Opinion: What Joining JV Basketball Taught Me About Self-Confidence


I wish this article was about a girl who sucked at sports, decided to join a sport, and was miraculously visited by a fairy godmother-coach who transformed her into an effortlessly high-scoring, well-balanced player, but it’s not. This article is a real story about me: a girl who sucked at sports, decided to join JV basketball, and found out that she still sucks at sports but learned a lot about herself in the process.

Whenever I played a sport, either in PE or at my closest friends’ request, disaster would strike. In a sixth-grade PE class, our PE teachers, regular middle-school teachers who were stuck working an extra block, attempted to imitate a soccer field with white paint so they could teach us all how to play soccer. They split us into two 30-student teams and sent us to play with limited instructions. A few students were in full focus, kicking the ball straight across the field, while others, like myself, stood still, unsure what to do. 

I didn’t understand how to play despite attending my sister’s soccer games every weekend for the past four months, but motivated by my desire to earn an A, I closely watched the ball. It tumbled beside the player who kicked it along before another player swooped in and knocked it out of bounds. From the corner of the field, a boy kicked the ball back in, and before I could blink, the ball smacked me in the face. As my PE teacher ushered me toward the nurse’s office and I hid my bruised, teary-eyed face, I decided sports were not for me. 

         For the longest time since then, I believed that sports were just another aggressive activity with rules that followed no logic. If anyone besides my closest friends asked me to join a sport, I laughed at the suggestion. I had been so adamantly against playing sports that eventually, everyone stopped asking me to join them. To be fair, I had given sports a fair shot—pun intended. What I lacked in obvious talent, I tried to make up for in honest effort.  Still, my forearms would burn after playing volleyball, and my lungs felt like they’d collapse after cross country. After a floor hockey unit in PE, I’d have bruises on my knees, and I always found a way to twist and sprain my ankles, whether it was tripping during the warmup lap or slipping on a tennis ball like a Mario Kart character spinning on a banana peel. 

I only began to reconsider joining a team when it occurred to me that playing a sport or participating in any kind of physical activity might actually be good for me. Although I had originally planned to take PE to fulfill all of my credits, when I realized how addicted I was to screen time, I decided that I needed to join an afterschool activity. Unfortunately, by the time I had come to this decision, it was late October, so most activities had started months ago. Enter: basketball, which was set to start the following week.  It had already caught my attention because several of my friends were planning to join the team, and there were the added bonuses of a free block for the rest of the year and exercise. I had my doubtsI was out of shape, unsure if I’d have fun, and certain that I’d embarrass myselfbut I convinced myself to give basketball, and in some ways myself, a chance.

On the day of the tryouts, the start of the winter season, I was tempted to call the whole thing off. By sheer force of will, I made it to the tryout. Maybe I’d trip and land on my butt, but I had to prove to myself that I could and would persist even if I might do poorly. 

It was much less of a tryout and more of a ‘Welcome to JV Basketball.’ Most people already knew if they were a JV or Varsity level player. Those who had played at least a couple years of basketball waited the extra thirty minutes until the Varsity tryouts began, and the rest of us, whether beginners or those looking for a less competitive experience, sat down in a circle at 3:30 p.m. Coach K and Coach Ginny introduced themselves as our coaches, each others’ best friends, and “basketball-players-that-were-so-old-that-they-played-in-the-first-ever-basketball-game.” 

As Coach K explained the first drills, I barely understood anything. My friend and I shared an I-have-no-idea-what-we’re-doing look across the gym. Throughout each drill, I lost hold of my dribbling and missed more than half of the shots I took. When it was finally our first water break, my friend talked with her JV Tennis friends, and I slumped onto the cold floor and sipped water, completely exhausted already. 

A couple of other players sat down next to me. We exchanged the typical “How’s practice for you?” small talk and then reassured each other that we were all doing great. I had never talked to them before, so I felt a little awkward, but it was a welcome difference from my normal routine. We grouped up together for the last passing drill, talking about our days and our upcoming Thanksgiving Break plans. Before I knew it, the tryout was over. Somehow, I had averted disaster.

Although I managed to get through the tryout, I dreaded practice and never quite got used to the embarrassment of chasing after yet another basketball that had rolled across the gym. Sometimes, it was during free throw practice; other times, it was during dribbling practice with Varsity Basketball, which single-handedly assured me that I do not, in fact, have good hand-eye-coordination. I just always felt uncomfortable and out of place, whether it was running a lap around the gym in my too-short shorts or practicing drills in my out-of-place olive-green leggings.

Despite my own discomfort, the truth is, the team experience itself was fine—even fun. There was no fighting over another game lost or teasing about mistakes unless it was meant as a joke, no toxic booing or jeering like you see in high school movies.

 Eventually, I realized that sports were, as everyone always says, healthy and fun. Once I could get over the initial hurdles of lack of athleticism and awkwardness, I laughed lightheartedly at my mistakes. We all did. And we all applauded and cheered excitedly at nearly every successful shot. Our coaches would even laugh with us, make faces, and tell silly jokes throughout demonstrations and drills. When we played Knockout or had a short competition of who made the most shots within a couple of minutes, there was a competitive edge, but it was still sweet fun. 

We also had a couple of team bonding days, getting boba at Teamorrow and then sitting down in front of the South Pasadena Public Library. All of the freshmen, including me, trailed behind the junior and seniors like ducklings. After games, we sat in the locker room if it was a home game or a corner of the gym if we were away, congratulating every single success, big and small. Although Coach K might start with something like “We didn’t win…” (because here’s a little, not-so-secret secret: we lost every game), she made sure to end with a positive comment such as, “But that one shot, in the beginning of the third quarter, was incredible!”

I learned that there isn’t anything inherently bad about sports. Sports are just another activity that you have to devote time to, like learning an instrument, drawing a landscape, or perfecting the line weight of calligraphy; the only difference is that sports require some physical strength and endurance. I may not devote my life to sports in the future, but I no longer hate sports. 

If anything, I should be thanking sports. Joining JV basketball helped me realize that what may seem like a risk will not be as catastrophic as I imagine. Over the past several years, my fear of standing out kept me from breaking out of my comfort zone. I realized that comfort zones, though comfortable, can become traps if we confine ourselves to them. Joining basketball taught me how to take a risk and become a little more comfortable being uncomfortable. I’m taking my newfound confidence and hoping to join cross country next year, even if I have the worst race time ever. I can start learning Korean even though I’m learning with a bunch of 5-year-olds. I can’t let old fears control my life because the future belongs to me just as much as it belongs to the rest of the world.