the game at the buzzer in the 4th quarter didn’t count because of a bogus traveling call, I knew I was in the right level.
My level jumping however stopped right out of high school, and as most kids who captain their high school basketball team do, I quickly learned just how good I really was. So I started playing rec league ball in what I thought was a decently level. Players were bigger, older and as competitive as I remembered in high school. I was playing in “A” division, which didn’t really mean much because the league consisted of former high school players, not college player (not a lot of dunking in that league to say the least). I was in the upper echelon of players who though they were better than they were because they took their high school team seriously than most.
I continued in this league for the better part of 8 years at which point I called it quits. I just wasn’t enjoying it anymore. Fast-forward 4 years and I had basically stopped playing basketball altogether. I did however start to sub for my brother’s rec team on a weekly basis. It was nice to be out there, back in “A” division, and yet something had changed. I was now 33 years old and the out of high school 19 year olds were breaking my ankles and my shot wasn’t going down the way it used to. Thankfully my court sense was still there and knew how to get the right people the ball at the right time, but still, it bothered me that my shot has betrayed me. What had happened? Well, like most former high school athletes, I have this tendency to remember how good I once was and in turn believed I will always be as talented as I was at my athletic peak, and at a certain point in time this is simply no longer the case. So when I decided to join my friends rec team for the first time in 4 years, I was saddened to see I would be playing in “C” division. I quick look at the competition however put a smile on my face. As it turns out most of the other players I used to play with in “A” were now playing at the same level as myself, and it’s the level I should be in.
The truth is, I don’t shoot around for fun anymore and because of that my shot is simply not and is never going to be what it once was. As we get older, we stop practicing and muscle memory fades. I’m quickly realizing that joining this league is more about being on a team again and remembering how much fun it was to run up and down the court and play a game I used to love and be pretty good at. So to all you rec league players out there, just remember that the sooner you stop clinging to how good you used to be and accept how good you actual are now, the better off and more sane you’ll be.
As I stepped onto the Tennis court with a friend recently, for some strange reason he began our match by apologizing for the black headband he'd just put on. I couldn't understand why he felt the need to even mention it, after all, most of my friends had grown accustomed to seeing me in my matching bandana wristband combo on a regular basis, and I assumed everyone else thought it looked as super duper cool as I did. Apparently not every feels the same way about wearing accessories during sports, even if said accessory is used for its most practical and given purpose, to keep sweat off your forehead and out of your eyes. Still, some club players feel embarrassed about their accessorization for fear their friend or opponent will think they're trying to emulate the pros. This most likely has to do with the fact that while ripping on your buddies is one of the ways male friendships grow, it's also a reason why some men are apprehensive about wearing accessories during their rec league sports.
To alleviate this fear, here are a few guidelines that will help you overcome your internal conflict and allow you to wear a practical tool for keeping sweat out of your eyes.
It creeps up on you and you have no control. The move you used in high school and in your 20s is getting stopped more often than you’d like. You can no longer grab the rim, and they’re blowing by you and you can’t catch up. They are younger, have more energy, jump higher and run faster. "Why is this happening" you ask yourself..."I used to be the fastest guy on the floor, I never got tired and never asked to sub out, what the hell is going on??!!" You……are……getting…….older.
Do not fret my friends because as speed and quickness fade, strength and experience grow. At the rec league level this counts more than you could ever imagine. The just out of high school or college kids are now playing against men, and news flash, that’s you….you are a man, they are still boys. At 32 years old I was a good 10-12 years older than my last opponent. At 5’8’ however I managed to push around a 6’3’ forward, and why, because he'd never lifted a weight in his life. Meanwhile my 35 and older teammates play harder defence than anyone else in the league. When you only play once a week and not three times like when you were 20, it just matters more.
So keep your head up when you lose that first step and when you start to breath a little heavier. You’re getting older that’s for sure, but you’re just getting better.
When subbing in for your friends' rec league team, remind yourself that you were probably asked less because you’re just an extra body and more for the fact that your buddy thought you’d be a good addition and hopefully contribute to a winning effort. Here are a few rules to abide by when you get that call an hour before game time:
Remember that you are a direct reflection of your friend who vouched for your ability. You never want a regular saying the words “who brought this guy, he’s not even trying.”
If the 7PM game is cutting it close because of your work schedule, either don’t agree to be the sub, or give fair warning that you’re going to be late. Otherwise get there 15 minutes in advance.
Think Gary Payton not Kobe Bryant. So you're a great shooter, amazing puck handler or have feet like Ronaldo, well guess what, all of your offensive skills mean nothing if you don’t get back on D. There’s a chance no matter how good you are that you’re offensive game might be off that day, either because it’s been a while since you last played or you’re just not used to playing with that team, but playing good D requires nothing more than a little hustle. No one ever got mad at the sub who played too hard on defense, but you and your friend are almost certain to get dirty looks if you’re the black hole of whatever sports you’re playing. Don't be a hog.
You’re a sub and you’re not paying to be on the team, playing time priority goes to the regulars even if you are or feel you’re better than the regulars. Don't accept playing for 2 minutes, but don't demand more playing time than everyone else.
If you’re the type of player who normally gives advice and likes to tell people what to do and where to be on the court or field, then subbing may not be for you. Even if you’re the best player out there, no one wants to hear it from the sub unless it's an intelligent calmly delivered thought out tactic. You’re also not allowed to get mad at someone who missed a defensive assignment, which means you don’t get to say “who had that guy??!!.”
If you get a bad call, don’t say anything to the refs that might hurt the team, let the captain do that.
During my high school years, nothing was more important to me than the basketball team (I exclude girls because I didn’t acquire the confidence to speak to them until I was 18). I relished 6:00AM practices twice a week, weekend tournaments, and suicides to get myself into shape. When I was in high school the team mattered, people showed up, people cared, teammates would get in each others faces if they didn’t try their hardest in practice. We had supporters (albeit very few) who came and rooted for us game after game. It was competitive and I loved it. Then all of a sudden it was over, I went to college and moved on to rec league intramural athletics and a gradual downward spiral of not caring.
My first few years out of high school playing intramural basketball and softball still mattered. I was still uber competitive and gave 100% at every game. I got excited to play 3 long softball games a week in 30 degree weather, and nights in a dingy gym during the winter basketball season. As the years went by however, I started to care less and less and the idea of god forbid a 9:00PM Softball game once a week gave me nightmares. Sure I wanted to win, but I wasn’t getting on my teammates' cases for not giving it their all…I became apathetic and started to tell the one guy on the team who was a little too competitive to give it a rest, because “it’s just a game bro.” I started to look at the early 20 something teams, see their enthusiasm and start to poke fun at how seriously they took every game. In reality I was kidding myself, I was just jealous. I envied their energy and their wild bench who cheered for any decent play. I wished I cared about caring for my team.
As we get older, it’s easy to start noticing that there are fewer and fewer hyper competitive teammates on your rec league team. Most are made up of the following: The best player, the fast guy, the can do one thing really good but can’t do anything aside from that one thing guy, the old guy, the guy who never seems to want to be there, and the hyper competitive takes the league too seriously guy. Aside from the best player on the team, the hyper competitive takes the intramural league a little too seriously guy is the most important person on the team, and now I envy him. Here’s why he’s great:
I just had my tennis team tryout for my club's doubles team, at the tryouts I did my best but didn’t really want to be there. Some of my friends however were chatting about the team for days afterwards when I could seemingly care less. I realize though that their attitude is right and mine is dead wrong. Why join a team if it’s just something to do. You don’t have to be the loudest one out there, you don’t have to get everyone fired up, but it’s in your best interest to care. Caring makes the game more fun, makes you a better teammate and makes you feel like you got your money’s worth. So get out there and cheer, get out there and practice, give high fives and send emails with game recaps (people love those I promise). Rec leagues aren’t high school, no one is really cheering for you but yourselves. Just because you never made it to that next level doesn’t mean you have to give up on your dreams of holding that championship trophy. Trophies are just as awesome as an adult because it’ll make you feel like a kid again, just like back in high school when you cared. Thanks competitive rec league guy, you're awesome.