New Courts

Este post esta dedicado a Angel. Gracias por alentarme en todo lo que es basquet y estar para levantarme del piso rocoso.

Last Friday, I attended my first practise at America del Sud. I got there a bit early and sat in the huge upper gym, which included both futbol and basketball courts on the top floor. I soaked in the new place: the blue and red paint on the floor, a huge banner hanging from a wall of previous champions, old vines growing on the inside of the brick wall, and the whirling ventilators turning in the wind high above me.

After a bit, a guy showed up and it turned out to be the Assistant Coach. He tossed me a ball and we shot around until, one by one, girls began to arrive. Each one presented themselves to me with a greeting kiss.

“Your shoes are really white,” one commented smiling. I smiled back saying, “Yeap, they are new!”

The girls chattered amongst themselves and eventually the A.C. promptly told everyone to hurry up; we were going for a run. While going down the stairs, a young man was coming up and the girls kissed him hello. I realized that I recognized his face, but I couldn’t remember from where. I was suddenly hit by shyness and ducked quickly down the stairs, for some reason feeling the need to avoid an introduction in that moment.

I wasn’t quite sure where we were hurrying to, but I followed the group of six girls, plus the A.C. We ran out into the night, the temperature perfect for what was a warm up jog. The streets of Floresta were dark and we entered Parque Avellaneda. Drums sounded in the distance from the murgas+ and I kept pace with the A.C.. I felt safe running in the group and enjoyed the atmospheric dusk.

After our fifteen minute run, we headed back and as we entered the upper gym, I saw the same young man. It clicked where I had seen him before: he had coached our team (El Talar) once in a game for Cate. I also realized that he was the coach of this team. I walked over and presented myself.

“I thought I saw a new face, but since you didn’t say hello I wasn’t sure.”

While we were stretching and drinking water, he signalled all of us to come to the centre. He was going to talk.

“When I walked into this gym twelve months ago, I saw four girls playing basketball…or at least it was something like basketball. And maybe in that fifteen minute game, they combed their hair like thirteen times and drank water eighteen times.”

Everyone laughed. To me he appeared to be an actor on stage, his gaze turned downward at the same time his hands were waving around.

“Now, we’ve come a long way and we are looking at not only a bigger team, but a team with more experience. And we do have a couple of new girls who should know that consistency with practise is important.”

He was looking at me now, and continued.

“Some of you know I especially don’t believe excuses coming from ball players. And if there is something about a player that doesn’t feel right, I will sense it. This affects the game and team.”
I watched him throughout his whole performance and was intrigued. Very different from my previous coach.

After an hour of numerous running drills, he confirmed that there would be practise tomorrow afternoon. I walked two blocks to wait for the 114 to Villa Urquiza, buying crackers and cold water at the kiosko by the bus stop. I was ecstatic to Oso on the phone:

“I had such a great time! And we didn’t even play basketball!!”

I went the next day as well, even though I was sore. Again, we did lots of drills, practising power and shooting. We didn’t playing basketball, but I didn’t care: these were real practises, what I had been yearning for in the last year. I noticed how I wasn’t so worried about making mistakes, but instead just tried to concentrate on the instructions given.

After the final free throw drill, I headed out, looking forward to enjoying the gorgeous Saturday. I heard a whistle behind me and turned. It was Cordobes, (that’s what I heard the other girls call him) a ball player who was training with us. He asked me if I’d be interested in actually playing some ball, since he was heading to Caballito court now. I said, “Of course,” and we headed to the bus stop, talking all the way. He told me that he had recently moved to Buenos Aires, but has been playing basketball since he was seven and now he was trying to get in shape to play with the men’s primera. I told him I’d been thinking about going to Caballito court for over a year, ever since I’d heard of it.

After a quick bus ride, we arrived and the court was piping with people. A full court game was going on while there were about twenty or so people waiting on the sides. Cordobes said hi to most of them and presented me as well. I quickly spotted a girl playing in the game and was pleased.

Cordobes got us into the next game and before I knew it were were playing full court. Except, the contrast of practise to street ball became almost dizzying to me. The guys handled the ball sloppily and with no control. They wouldn’t pass the ball, but instead would ram into the three guys waiting under the ring for the obvious foul. I got passed the ball maybe twice throughout the whole game, even when I was completely open in middle range. I was relieved when the game ended and quickly switched shoes.

“Are you leaving?” Cordobes looked at me worried.

“Yeah. I gotta meet someone in a bit.”

I paused before deciding whether to rant or not.

“Why do you think I only got passed the ball twice?”

“Because most of those guys are machistas*. You aren’t leaving because of that, are you?”

I nodded, annoyance in my voice, “No, of course not. I have experience with macho guys.”

Cordobes quickly called over the girl, her name Vanessa, and we started talking. I couldn’t deny that it still made me angry when guys didn’t pass me the ball, when it was such an obvious thing to do. She related, and told me that she had learned to brushed it off quickly. We talked about how both of us in the past had avoided playing with girls and I was grateful to know that my experience wasn’t exclusive.

“Now I enjoy playing with both genders,” Vane said, “although I personally prefer guys.” She asked if I’d come around tomorrow, and I said maybe, although I had a feeling my muscles would be as stiff as wood boards when I attempted to get out of bed in the morning.

We said bye and I was left with a feeling of freshness. On the way home, I thought about how putting yourself in a new, higher place can change everything. This can also be scary because you might not know anyone and you might have to ask for help, but the possibility of reinventing yourself is amazing.

If we constantly bring ourselves down with our mistakes and we feel stuck, I think the best remedy is to stand up and go to a fresh place, where you don’t know anyone else. And automatically, you get better, because you aren’t focusing so much on your errors. I realize that I’m in a totally new place than where I was a year ago.

+ street bands
*macho guy, or male chauvinist

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