What It’s Like to be a Non-Athlete at Holderness

September 20, 2017

I’m from a remote country in Southeast Asia where parents don’t promote their children to participate in any activities other than studying. While being lucky enough not to be born in that type of family, I have a 9-year-experience of sitting at the desk of public schools in Vietnam and calculating advanced math in my mind. It was a lot of fun, but it hindered me from many activities, including sports.

At the age of 13, however, I realized the limitations of classroom learning and started joining in projects outside of school. This was where it got darker for me: I realized that no matter how much effort I put into these athletic activities, as one of my friends argued, the only sport that I could “play” or enjoy was swimming. It took me twice as long as my brother to manage to serve a tennis ball, even though I had all the rules of the court memorized way before he did. I struggled to lean my feet to the side in order to kick the soccer ball, the same way my friends struggled to find the right note in a song. The conclusion for my parents and me was that I was endowed with no athletic talents or interests.

The first time I recognized the disadvantage of being non-athletic at Holderness was on O-Hike. I was grouped up with a bunch of highly athletic skiers.  Each of their steps was twice as long as mine, and all of my energy was drained as soon as we sat down for the first meal of the day. But it only got worse. Everyone on my O-hike group spoke continuously about something that I had never imagined, or heard of, before Holderness: skiing and racing. Partially excluded and overly insecure after O-hike, I timidly made my way down to the Lower Fields for JV Soccer practice without any equipment required: no cleats, no shin guards. Things turned out as I expected: while everyone else was having a load of fun, I thought I was going to see God after the first 30 minutes of practice. Knowing that it wasn’t quite for me, I dropped sports and went straight to Arts in The Afternoon.

It’s undeniable how being non-athletic has such a negative connotation at Holderness. It means you are excluded from a huge part of conversations, as most of those in sit-down dinners are casually about what mountains you ski on or what team you’re on. It means you do not have the privilege of enjoying the adrenaline rushing through every vein in your body when your team shouts at you to run at the goal or shoot the ball. It means you can never have a huge group hug with your team after a big victory against Proctor or Tabor, tasting the joy of finally being relieved from the stress on the court and embraced in the arms of your fellow teammates. It means you might feel left out every now and then, because you don’t have a team bonding dinner table, and it is quite sad to see the happiness on your friends’ face. It means that you are, sometimes, not cool, in the standard of this very athletic campus. It means a struggle to me most of the time, not being able to blend into this community because I don’t play a sport.

But more importantly, I will tell you what being non-athletic does not mean. It does not mean you are left out of all the fun at school, because now you have time to explore yourself beyond the athletic fields. It does not mean that you don’t belong to a “team,” because no matter how small Arts in The Afternoon is, we bond and work as hard as any other team. It does not mean you are a freak or not cool in any way; all people are cool in their own ways, so there is no reason to exclude yourself and your identities from this community because you really matter. It does not mean that you can’t try a random sport if you’re genuinely interested in doing so. Being on the basketball team for one season taught me a lot of lessons.

Being a Varsity non-athlete for a year in Holderness, I have to admit that that being non-athlete has its downside, probably a lot more than I anticipated prior to coming to Holderness. But you do get a chance to try a lot of other activities on campus that are just as equally enjoyable. Try throwing yourself around to see what is best for you, and most importantly, be as you always are.

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