Archive for March, 2012

March 24, 2012

Integrating Sports and Writing

I love sports.  I came out of the womb with a baseball, a bat and a backwards cap.  In high school I excelled as a carnivorous defensive lineman.  Over the years I’ve played in a multitude of pick-up games, from baseball, football, basketball, street hockey, ultimate, tennis, beer pong, etc.  That’s not to say that I was ever particularly skilled, but my competitive ferocity usually merited not being the last picked; if I was, I’d make you pay for not picking me.  I’m still the largest child you’ve ever seen pantomiming my Ruthian swing and smoothly channeling my inner Puckett, robbing myself of the deserved homer.

But sport has never been my sole lover; my constant mistress is the written word.  When my rapt attention is not paid to the athletic world, it is usually turned to black stains on a white plane.  The only rival to my baseball card collection is that which accumulates on my bookshelf.  Encased in my baby-book is the first semi-coherent story I ever “wrote,” as a three year old, transcribed by my mother.  The years have added poetry, letters, and papers, which, though showing growth, show no hint of prodigious talent.

These two worlds are often dichotomized.  One conveys images of solitude at a typewriter and a cigarette while the other conveys weight-rooms, camaraderie and the exertion of physical supremacy.  Sportswriters are an aged rope bridge between, falling into disrepair as a rising generation pursues ESPN’s anchor desk instead of the Washington Post beat desk.  The few planks of the rope bridge still able to bear weight are the occasional blogs of a past generation’s hold-overs and ghost written memoirs.  But, while a visible link between two worlds, much of this writing remains devoid of the sports mentality.  It remains “post-contest” or “post-career;” a separate response to sports, a leisurely transcription or analysis, but never an integration.

What I want to do is unite my love of sports with my love of writing, and I don’t mean in sports journalism or memoirs; I mean integrating the activity of writing with the competitive mentality of sports.  Winning is becoming a better writer; maybe even published. Maybe.  But this goal line is unlike the goals of all the team sports I have related to above.  Writing, it appears, is more similar to that “sport” I abhor: running.  As much as I love sports and the running associated with them (shagging flies, running routes, pushing the ball, etc), I hate running for the sake of running.  Running a sprint is tolerable at best, but talk to runners about running, particularly distance running, and the concurrent theme is “competing against your best self.”  This is the most boring of competitions, but the most necessary by measures of self-improvement.  But in all honesty, that is what practice is in other sports.  That is why Derrick Rose spends his summer and fall in the gym by himself shooting threes and free throws.  That is why Jose Bautista’s swing is no longer that of a benchwarmer journeyman.  That is why Aaron Rodgers can immediately follow a legend and yet become a legend himself.  And that, as a long-time fan of Allen Iverson, is the aspect which I hate of sports that I love: practice.  Because I hate conditioning drills.  Because I hate coaches’ criticisms.  Because I hate competing against myself.  Because I do not see the improvement; I do not see the small victories in myself.

What I need first is faith.  I need to put my faith in the process- in the practice- that I have been told is the key to this self-improvement which I cannot see.  I need to be able to lock myself in my room or stay late in my cubicle and write.  Stupid sentence after stupid sentence until they become less stupid.  And don’t forget coaching.  Coaching happens during practice, not during the game.  And coaching in writing begins, as I understand it, with reading quality writing.  Reading a bunch of crap writing is not going to improve my writing, but reading quality writing will. From quality reading coaching extends to criticism and I do have a network of critics to reach out to, I just need to swallow my pride and reach out to them, to build community with them.  And beyond practice it requires execution.   In college I would bang out papers the night before they’re due: going for the walk off grand slam, channeling my Doug Flutie, Bill Mazeroski, and Robert Horry.  Unfortunately, what makes for breathtaking, inspiring sports makes for poor, lackluster writing.  Instead I need the focus of boring, grind it out 2 minute drills.  I need small sections of writing over a prolonged period of time; a period of time that hopefully only ends with my death.  Not my complacency or despondency or my physical inability to pick up a ball, I mean, pen.  It is probably a knife’s edge to walk between pushing myself continuously to get better and still enjoying the act of writing.

But here is the resolve.  Here are the first down markers, the singles I need to hit, and the free throws I have to sink, to at least put myself in a position to win.

  1. Never stop reading.
  2. Keep writing.
  3. Submit to coaching.
  4. Always improve.