When I was 10 years old, I fell in love for the first time. My baseball team was in the state tournament, and every other day we’d carpool to Danbury, Conn., to play on the nicest diamonds any of us had ever seen. There were dugouts. Freshcut grass. Immaculately chalked lines. And 200 feet away — the symbolic obstacle to every one of our dreams — a home-run fence.
The main field in the complex even had a PA system, where they would announce your name before every at bat. It was like playing in the Major Leagues.
Sixteen years later, I distinctly remember that feeling I discovered in the summer of 2000, the summer I fell in love with sports.
Growing up, summers were a three-month love affair. Not with the opposite sex (cooties were an epidemic back then), but with sports. Weekdays were filled with baseball practice, my water jug filled with the sweetest Country Time lemonade you’ve ever tasted. When I was finally brave enough to sleep away from home, there were pilgrimages to basketball camp. In high school, the last two weeks of August became synonymous with two-a-days on hot turf football fields, when I really found out what pushing myself physically meant.
There’s no doubt that how we consider ourselves as athletes changes as we get older. Many of us stop playing organized team sports after high school. To get our fix, we buy gym memberships, we start running more and we find different ways to train — but that training takes on a slightly different meaning. There’s an underlying tone that we’re doing it more for improvement than enjoyment. We start calling it “exercise” or “working out.”
This summer, let’s start calling it “sports” again. And let’s do it for love. I encourage every athlete to think back to that summer in their own lives, when they fell in love for the first time, to really remember what gave them that head-over-heels feeling. Let’s make a concerted effort to just start playing sports again.
I don’t mean some adult rec league or your corporate kickball or softball team (although I don’t object to this at all). You don’t need to spend money or find an organization to get back to the basics. I’m simply suggesting we think creatively about how we, as athletes and as individuals, can find ways to mix real, fun sports into our routines to remind ourselves why we started training in the first place.
This summer, let’s start calling it sports again.
At times, how we think about “working out” belies the real heart and soul of who we are as athletes. We thrive on challenge, competition and camaraderie. And even though we’re not training for anything anymore, per se, we can still play sports and love them like we used to.
Below are five takes on real, fun sports for this summer:
1. The long toss. Just go have a catch. Literally, go get a friend, go get a ball and throw it to each other at varying distances. Remember that? For me, that means dusting off my mitt and going to the park with a buddy. We’ll start 10 feet from each other, and as we get loose maybe be able to air it out like we were throwing third to first. A football, lacrosse sticks and even a soccer ball to kick back and forth are applicable. The soreness you’ll feel the next day will be real and wonderful.
2. Beach games. There is nothing quite like the physical exhaustion after a properly executed beach football game. Keep it simple: Carve out a space on the beach, five downs for the entire field. Running on sand is a rare form of cross-training. Route running — with all the starting and stopping and changing directions — will get you more tired than a long run or a gym sesh, guaranteed.
3. Pool hoops. I find that people are very particular about their pool basketball rules. My philosophy is that goal-tending should be allowed on every shot except designated 3-pointers. That way, it becomes an absolute physical battle. Trying to stop your opponent from backing you down is the equivalent of pushing a blocking sled — and unless you’re sparring or doing a heavy CrossFit workout, it’s a type of primal physicality you can’t get doing anything else.
4. King of the court. This one’s a real throwback for all the former racquet sports players. One person holds a side of the court while the rest of the group lines up on the other side. You need to win three points in a row to dethrone the incumbent, sprinting back and forth if there’s a switch. You’ll quickly realize that it’s not a game reserved exclusively for youth tennis clinics.
5. Classic pickup. I try to play basketball outside once a week, preferably on Saturday mornings. There’s nothing like the local blacktop; I’m constantly on the lookout for outdoor courts with decent hoops. Assembling 10 people for a full run can be daunting, but all you need is three for a good run (playing 21 is actually one of the best “workouts” you can get).
So even it’s been awhile, reintroduce yourself to sports this summer. It doesn’t need to be instead of your regular routine — that’s not the point. Do it because you want to, because you enjoy it, because it’s actually fun. Remember that feeling? You just might realize why you started doing all this in the first place. And even though it might have been a while, you’ll be surprised how fast the chemistry comes back.