1. Harbor irrational fear
While America marveled at the gravity-defying finesse of the parkour craze, I foresaw bone breaking against concrete and braced myself for shock footage of compound fractures. My instant cowering from dodge balls, volleyballs, and even ping-pong balls is not just human reflex. That is because as a terrible athlete, you are not necessarily injury-prone. You are injury phobic.
As a terrible athlete you are able to imagine—in the split-second it takes to pitch a baseball—the crunch of bone and the taste of blood, the tragedy of paralysis, the shame of an irreparably broken and deformed nose. Another second later you find yourself, once again, crouching at first base with your arms shielding your upper body as though you are caught in an air raid. Soon follows the familiar, collective groan of your teammates. But you have no regrets. The sighs from your coach make no impact on you. You know what’s really at stake here, and walk shamelessly back to the dugout.
2. Lack (any) competitive edge
I, like all terrible athletes, lack a powerful force that guides “serious” athletes to victory. That is competitive edge.
Almost every card game I participate in ends with my opponent throwing cards on the table in exasperation because “you weren’t even trying to win” and “what’s the fun in that?!” To which I’ve always wondered: What exactly am I winning here? Is there some kind of meaningful recognition I’ll earn? A cash prize I’m unaware of?
Similarly, my teammates in phys ed shrieked in frustration when I refused to “dive” for the volleyball. What will shattered elbows earn me exactly? I wanted to know. At 10 AM in a mandatory “class,” what could motivate me to willfully “dive” into a hardwood gymnasium floor?
The gift of competitive edge doesn’t need reasons. Like an animal instinct, it drives deeply rooted insecurities and need for control and VICTORY I’M A CHAMPION GODDAMMIT attitude to the forefront. With competitive edge, one can stand fearlessly in the way of fast moving objects, leap over hurdles arranged over a cement track and otherwise risk all injury for the sole pursuit of the big win.
As a non-competitive terrible athlete, you’ve known from a young age that calling yourself “a winner” is both trite and delusional. And that’s not because of low self-esteem. For you, victory is as meaningless as it is improbable. You simply see no tangible advantage in “winning.” Unless, of course, there’s a cash prize.
3. Be reluctant to explore the great outdoors
I cherish my outdoor time, when the weather isn’t hellishly humid or below freezing. I’ve lived all my life in the upper Midwest, where those comfortable weather days are seldom. But even if I lived in my ideal climate of moderate temperatures and constant overcast, I still wouldn’t want to run a 5k or go kayaking—though I’m almost always game to dine outdoors.
Mine is a personal preference, but as a terrible athlete your aversion to nature can be also be innate. Maybe you sunburn easily, or have debilitating seasonal allergies. Your asthma is severe, or your poor alignment prohibits you from walking uneven terrain. Or perhaps, as one junior high classmate thoughtfully noted to me on the tetherball court, you are simply “a natural born pussy.”
These are not weaknesses; they are blessings in a lifelong career of terrible athleticism.
4. Let your mind wander
I spent most of my time as goalie on my elementary soccer team sitting in front of the goal, squinting against the sun and picking at crab grass. Periodically my thoughts were interrupted by the distant shouting from our coach, who gestured furiously from the side lines for me to “get in the game!”
Bear in mind “get in the game” is synonymous with “get your head in the game.” If you are more interested in blowing on dandelion puffs, cloud formations, or your cuticles, you have great potential to be a terrible athlete. In fact, you are half way there.
Poor focus and total ambivalence are your keys to success. Because it’s not always about winning, it’s about trying your best and having fun. And that requires giving an ounce of a shit, and not just “participating” for the post-game juice boxes and Rice Krispie bars.
You are not a winner because you do not care, terrible athlete. But more importantly, you do not care that you will never be a winner.
– Katya Karaz