Friday, March 12, 2010

The emotional complexity of an intramural championship

So my team has won the intramural championship. Overall, it's great. We worked really hard, came together as a team, beat some excellent opponents, and truly had a blast during the season. The playoffs were challenging and exhilarating. As the number two seed, we cruised through the first couple of rounds, then faced an extremely tough team in the semifinal with one extraordinarily skilled playera former D1 shooting guard. Luckily, they had just played an exhausting quarterfinal, while we won ours with ease. (The semifinal was the second of two games on the same night.) Because they were tired and we were not, we pulled away in the second half and won by 20.

We had expected to play the number one seed in the final, but incredibly, they lost their semifinal game because they could only field five guys and basically ran out of gas. So we faced the twelve seed, the defending intramural champion and a team that was much better than their seeding would suggest. (Also, a team with a ridiculous name: "O U NO FO SHO.") The game was close throughout
both teams playing with real passionbut our best players went into high gear at the end and iced it. Afterwards, we got our championship t-shirts and had our picture taken for the website and a banner that will hang in the gym's fieldhouse. I should have been elated, and part of me was, but it was more complicated than that.

I had sat on the bench during the most crucial stretches of the final game so that our best five could play more minutes. This was the right thing to do, but after the game, I wondered if I should have felt bad about not contributing more. I definitely thought that I had done my part during the season, but at the same time, I think that the team could have won without me. Even though I was technically the captain (because I had filled out the registration form), I was also a replaceable part.

I've played on league teams where I was the best player, which I did not really like, but I've never played on a team where I was one of the worst. Intellectually, I was able to accept my reduced role, but when the buzzer sounded in the championship game, my animal ego stung more than I thought it would. As our team picture was being taken, I had a couple of dispiriting thoughts. First, how much longer can I play at this level? This season was tough on me, as I was constantly matching up with quicker, stronger players. Second, will I continue to be ok with being a role player? Will my role get smaller and smaller? How small will it have to get before I am not ok with it?

I have some time to think about these things, but next year, when I look up at our championship banner, I wonder if I will feel pride, guilt, or both.


tnt said...

Firstly, I am giddy about finding this site. I am 40 and just coming off of ACL / microfracture and wondering how I can motivate myself to return to hoops (and justify it everyone else I care about) after my fourth surgery below the waist. I have been looking around for a site like this.

In terms of diminished role, over the course of the last year and a half prior to the injury, I experienced it and handled it by having three set of runs I played in.

Run 1 was a half-court game where I was playing with guys in their 40s and 50s. I was a scorer and one of the best players in this game and it appeased my ego and glory day-dreams (and was also a lot of fun since old guys pass, play D and move without the ball to get open shots).

Run 2 was a full run with young guns. In this game I was a role player and focused on ball distribution and defense. I didn't expect to shoot and mostly didn't. It took a long time to earn respect but eventually it came. The payoff in this game was beating a more talented team with hustle and ball movement.

Run 3 was a hybrid - a full court run with both older and younger guys. In this game I was often at my best - sometimes a playmaker, sometimes a role player and sometimes a scorer - depending on the opponents and how I was playing.

It is incredibly frustrating when the body can't do what the mind intends, particularly when playing with kids that don't really know the game but have biology on their site (see run 2). However, I never mentally accept that a younger player is better than me until I see that his teams win more than mine do. Consistently. So I may be seen as over the hill, a role player or even irrelevant for long stretches but I am fine with it as long I am contributing to more W's that L's.

BallAboveAll said...

Great site. I find myself at a crossroads also. I'm 39. I play pickup ball regularly in the mornings before work about 3 times a week. Almost every morning that I play, I walk off the court with the same thoughts and struggle with my feelings on whether I want to continue on. It's not that I don't love basketball, but ...

In my younger days, I was what I would consider fairly athletic and could usually get by just on athleticism alone. My athleticism was my edge. At this age, I still regularly play with younger guys, and of course now my age is catching up to me.

I can no longer out jump or out quick guys. I was in a sort of denial about this for the longest time. So instead of adapting my game and becoming more the typical "old man crafty", i remained stubborn and continued to try and play the same type of game I always had, which has led to a lot of frustration on the court when my body would not react the way it used to.

The biggest thing I've struggled with lately is accepting the fact that I'm no longer a #1 option or "the man" so to speak and can dominate people just with sheer athleticism. I find it very difficult to accept being a role player. I'm still very competitive and have a hard time just relaxing and enjoying playing just for exercise as a lot of the older guys I play with say they do.

So my conundrum is do I swallow my pride and play just for the exercise and accept my reduced role or do I hang it up and retire before things deteriorate so bad that it becomes embarrassing and even more frustrating.

Sort of a I go out on top sort of thing, or do I come back like Jordan did with the Washington Wizards and ruin my legacy! Ha!

Lucky Paul said...

Jeff: Wonderful thoughts. I am just about 50 and not sure I would want to play to win anymore. Sounds like you would be sad about losing but have no joy in winning? I feel like if I survive a good run without injury, play well with others and make a few tough shots, I amm happy. Winning is more fun than losing, but playing is more fun than almost anything. I sound like a loser!

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