So remember a few weeks ago when I wrote about how depressing sports are sometimes? Since then Wednesday nights haven’t gotten much easier. Training with my coach is always awesome, but then I have to play with the other people and they still hate me and are mean to me and I always lose. (I actually have a post I’ve been working on called “The Psychological Minefield of Wednesday Nights.”)
Wednesday nights are tough physically and mentally. The class is the physical toughness, and afterwards is the mental toughness. I’m nervous playing with new people and the people I play with (all teachers and coaches at my university) have never been nice to me. Which makes me more nervous…Which makes me miss the birdie more….Which makes me more nervous…Which makes me play worse and worse.
It’s basically a downward spiral into shame. My teacher has been really pushing me, making me play a lot after our class is over (with him as my partner). As we play he gives me pointers but even with him as my partner we lose (he can’t do it all).
And the most frustrating thing is I KNOW I play better. When I’m with my friends, who I’m comfortable with, I play so much better. So it’s not that I’m embarrassed or annoyed I lose. I’m okay with losing. My shame and anger comes from me not playing as well as I know I can, just because of my nerves.
But now my teacher has a new student, also a teacher, on Wednesday after us (I’m only slightly jealous but it looks like he doesn’t have as much fun teaching her as he does me so that makes me feel a bit better). This week he found three other people for me to play with while he taught the other woman. And I did good. Not just a little but A LOT better. We lost but the final score was 20-22. I’ve never lost so close before. And not just that but I played “normal.” I played like I do with my friends.
And then I realized that I like playing without my teacher. With him I’m a student and I try to remember everything he has taught me. And as we play he gives me pointers which I like, but makes me focus more on form. I’m so damn worried that I’m gonna do something wrong I freeze a lot. or I’m too nervous to really try.
But without him I just focus on the game. I don’t worry about form or holding my racket correctly. I just focus on playing and get in the zone. And that’s when I play better.
So when my teacher and the other student came over and my teacher said we were playing together I said no.
“I want to play against you,” I said feeling confident from my near win. He laughed and said okay and then there was a humiliating moment where no one wanted to be my partner (I don’t know why but those other people just hate me). They called a guy over from across the gym and he joined me.
I didn’t let the Becky hate deflate me. I did a little shit talking with my teacher and we started the game. At first we were winning. I was still nervous when serving against my teacher (he knows my style and how to exploit it) but he started talking smack and it actually relaxed me. Made me laugh anyway.
The first game we lost just a little and then we launched into the second game right away. The whole time it was close. Once me and my partner (who was very good btw) got a few points ahead. Every time I missed a birdie my teacher said *something* in Chinese that I don’t understand but I knew was meant to be cheeky. Something like “that the best you got?” or “You sure you can do this?” Whatever it was, I was loving it. If he gave me a patronizing “don’t worry, you’ll do better”I would have been annoyed. But the fact that he was giving me some sarcastic smackdown meant he knew that I was better than that and that I could do it.
The score was 19-20, me and my partner losing (a game is won at 21 points). But then we got the next point, so it was 20-20. A badminton game must be won by 2 points so we were playing to 22. Then it was 21-21, 22-22, 23-23, 24-24. Each turn the opposite team got the point. We were all on edge and totally focused. Several people had come to our court to watch us.
Then it was 25-24, my team. If we got the next point we would win, if my teachers team got it we would keep playing to 27 or more. It was my serve. Against my teacher. He was kinda shuffling his feet, racket high up, really focused and ready to smash my serve. It’s an intimidating posture to serve against and he knew it. I served it, my teacher smashed it back, but my partner returned it, my teacher hit it back, but it landed out! We got the point! We won the game!!
In the dozens of games I’ve played Wednesday nights I don’t ever remember winning any of them. And even better, it was against my teacher! He came up to the net and we high-fived. “We won! We won!” I said super excited.
“I know,” he said both smiling and shrugging. He was really happy and proud of me for winning, I could see that. But we have the same temperament and like me, he hates losing. We walked back to our stuff and I was just beaming and he high-fived me again. “I can’t believe it.” I think he also couldn’t totally believe it. While I knew I had it in me, from playing with my friends, he had never seen me so active and capable when we play games.
I was putting away my racket and getting ready to leave when I heard someone say something. My teacher was talking to other people and no one else talks to me so I just ignored it. Then I heard (in Chinese):
“Foreigner!” I looked up. It was my partner from the game. “Bye,” he said waving.
“Bye,” I said waving back. No one ever talks to me on Wednesdays, and if they acknowledge me at all, they just give me a little nod or something. But he actually got my attention to say goodbye. That was almost a bigger victory than winning the game. I’m slowly melting their ice cold hearts.