When did it happen?
When did we trade in orange slices for office chairs? Light-up sneaks for loafers? Pizza parties for dinner with the in-laws?
I don't rightly know, but I miss those things. They were part of playing sports and being a kid, providing the bedrock for our now fully developed obsession with athletics.
Things have changed concerning how we enjoy sports, and I think it's time to think about where all this started. It's time to look back at the things we miss about playing sports as a kid.
Put on your rose-colored shades. It's time to blast into the past.
Capri Sun: salvation in a pouch.
Drinking Capri Suns after a rec-league event was the childhood equivalent of having beers with friends after an evening of pickup games, but far more satisfying.
Where twist-off bottles surrender easily, Capri Suns played it coy. Every pouch was a “Choose Your Own Adventure” in the works.
Do you needle the straw in carefully, like you’re performing acupuncture? Jab down at a 90 degree angle like you’re drilling for oil?
You tried different ways, but you knew how it was going to end—with you stabbing through the pouch like Norman Bates and wrapping your lips over the top half like a seabass.
Honorable Mention: Hi-C. You were delicious, and responsible for 90 percent of the red stains in my childhood clothing.
We all took our bumps and bruises in the early years, but never as kids did we wake up the day after a game and think, “This is it. It’s over. I’m paralyzed."
Bouncing back was easy, and nothing short of a broken arm would keep us from playing day in and day out.
I long for the days when “maybe I should take a preemptive Aleve” wasn’t even a thought in my head.
Having a big guy on your team is still an advantage, but never was it more scorched-earth devastating than when we were kids.
If your peewee team featured an earlier bloomer—a kid who stood head-and-shoulders above everyone else on the field—chances are you were going to win the game.
This extends mostly to youth basketball and football, where our skills were still developing and everyone had yet to understand the key to beating tall people is taking out their legs.
“Jump higher, run faster and be a better person with this new shoe.”
That’s how we looked at the latest and greatest sporting equipment as kids.
We still lust over equipment as adults, but only because we’re looking for “an edge.” As kids, we didn’t think of it as gaining an upper hand—we thought of it as showing up to a knife fight with a bazooka.
All you needed was the new Jordans, Goalrilla or Warrior Levitation lacrosse stick and you’d blow the competition away and turn the corner toward stardom.
Why make it rain champagne on fans when you can pour parmesan on the pepperonis?
Win or lose, it was pizza party time if your team made it to the league championship. It was all the toppings you could ever want—as long as all the topping you wanted were cheese, pepperoni or meat lovers.
Even if you lost the ‘ship, you couldn’t stay down for long. There’s no such thing as a sad kid eating breadsticks.
It's a bit contradictory, but true—as much as we loved the game, getting out of practice was an occasional guilty pleasure.
If you were sick (or faking sick) in middle school, your parents could write you a letter and voila! No practice for a day, and if you’re lucky, a visit to the nurse would send you packing on home.
True story time: after the morning of Sept. 11 in 2001, me and several other sixth graders were picked up by our parents after school instead of going to football practice. The next day our coach chewed us out for “skipping.”
What a nozzle, right?
My oh my, how coaches have changed in our eyes.
At first, coaches were your dad or the father of a friend. They knew everything and they were generally awesome.
Then you hit high school. Coaches changed, you no longer knew them at all and they became exponentially more intimidating.
The biggest change comes after you graduate high school. At this point you begin thinking most coaches either a) don’t know a damn thing about anything, b) are cheaters, c) are liars or d) are lying cheaters who don’t know anything.
This feeling only increases with age, and eventually will lead to you coaching youth sports and continuing the cycle.
Sweet orange slice, shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
I must compare your zesty goodness to summer—and spring, and any other time I remember hustling it in at halftime during rec soccer games.
Orange slices were delicious, nutritious and energizing, giving you the strength to kick the ever-loving sap out of the ball. Nature’s mouthguard fueled you up without filling you up, and sticky hands were but a small price to pay for their goodness.
Thanks, whomever’s mom brought slices this time. You made our day.
Coming up with a name for the youth league team was an important step in our childhood development.
Figuring out what kind of animal moniker we wanted for our squad was important work for us budding zoologists, and voting on which name we liked best was an early exercise in democracy.
On the flip-side you have adulthood, where this process has been reduced to finding ways to work Aaron Hernandez jokes into your fantasy football name.
There was a span of time between our five to 10-year-old range when you wanted to be a pro athlete and were convinced it would happen.
You didn’t understand how few people make into professional athletics, but you still held your private hope to yourself like a candle that would one day grow into a fire. But somewhere along the way, girls became involved, you didn’t grow to 6’6” and that candle guttered out.
Becoming self-aware is an annoying part of life, but it’s fun (in a bittersweet way) to remember being kid and having hoop dreams.
Trophies for winning. Trophies for losing. Trophies for not bricking in your pants for two consecutive quarters.
We received a trophy for doing just about anything and everything as kids, and while it kind of makes me sick looking back at it, I loved it as a kid.
It wasn't about elitism, it was about the team, the group effort. Nowadays I could care less if your kid is an honor student, but I’ll high five the heck out of him if he runs up to me smiling with a third place trophy.
As an adult, I couldn’t be more against players getting unearned minutes. Unless they’re fall-over-tired, the best players deserve to be in the game at all times.
For kids, however, getting playing time you didn’t deserve was what it was all about.
Spreading the minutes and giving the dorky kid some PT fostered a sense of equality between human beings, even if we did all eventually figure out who was godawful and if we wouldn’t want them on the field.
Also, if you were a late bloomer, the shared minutes kept you involved and interested in the sport. You don't just wake up as Blake Griffin. You need time to develop into that.
For you high school and college freshmen out there reading this, there’s something you should know: the skills you picked up playing varsity ball will wane—quickly.
You’re going to graduate college, get a job and decide to go brush up on your skills at the local gym or park. Unless you call up a group of friends to play with, chances are you’re going to end up playing kids six years younger than you who have been working at this sport every day after school for the last several years.
They will be better than you, and you’ll be praying to play against a group of your worker drone peers that won’t make you feel like a bum.
No matter what you did on the field as a kid, your efforts were applauded
Score a goal? Clapping. Pick your nose? Give this young man a big hand. Sitting on the ground picking at grass? Brava! Magnifico!
Nonexistent was the hostility, trash-talking and taunts from the opposing crowds that you’d run into during high school. No one screamed during your free throws, and if they did, it’s okay. They’re burning in hell as you read this.
Hold up a second. This one applies to everyone.
Sports give us, as people, so many things. For some it's money, others fame—but for most of us, it provides an escape.
No matter your age or life situation, athletics is one of the few things in life that can make all the worries and struggles fall away, if only for a brief moment. Whether we're young or old—playing the game or watching a game—enjoying sports always sends our trouble to the back-burner.
It's been that way since we were young, and that's how it's going to be until we retire to the Fan Hall of Fame in the sky.
Let's get nostalgic on Twitter: