There’s No “I” in Team but there is in Injury

team2

Over the past few weeks, there’s been a re-emergence of sports-related articles written by former athletes who can no longer play due to injury or they grew out of the youth athletics they thrived in.  These articles usually have a similar tone; they miss sports, wish they hadn’t taken the time for granted and encourage athletes who are still able to play to cherish every moment.  A topic and theme that runs across all of these articles is the experience of having a team.  In sports, no matter what level of competition, your team is a big deal.  These are the people who have your back both on and off the court/field/rink; your team mates become your second family and become a significant part of your life.  These articles don’t speak to my experience of team in youth sports; based on my experience of being a youth athlete who can no longer play sports due to an injury, I would like to offer a different perspective of team being a romanticized notion.

Growing up, I played basketball, soccer, volleyball and ran track/cross country at both school and competitive levels.  I was on a lot of teams over the years and can understand the bond one feels when they are apart of one.  The final team I played on was the Niagara Falls Red Raiders travel basketball team.  The team was made up of girls I had played with for years, including on school teams and other sports teams, under someone who had coached us for 4 years.  We spent a lot of time together; we travelled all over the province together, stayed in hotels for tournaments, became close with each others’ families and we were friends off the court.  It may then come as a surprise that I do not miss my team and wouldn’t want to be a part of one again.

I fall under the category of former athletes who stopped playing sports due to an injury.  For those that have followed the Faculty of Community Services Student Life Blog over the years, you may know about my injury but for those who haven’t, my injury is a traumatic brain injury.  During a tournament in Michigan when I was 16, another player cross checked me which tore brain tissue and ultimately ended my ability to play sports.  As I sat on the bench following the hit, I was still part of the team; my team mates tripped the girl who hit me.  When I didn’t show up for a tournament two weeks later, I was no longer a part of the team.

It’s been almost 8 years since I acquired my brain injury and I can count the people on my team, including players, coaches and parents, who have asked how I am, on one hand.  Those who have met in the past 5 years know my brain injury as something that gives me a headache every now and then, makes me tired and is represented in the ribbon I have tattooed on my back.  Despite having a brain injury, I don’t miss any classes at school and participate fully in student groups and social life.  For the first few years after my injury this was not the case; I was noticeably not well, I dropped down to one class a day, rarely participated in school life and didn’t return to sports.  Despite being present for when I was injured and the clear indications that something was wrong, only two parents ever asked if I was okay.  From what I remember, only one of my teammates asked how I was doing and I never heard from my coach.

This popular notion of a team being a second family that is there for you unconditionally both during and after the game is much romanticized.  Membership to such a group and the benefits that come from having a team are dependent on one’s athletic ability and ability to perform.  As soon as you’re not useful in terms of performing athletically, you are no longer a part of the team.

This is compounded by popular ideas that true athletes are tough and can play through any injury, and that anything less is an insult to the team and sport.  Athletes face a lot of pressure when they acquire injuries that temporarily remove them from the game; imagine acquiring an injury that permanently removed you.  It was never explained to my team why I would not be returning, my coach simply told them that I was not coming.  The assumption became that I was leaving basketball by choice and was letting my team down.  My nickname on the team was Mighty Mouse (I’m 5’3), I should have been able to play through anything, right?

Despite my injury and reactions from the Niagara Falls basketball community, I still wanted to be on the team.  Five months after my injury, school basketball was starting up again; I went to the first try-out and asked if I could still practice and travel with the team.  During that practice, my coach made several comments about getting me back in the game and my return to basketball being the overall goal.  As great as it felt to be with my team and practice, it as clear I didn’t belong here anymore.

I had clear instructions that I was not to play and that playing sports would not be in my future.  On the traumatic brain injury scale, my injury fell at the beginning of a moderate injury; I’ve recovered more than expected considering the severity and location of the tears.  This type of injury is extremely rare in sports and is generally seen in high speed vehicular accidents.  Playing sports is an extremely dangerous activity for me that could result in further injury that would have negative impacts on my life.  Despite the risk and danger, my coach and teammates were only concerned about my ability to provide athletic contributions to the team.

To my fellow former athletes whose careers were ended by injuries, where does that leave us?  There is nothing wrong with looking back at the fond memories you’ve had with sports teams but I think we shouldn’t romanticize the concept of a team.  First, we put teams on undeserving pedestals based on false notions of friendship and security.  Second, we’re never going to get that back so why frame teams as the ‘be all and end all’ of support?

Eight years post-injury, the best advice I can offer is to find a new form of a team.  It’s time to find people, whether that be friends or family, whose friendship and support isn’t conditional on your athletic abilities.  Find people that see you for more than your athletic talents who won’t base an entire friendship around such criteria.  The girlfriends I have made in the Social Work program at Ryerson don’t care that I can’t play sports;  two of my friends signed up for kickboxing this semester, which is something I cannot do, but I wasn’t shunned from the group for it.  There are better friends out there than teams, we just need to find new passions and look for them.

There may be no “I” in team but there is certainly is in injury.

Photo: espn.go.com

Reviving Spirits with Blithe Spirit

a photograph of Angela Lansbury playing the role of Madame Arcati in Blithe Spirit

It’s been a long winter. A long, cold winter. A long, cold, dark winter. The kind of winter which makes you want to stock up on supplies, have a collection of hot water bottles and never leave the house again till spring. With that being said, I needed a little pick me up. Blithe Spirit was just the thing.

My mother and I have had a standing late winter weekend date. This year we were lucky enough to have it coincide with Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit. I knew very little about this play. I only knew that Angela Lansbury was playing the role of medium, Madame Arcati. That alone was enough to get us out in the snow and heading to the Princess of Wales Theatre. Despite being almost ninety, Ms. Lansbury was energetic and spry on stage. You could see how much she loved the role.

I can’t recommend this play enough. It was fabulously hilariously, so engrossing that an hour and a half passed without even noticing it. There was an audible sigh of sadness when the play ended. You could feel the collective wish for it to continue. The play had every element you could want; brilliant acting, stellar comedic timing, great set and costume design, witty writing, and the tiny details which make you feel like you are actually in Kent on a chilly summer night.

The play, written in the 1940s, features Mr. and Mrs. Condomine who invite a medium (a hilariously eccentric character), Madame Arcati to dinner to provide Mr. Condomine with material for his next novel. Madame Arcati, falls into a trance and accidentally summons Mr. Condomine’s dead first wife, Elvira. Mr. Condomine is the only one able to see or hear her. You can imagine how having two wives, one being a rather petulant invisible spirit, can lead to farcical situations and interactions. I won’t give away the ending, suffice to say that it was not what I had expected to happen.

Even if you don’t manage to catch this play with Angela Lansbury, the next time it comes to town, it is absolutely worth going to see.

Get Outside

a woman's barefeet in the grass

Having spent my childhood running through cornfields and reading in the shade of huge oak trees, I sometimes find it hard to live in Toronto. I had always assumed that my longing to feel dirt in my fingers and the grass between my toes was because of this childhood. While, it definitely plays a role, I am becoming more conscious of just how important nature is to everyone’s well being.

In 2009 a study done by the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that the closer you live to nature, the healthier you are likely to be. This was found to be true for people living in cities which had plenty of green spaces. (Luckily, we live in Toronto, a city with tons of green spaces.) (http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/wellness_articles.asp?id=1680)

So being outside makes you healthier, but why? There are several theories. One is Vitamin D intake. The more time we spend outside, the more Vitamin D we soak up, the stronger our immune system. Another theory is that being outside improves our sleep as the natural sunlight helps to set our internal clock. Rather than relying on fluorescent lights and alarm clocks, this internal clock set by nature, helps to normalize our hormones (which can have the added benefit of weight loss). (http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/wellness_articles.asp?id=1680&page=2)

Even beyond our internal clock and Vitamin D, being out in nature has been proven to make us happy. A study from the British Journal of Sports Medicine has provided proof that being outside causes “happiness, or the presence of positive emotional mindsets, broadens an individual’s thought-action repertoire with positive benefits to physical and intellectual actives, and to social and psychological resources” (http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/1920068/science_proves_what_we_all_know_nature_is_good_for_your_health.html).

The dirt we walk or roll on has a part to play. Scientists at the University of Bristol and University College London discovered a couple of years ago a connection between dirt and mental health. There is a microbe found in soil called Mycobacterium vaccae. This microbe stimulates the same neurons of your brain that produce serotonin. Serotonin is known to increase your level of general well being. So even if you don’t live close to a green space or you have allergies and this time of the year is difficult, chances are you can still get your hands dirty with an indoor plant.

While Toronto may not be one of the top ten park filled cities in the world, we do have a large number of parks to enjoy (http://www.frommers.com/slideshows/818821-the-world-s-10-best-cities-for-parks#slide837064). From High Park, Edwards Gardens, Dufferin Grove, Allan Gardens, the Islands, Rogue Park, Guildwood, to Woodbine and Humber River, the city is full of places to get outside, enjoy nature and improve your health.

To see a complete list of Toronto parks to enjoy click here. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Toronto_parks

 

Work vs. Play for Early Childhood

Having an ECE background, I have become knowledgeable on the importance of play. With that said, I believe our society is becoming more and more fixated on the importance of intelligence which is apparently gained through worksheets, mathematical equations and letter recognition. More and more parents are expecting their children who have not yet turned three to be able to write numbers and letters with markers, identify all of the letters of the alphabet, spell their name and completing various math and literacy worksheets etc. What ever happened to good old fashioned fun? What many parents fail to realize is the ongoing learning that happens during play. Children learn to sort based on colour, organize connecting blocks into patterns, sequence objects from smallest to largest, count blocks they are using to build a tower etc. I think many parents overlook the many lessons children learn both on their own, with peers and with the guidance of their teachers.

More and more preschool programs are being introduced to programs such as Jolly Phonic and Handwriting Without Tears etc. I am not saying that such programs are not useful tools to learning literacy, however I don’t think they should replace play. When I was first introduced to the program Jolly Phonics in my first year placement in a Kindergarten classroom, I thought to myself, ”Wow! This is great! The children are learning so much and they are going to be so ahead of the game”. What I failed to consider, which a co-worker later pointed out, is that the children are indeed, ahead of the game. When entering grade one, parents returned to the centre expressing their gratitude for their children having learned so much, but their disappointment that they’re children have become bored as they are learning the same lessons they had learned the year before. An additional problem is that with boredom, in many cases, comes behavioural outbursts.

So what now? Can there be a balance between work and play? In my opinion, I think worksheets should be left until elementary school. Children need to learn how to interact with other children, how to share and how to engage in play. I believe this should come before learning our ABC’s and 123’s. I am not belittling the importance of academics, but I do believe early childhood should revolve around play and the learning that can come from playful experience. You’d be shocked at how many children don’t even know how to engage in play. Many children will wander the room aimlessly not sure of what to do or where to begin. Children need to learn the basics of play such as engaging in imaginative play, play with tangible materials and social play. So let’s put the worksheets aside for a moment and let our children do what they do (or are learning to do) best, play!

Image from: http://trustingconnections.com/blog/2012/08/29/tucson-family-tip-of-the-week-build-upon-your-childs-strengths/