The surprising link between playing a sport and braving through a lockdown
I used to play volleyball as a middle-schooler. I’m much older now and at 5’1, I don’t quite look the part of an athlete.
Back in the day, however, I was quite the sharp player. I even went on to captain the school team.
More than anything though, I played because I absolutely relished my time playing.
I didn't care what position I played. I usually got relegated to play defence because spiking would be harder for me than for the taller players. But I didn't mind at all.
I was just glad to be playing. The joy I felt while playing was so pure.
There was just one little problem though. I performed outstandingly well during practice sessions. But when it came to an actual match, especially ones held outside school grounds, I choked.
I choked so bad.
I used to struggle with anxiety, worried about players that were bigger than me, taller than me and quite frankly, just 'more' than me. Even if the players weren't as outstanding, the situation itself scared me so damn much.
In my 12 year old mind, there was just too much going on - I was in a new place, wearing a different jersey than usual, holding a ball I’d never seen before. My own team looked so different too against this new backdrop. The newness was overwhelming.
And I hated it!
I hated every agonising minute of watching my favourite sport turn into something ugly and scary.
I always performed at less than 70% capacity at games held outside my school.
My coach saw this. I was so embarrassed.
She pulled me aside one day and told me something that I have never forgotten:
"Archana, when you play, I don't want you to think about the championship, the honour of the school, the opponent's skills or anything else. I want you to just serve the ball and play each shot like it's the only shot you'll have to play. Don't think beyond the next move. Don't think about the points either. Just play it one shot at a time"
Full disclosure, this didn’t dramatically improve my game. But, I felt lighter when I started to play like this.
Thinking only about what is right in front of you is a lot less stressful than thinking about what might happen the next day, the next week, next month or the next year.
I've found that the advice translates well to so many other areas of my life.
Sitting here in lockdown, it’s natural for the mind to race through old memories, drown in new anxieties and invent new demons for you to fight.
If I can draw my mind away from all this to just focus on doing the dishes, cleaning my room, making my bed, and paying attention to each meal, I call that a victory.
If I can make sure I show up and do my yoga routine and meditate each day, without letting my pessimism overpower me, I call that a victory too.
If I can rediscover how quaint and beautiful it is to have some time to myself, that’s even better. Why let the anxiety about the future destroy the small joys that surround you in the present?
The next move you have to make may not have to be a grand one. It may just be something as simple as getting a sip of water, or putting away your laptop after a day's work.
Getting hyper focused on the small stuff may just be how you prepare yourself to handle bigger challenges.
Let these small efforts add up. Free your mind from worrying about things you don't fully control.
Take care of the brush strokes, the masterpiece will take care of itself.