Playing Outside

After years of playing competitive indoor volleyball, two nights ago I finally got a taste of taking the game to the beach. It was a good night for trying new things. Like taking a dance class, playing beach volleyball has been on a short list of things I’ve been meaning to do (but not trying very hard to do) for a while.

It was a nice night for playing outside. The early evening air was warm without being too heavy or hot. The sun set in a popsicle shade of orange—it’s colorful light reflected and complemented by the glassy skyline of Manhattan.

I wish it hadn’t rained, but that’s the chance you take when you play outside. Indoor sports are less affected by the whims of the weather, but they’re also devoid of fresh air and direct sunlight. There are no natural breezes in a closed gym. There is no flowery aroma hanging in the air. Light bulbs and fans and air conditioning units are poor substitutes for the sun and wind.

We played despite the rain. Getting soggy made me feel silly. It became difficult to take the game as seriously once the volleyball had become slippery. Diving meant getting wetter and sandy. I felt like a child—playing to win, but mostly just having fun. It reminded me of how much I had enjoyed Physical Education when I was young.

PE was always a high point in my academic day. I love learning, and I’ve been blessed with a lifetime of great teachers, but I can’t sustain hours of static attention without interludes of movement.

There was less to worry about in the gym versus the classroom. My mind could make mistakes. It could forget the right answer or find a concept confusing. My body, however, couldn’t betray me. There weren’t any wrong answers in motion. On days I didn’t feel pretty, PE reminded me that I was strong. On days I didn’t feel confident, PE reminded me that I was fast and capable. On days full of tests and stress, PE gave me fun and success.

PE was a welcome invitation to play and compete. I loved winning—especially if I had to work for the win. I loved being part of a team. I enjoyed devising strategies for dodge ball or capture the flag, racing towards a teammate’s outstretched hand in a relay, or making a shot (or a save) in floor hockey.

PE was a period for releasing stress. It was a time to play. There was nothing serious to worry about—just games. To this day, when I put on my athletic wear, I divest myself of life’s pressures. I want to win, but losing doesn’t ruin my day. It’s just a game—or a bike ride/run/walk in the park. It’s called recreation for a reason. It’s supposed to be fun. And that’s what I found the other night on the beach volleyball court, fun—fun playing outside—playing a game both familiar and new. We were getting wet and loosing, but we were enjoying ourselves too.

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