There are so many thoughts swimming around in my mind after this past weekend. This has been a challenging and emotional weekend for me. I suspect that initially this blog may tell you more about me, my history and personal challenges than it will about the elite student athletes whose experience and stories I set out to tell you, but there will be plenty of time for the latter.
Let me recap the past weekend.
On Friday evening I joined the team for the first time when they met at 5 pm. for a practice in one of the gyms of the Ryerson Athletic Centre. I was introduced by the coach and I had the opportunity to explain my project and why I was there. I am sure it was hard for them to really understand my intention or what I would be doing with them all year but we had to start somewhere. I just observed this first time. They practiced hard for almost 3 hours. These young women are phenomenal at what they do. So strong. So fast. So skilled.
On Saturday afternoon we met again at 2 pm. with the Strength and Conditioning Coach. The plan after a warm up was to have the team run the “beep test”. If you don’t know what that is check out this short video which explains it. Basically it is a running test that speeds up as you complete levels of the test. It measures fitness and endurance. I don’t run. I don’t have much endurance. Did I mention that I don’t run? I am 53 and about 80 pounds overweight. But I have committed to trying everything that I can, in order to have a taste of the experience of these students. So I ran the beep test. I finished Level 1 (about 160 metres) before stopping…according to the charts this is a pitiful result. This did not surprise me at all, in fact I am surprised I didn’t bail after about 40 metres. The players each tapped out somewhere between Levels 8 and Level 10 (1400 – 1800 metres). Remember at each level they have to run faster.
We gathered again on Saturday evening at 7 pm. for another practice. They just start out by shooting baskets waiting for practice to start. One of them kindly asked me if I would like to join them. Thankfully a few days earlier my trainer Patrick had me spend one of our sessions doing just that so I knew what to expect. So I joined in. I missed more than I sank but I did sink 5 in a row so I was feeling like I had accomplished something. I did their dynamic stretching warm up (see diagram above) with them (or the parts of it that I could do) and then stood and watched the 2 hour practice.
On Sunday morning we met at 11 am. with a trainer and did the dynamic stretching warm up, worked on our muscles with foam rollers and did some static stretching. Again I did what I could do. We met again Sunday evening at 6 pm. for another two hour practice and I took some shots with them, did some of their warm up and then operated the time clock for the coach. I am still thinking through some ideas for finding a way to mimic for myself the kind of physical exhaustion that they must feel after running full out for 2 hours for the three days in a row. The students have been kind and welcoming which I really appreciate as I acclimatize to this new world and culture.
Trying to join in with a strong solid group who have known and worked together for a long time and who have dedication to this game in common has brought me back to a place where I was young and unsure of myself and felt like I didn’t fit anywhere. It is tough being the new kid, the outsider. This entire weekend of trying to do something physically that is hard for me but that looks so easy for others, has brought me back to a place where I am in grade nine in physical education class where I felt weak, and awkward, and clumsy and not good enough compared to my peers. I know intellectually that these are not my peers. They are young and fit and doing something at which they excel. Even though they are such good basketball players they spend a lot of time working really hard to be better. I can learn to mimic this by accepting where I am and by also working really hard to get better. I have decided that although I hate it (as my friend Cath would put it… “hate it with the white hot intensity of a thousand suns”), I have decided I need to take up running because when we do the beep test again in 3-4 months I need to get past level 1 and show improvement. One player has been working on her fitness level all summer and moved from a level 6 to a level 8 on her beep test this weekend. She will be my inspiration.
If you have ever read or learned about Student Development Theory, you will know of the work of Arthur Chickering and Linda Reiser who in their book, Education and Identity, discuss a theory of psycho-social development that includes 7 vectors of activity or tasks that students typically face as they journey into adulthood. The initial vectors that we see new students grappling with most often as they deal with their insecurities and learn how to handle difficult challenges are 1. Developing Competence, and 2. Managing Emotions. We know that when faced with new challenges even as adults we revisit some of these tasks on our developmental journey. This weekend brought me right back to these two vectors and reminded me what our students face when they are in a new unfamiliar situation or are required to do something that it challenging for them. I will be continuing this year to work on developing competence related to some of the physical capabilities and skills required for this sport. And managing my emotions as I experience frustration, self-consciousness, embarrassment, exhaustion, awkwardness etc. will indeed be a challenge for me.
This chapter of the In Their Shoes project is so very different from last year. Last year I knew that from a technical ability standpoint I could totally hold my own. I can sew circles around most people and I had much more sewing experience than many of the students in the class (although they were full of an abundance of creative design talent that I couldn’t pretend to keep up with). This year the only thing that is going to get me through is the fight to silence the voice in my head that is telling me I should feel embarrassed and I should quit, and my ability to dig down and muster the sheer will, heart, and determination to keep going.