There was no “me” in team: Being the odd one out in a sports team

I’ve always been kind of a loser. I never really fit in. I was awkward. I was shy. I liked to keep to myself, read, write, didn’t like interacting much. I would be scolded for not really socializing at parties. I was weird. I still am, pretty much, but it was hard being weird as a kid.

Being weird as a kid meant getting bullied. And boy, did I have bullies. You’d think all-girls schools would be less aggressive but you couldn’t be more wrong. A lot of girls were cruel, and they knew exactly how to tear other girls down.

Still, even with these instances of being put down, I was generally okay. I maintained my composure and got out of that awkward pubescent stage of my life as quickly as possible. I didn’t owe these girls anything, their “batch camaraderie” and love for their peers automatically already excluding my friends and myself and it was fine. Whenever someone would say “I love Batch 2012” it was already implied that we weren’t in the picture. And that was fine–we didn’t really want to be in the picture either.

What was difficult was being the odd one out as a kid in a sports team.

Teams rely heavily on each other. A team’s chemistry is integral to how they play on the field. It’s different from being just classmates–if you’re teammates, there’s that sense of trust that has to be present. And without it, there’s no game to be won. If you don’t trust that the girl behind you will receive the ball if you can’t, then there’s tension. And with tension, a team just can’t work. It’s a well-oiled machine, a team, and it has to work that way.

I joined a team of girls as a teenager and they’d all known each other despite being from different schools. They had the same hobbies and interests and were friends from when they were already little kids. I was entering unknown territory full of people who’d already known each other. That paired with my reluctance and my shyness, I was easily the odd one out. I had a few confidantes, people I did trust, but for the most part, I felt very lonely in a group of girls that called themselves family.

I thought at first it was my own doing, that I wasn’t working hard enough to be liked. So I tried, tried to be more involved, tried to talk more, but when I heard the snickering before I’d arrive at practice or felt the locked doors when we were supposed to be having team meetings, I knew already that they had passed judgment. On paper, I was their outfielder, but in person, I was just a nuisance.

One afternoon on the field, I ask one of the people who’s nice to me if the team finds me annoying. She makes a face, sympathetic. And it’s all I need to know. I go home and cry in the shower for hours, a little girl not able to fit in with people that are supposed to gel together to get a win. I really tried, I’d tell myself. And I’d sob: “What’s wrong with me?” over and over, beating my eyes with my palm as if it’d make me “normal.”

And I saw it, too. If someone was absent and another person had to be stuck with me as their throwing partner, I saw the rolled eyes, the body language. And what could I do? I was defeated and would apologize for being a burden. They would say nothing to me the whole time and I’d hold back a lump in my throat, apologetic that I wasn’t who they wanted to be with. I trained with them for weeks, for months, for years. And every day felt like I would jog alone at my own pace because I never had a partner to jog with me, only the dirt rising from where my heels lifted my companion.

It made me wonder every time what I’d done wrong. I’d be scolded if I wasn’t interacting with the other girls. But if I tried it would always lapse into an awkward silence. I hung my head instead, not sure what to do. The sport was the only way I could get into college for a scholarship. And if I quit, I wouldn’t have gotten it. So I stayed on, and it felt like I was resented for keeping at it even when it was clear that majority of them didn’t even want me around.

All of this fed into my insecurity. I’d show up extra early to training, try not to cry when I’d hear them approach and quiet down from what was likely something poking fun at me. I’d bring food to practice to try and pacify things and I would get a passing “thanks” and a few genuine “thank you”s from the people who were nice to me. But eventually, nothing would work. And I retreated into my shell, bringing books to the dugout to try and at least pretend I was otherwise distracted when it was clear I was unwanted. To this day, the ink on those books are warped from my tears smudging them when I pretended to read before training began.

On the field I was numb. I would go through the motions. It didn’t help that I wasn’t the best player either, nor the strongest. My status as burden only cementing further. I’d play and celebrate if I did something right. And if I did, I’d have that small moment of camaraderie that I’d craved so much, the high-fives, the smiles. And then it ebbed away, it always did. And I would feel the gut-crushing feeling of being a shy teenager surrounded by strangers.

Not everyone was bad and not all the bad was aggressive. Sometimes it was passive, quiet, the exchanged looks, the raised brows, the held-back laughter. But some of them were kind, asked if I wanted water, would sit with me so I wasn’t alone. Those rare moments I still remember in complete clarity, because they were the moments that would keep me from crying alone in the shower after.

My coaches continued to push me, saying if I got good enough, I could get into college. And I did. And it was better. Different girls, all of us no longer in that teenage mindset of cattiness. I grew stronger, better, more encouraged. But there were still some who followed me there, as if a weight I could never rid myself of.

Years later, I stand up to one of them. “You’re a bully,” I tell her in a team meeting when I’m older after a game, college-aged, fists shaking as I look her in the eye, both of us covered in dust and grass stains from the game. And I never imagined I’d ever had that strength. “I think you’re a bully.” And she’s taken aback, so are the rest of my new college teammates, because she knows I say it not just with the backdrop of our college team, but with all that she hurt me with when we were younger, when we were teenagers. She understands and apologizes. And I feel a weight lift off me.

Recently, one of them reached out and apologized for not really being a friend back then. And it took me back to all the nights I cried alone, wondering why I was so flawed and so hard to like. I began to cry. And I forgave that person. It made me wonder what they all thought now, if they even remember, if it’s half as impactful to them as it was to me. And if I had been hurting all that time and for them, it was nothing.

I still wonder sometimes, 15 again, scared to step onto the field to be laughed at. But I know better now. How I rose above it all, better, kinder. I grip my bat sometimes and remember how many blisters I’d get just gripping and ungripping from the pure anxiety I had being in that environment. But now I hold it with fondness. If anything, the adversity had made me stronger. There was nothing wrong with me, there is nothing wrong with me. And all of that, like my homeruns, my diving catches, my scrambles to home plate, is in the past.






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