Sport or, How I Learned to Socialize Whilst Sweating

I sit with most of my body aching at present. My shoulder is sore. My calves are tight. My back occasionally reminds me that it is not at tip-top performance either. Finally, my throat is hoarse, and my voice gaining husky sultriness and quiet awkwardness in equal measure. Why is this? Bonding over sport, namely Ultimate and rugby. There were losses. There were wins (although these were fewer). Most importantly, friendships were formed or forged even stronger through the simple acts of playing and watching sports that we love together.

In school, I found sport largely an odd phenomenon. Sure, I played sport all of the way through my schooling career. I was in the 3rd cricket team in my final year. I batted at number seven at earliest, and bowled one over per game if I was lucky. I occasionally latched on to the optimistic thought that my fielding was that good, but most of the time I realized that I was profoundly average. The sport that I enjoyed the most in school was hockey. Although I did not achieve a higher team placement than cricket, I felt like a more integral part of the team than I did in cricket.

My first truly great sporting experiences lay on the hockey field, but on the club level. When I say club level, I do not mean the kind of club level where the players are all sporting six-packs, there is constant training, and my team is expected to win the title each and every year. I mean the kind of club level where the players are all sporting six-packs of beer, there is no training whatsoever, and the team is expected, well, to hopefully remain in the same league and not get relegated.

It was great fun, and I had many happy memories from my club hockey days. Some of these great memories came from on the field, but the majority arose during the shenanigans that took place off of the pitch. One memory that springs to mind most often is the one and only time I have seen my father truly drunk. Here is a picture from that night.

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Doesn’t he look majestic? I was a year or so shy of legal drinking age, and fairly responsible. I ended up driving us home, because he was incapable of doing so. It was a night I will never forget.

Whilst hockey was my first foray into social sport, I feel that I truly found my outdoor sporting community in Ultimate Frisbee at Wits. Everywhere else, I had felt a little bit of an outsider, for one reason or another. I was too slow. I was too young. I didn’t drink enough. The list goes on, and many are likely to be overly critical perceptions from my mind. But in Ultimate, while I wasn’t the most integral part of the lineup, I still felt like part of the team to a degree that I had never felt before. Some of my strongest friends from my days at university come from the Ultimate team, despite me only playing in my final year in the university. I even played with my supervisor for my Honours thesis project whilst doing my thesis. Witsies will always be there to jol (have a good time for all of you not from South Africa), and that is what I loved about Wits Ultimate and the Ultimate community as a whole – everyone simply wanted to have fun.

This feeling continued into Korea, where the emphasis on the community is even more intense, especially in ROK-U, the main league in which I am playing now. ROK-U is largely comprised of expats from countries as varied as Russia and Canada, with several stops off in South Africa along the way. As a result, when game weekends are planned, so are organised social events for the teams to mingle and grow their expat connections within Korea. Ultimate people are great. Everyone is a little weird, and no-one cares, because you are all there together, in a strange country, playing the game you all love.

This past weekend, there was a two-day game weekend in Daejeon, which is pretty central in Korea. At one of these parties, the South Africans in ROK-U all bonded by staying up until 2am to watch our national rugby team, the Springboks, suffer a narrow defeat to the rugby juggernaut that is New Zealand. It was a heart-breaking affair, but I will never forget the sounds of a handful of South Africans (some more drunk than others) screaming at the top of our lungs at a television screen in the corner of a bar. It really was one of those special moments.

So, to everyone looking to meet new people, try sport. I’d say try Ultimate, but I may be a little biased. I am sure there are many sporting codes being played really close to you that you never knew existed. You don’t have to be serious, or even fit. I most certainly am not. Just get out there. Spend a little bit of time away from the digital overload. You won’t regret it. Not even when everything aches on a Monday evening and you have to carry heavy shopping.

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