Oh my lawd that was a tough decision. After all we had been through together.
I never meant to hurt anyone but it was time to face up to the fact that I had taken on a commitment I was incapable of seeing through.
I spent all day crying, shaking, questioning my decision, fearing their reaction. I considered sending a text message to get it out of the way, but no. That would be the coward’s way out. This is a conversation that has to happen face to face to give them the closure that they need.
I felt sick on the drive over to our usual meeting spot. My hands shake as I approach the group. It’s time.
I tried to soften the blow by saying “It’s not you, it’s me…” and I abruptly burst into tears.
Because what I actually meant was:
“Um, actually it is you. Mostly…yeah. Screw you guys, good luck finding another defenseman/back up goalie/anything else I did that the rest of you are too high-and-mighty to do.”
Oh I’m sorry, did you think I was in some kind of crazy polyamorous network? Nah. I was playing a contact sport at the representative level for a few years but somewhere along the way the relationship between my team and I became dysfunctional. I was hurting, losing sleep, losing motivation for life in general. Something had to give.
I was injured a lot during the season. I had gained weight during the summer and was trying to lose it slowly but in a contact sport like ours, weight gain without improved fitness has significant impact on your game and your ability to keep yourself safe. So I was getting hurt a lot.
I didn’t want to play injured. Fair enough, right? I’m paying to play, not playing to be paid. Those pro footballers you see get their faces smashed in then come back ten minutes later with stitched? They’re not trying to be heroic, they’re trying to keep their jobs!
Well not fair enough, was what I was told. I showed up to match to support my team after lacerating my fingers to the bone the night before, my tortured stitched fingers balled up in mittens and was told that a) I’m a disappointment because I won’t play injured (“So fucking what? I played with a broken hand!”) and b) to go away because my jumper was too gross to look at. Noice.
Naturally, I left those bitches to stew in their own juice. And lose.
The next day a post appeared on the team facebook group thanking another girl who was too inured to play who had kept score for the game (which she did REALLY BADLY. I don’t think the correct score was up during any point of the game.) The post ended with something like “it’s nice to see that some people show dedication to their team even though they’re injured.”
FUCK. THAT. SHIT. If you want my dedication, don’t insult my taste in knitwear!
So, you want to talk dedication? Ok teammies, where was your dedication when we needed a goalie and you all refused, yes you looked Coach in the eye and REFUSED! to step up. I, with all my co-ordination problems, was left to pick up the slack. When our regular goalie came back, you thought our problems were over. Except, we didn’t have a back up. There was no other goalie in the entire state that could fill in for her if she got hurt. So I kept up with my goalie training because I knew a back up would be needed at some point. How many of you have been joining me at goalie class so you could step up when it was needed, ah that’s right…NONE OF YOU.
Luckily she never missed a game and I stuck to playing defence. Wait, how did I come to do that again? There was this one game were we needed someone to drop to defence. Coach asked all of you forwards that were there…and what did you do?
Oh yeah…YOU REFUSED.
When he asked me, what did I do?
I fucking stepped up that’s what. I don’t mind trying new things, I don’t think I’m so bloody fantastic that the world will stop turning if I’m seen doing something I’m not good at. Actually I became rather competent at it, but more on that later.
A dedicated player is dedicated to being game ready outside training as well. As I said, this is something I dropped the ball on during off season. But I tried to regain game fitness and when the men’s team coach offered to take us for conditioning as well, I jumped at the chance.
It was a fantastic experience but it was a bit of a sausage fest…why weren’t all the other women there too?
Oh yeah…stop me if this is getting repetitive…YOU REFUSED.
I’m too busy (but not for women’s training) I’m too injured (but not for women’s training) I’m too cold (but not for women’s training.) All of these things said by my teammates.
I felt like the question of “but what have you REALLY done for this team?” was hanging over my head a lot this season, bit explicitly and implicitly. I kind of get it – I’m easily one of the weakest players on the team. How can I possibly doing so much hard work if a) no-one’s around to see it and b) my production during the game isn’t the greatest?
It was painfully obvious because of the contrast in skill level on our team. Because we were low on numbers, some national rep players came down to play with us. They came, did wonderful things in game, and everyone was so excited, because of their production we were coming first, we were just so lucky to have them.
We were so lucky. We were reminded often, in case we forgot. In case we started entertaining the idea that because we were wearing the same colours that we were actually equal. These girls were on our team, but they aren’t our teammates. They only passed to each other. They would score, I’d go up to congratulate them and get ignored while they stood there in their exclusive little huddle. Eventually I gave up. Our team scored, I put my head down and moved back into position as it if were an own goal.
They talked only amongst themselves and the girls on our team who had played with them previously, but were willing to make an exception for any of the rest of us plebs willing to fawn over them. I can’t say I’m the fawning type so I went ignored. Screaming for passes, constantly ignored, just conditioning when I should have been playing.
So I settled into a stay at home defenseman role. I got rather good at it, if I say so myself. While our national players got too ambitious, went up too high, when the game turned around I stayed back to take on breakaways as they frantically scampered to fall back. But no one noticed. I shouldn’t care, I know. But no one noticed. Even experienced athletes never give thoughts to what defence is doing unless they score goals, and I didn’t score goals.
I didn’t get player of the match once all season. Not once. I even started voting for myself because there were a few games where I FUCKING DESERVED IT. I don’t care if that makes me look conceited, it’s still true. But yeah. I don’t score goals.
There was this one girl that got it twice. And she’s terrible. She’s been playing for a few years with no improvement. Yeah, I’m terrible too. And yet I’ve never scored a hat trick of own goals. She is the only player I’ve seen do that at any level for God’s sake. And then was prancing about the locker room boasting about how she, like, totally knocked the other team’s star forward over. She couldn’t do her job and actually fucking stop her, hell she way as well be on her line for all she was helping her score, but at least she put her on her arse that one time. What an idiot.
Ok, so she didn’t win the player of the match that day but that’s beside the point! She’s useless. She’s the same ‘dedicated’ player who will score keep when she’s injured even though she can’t score keep.
I felt unappreciated. Because I didn’t only do my work out in the open, where everyone could see me. It did what I could in my own time as well as in team training. I didn’t just cheerlead my team on Facebook where everyone could see me doing it. I can’t say what I don’t mean. If someone was doing remarkably well I told them privately. If I was worried about someone I asked them if they were ok privately.
It shouldn’t matter to me that no one appreciates that. I know I’ve done the right thing. Character is defined by what you do when people aren’t around, after all. I guess my wishing that people were paying attention means that mine still needs work.
But I wasn’t just unappreciated, I wasn’t accepted. Tolerated, but not accepted. I was being pointed to other members of the team. Why aren’t you like her, she volunteers at junior games. Why aren’t you like her, she helps out with coaching. Why aren’t you like her, she never criticises anyone.
I can’t be someone I’m not. I can’t give time I don’t have. I can’t force myself into a role I’m not capable of fulfilling just for approval (already far too common in our sport) and I just can’t bullshit people. I can’t conform to this image of female niceness, which as far as I can tell consists of smiling and lying to someone’s face, telling them that they’re right then bitching furiously behind their backs once they leave.
Being on the spectrum in a women’s locker room is hard. I would much rather sit with a team of men than a team of women. It felt like me and the rest of them. And I am an educated, intelligent – articulate, outspoken (ok, abrupt) female. Let’s face it. Competitive sport isn’t dominated by intelligent, educated, articulate, assertive females, neurotypical or not. I was never going to fit in totally.
There are intelligent girls on my team but they dumb themselves down, present a convincing tough as nails, rough as sandpaper façade to fit in. I feel like that’s what they want and while I want you to think that I won’t be like that, the truth is that I can’t.
Well, if a partner puts you down, belittles you, tries to change you, doesn’t appreciate you, refuses to accept your shortcomings, what do you do? You cut your losses and you leave.
So that’s what I did.
As I drove to practice to confront my coach I was incensed, fuelled by the vitriol I’ve been spewing above. I’m leaving and I’m telling their dopey asses exactly what I think of them when I do!
And yet, I got there. I asked to speak with him, he stood there expectantly with his clipboard with the miniature field drawn on it. And my script went blank.
“I’m done…my season…it’s done.”
He looked sad, asked me if it was the team and my anger evaporated. I burst into tears.
“It’s not them, it’s me.”
He wasn’t angry. He was disappointed. No, shocked he said. But he understood that I had to look after myself.
I agreed to talk again in a few days for closure. Because we were both getting upset, and the parents of the juniors were circling closer and closer, drawn in by the pungent scent of juicy club gossip.
I thanked him and left, flicking tears over my shoulder theatrically as I raced to my car. My anger was gone. It’s still gone. I’m second guessing myself. Because even after everything that happened, it wasn’t them. It really, truly wasn’t.
It was me.
Sure all those incidents were unpleasant but the main reason that I opted out of the rest of the season wasn’t to avoid my team mates, it was my anxiety.
Anxiety driven by a lot of things. Fear of getting injured yet again, fear of being put down by my teammates, fear of trying so hard and going unnoticed yet again None of those things happened in a vacuum but there will always be shitty politics in sport. It you really want to be there you will suck it up and get on with it.
I couldn’t suck it up. Not this time. I would sit on the bench at games, trembling, stomach clenching, one thought on repeat in my head – I DON’T WANT TO BE HERE. I couldn’t concentrate on the game in that state of mind obviously, so I would get in a bad spot and get hurt again. I was losing sleep. I was self-medicating with food and alcohol. I would go to training praying to get injured just so I didn’t have to play. Just thinking about the upcoming game in two weeks was driving me to tears.
I feel like a failure by admitting defeat but I’ve been on teams where people who didn’t want to be there kept forcing themselves, or were being forced to come. There’s a couple on my team now, apart from me. Those people brought the whole team down. I know I’ve been doing that and I don’t want to be that person any more.
I thought I was at peace with my decision until I called BF. He asked me where I was playing this summer, and got an anguished wail down the phone as a response. Thinking about other teams is just too painful!
I need to get over this team before I find a new one. Or we might reconcile next season, I don’t know yet. It’s all still so raw.
And I was just reminded by Facebook that I agreed to go out drinking with them next week! I’d better start preparing my outfit…just to show them what they’re missing out on.
Or will they just drown me in questions? Probably. Ugggggggghhhhh!
I can’t deal. I’m heartbroken.
Excuse me while I go look though team pictures while listening to All Saints’ ‘Never Ever’ on repeat.