I was clumsy as a kid. Skinny legs, short height, round spectacles and an undying obsession for books. Seychelles wasn’t exactly the place you wanted to be if you were any of those things. Seychelles was a place to play football, swim, run and dance – everything I absolutely sucked at.
When it came to football, the usual order of things was like this:
- Go into the school ground during lunch
- Get picked last during team creation
- Screw up in the most horrendous of ways (or better, make a self-goal)
- Resort to reading during lunch-times
- Feel bad about not being any good and repeating step 1 …
As if that wasn’t enough, the teachers would stand up for me and help me out whenever I had a problem (since I was new and foreign and didn’t know Créole at all). That alienated me even more.
Sometimes, I’d feel like bringing a cricket bat and ball and showing everyone that I could play cricket twice as better as they played football, but I was half afraid of someone stealing the bat, and half afraid of someone hitting me on the head with it.
So I decided to play football in the least destructive of ways. I would stay back near the goalkeeper, swing my legs at the passing attacker (usually miss) and pretend to have tried really really hard by showing the required amount of emotion. Watching Bollywood movies helped a lot with the acting part.
That served my purpose and I began getting picked more often during team creation (on the premise that I would at least try).
Life would have been all nice and peachy if it hadn’t been for a particularly aggressive kid on the opposite team. He would fly in with the football, shove me aside and score his goals. Who was going to spot a skinny little Indian lying in the dust anyways? Tick-tock.
Then began the days of watching football matches on TV. Manchester United, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Liverpool, Chelsea. People watched successful goals. I watched failed goals. I watched why they failed. I learned.
On a fateful day, I put my logic to use and resorted to swerving out of his way, going behind him and diving with my legs forward to tackle him.
When it failed the first time, I tried again, faster, sneakier, tighter. Before long, I had blocked two definite goals and turned from a trier to a performer.
Of course, it didn’t always work, and I never had the potential to defend any more than a fellow seven year old’s tactics, but I did learn not to absolutely suck at football.
Eventually I came to the realization that just brute force wouldn’t get you anywhere in the world. No matter how hefty and strong the attacker was, all that mattered was reading his movements.
Things weren’t all peachy and fun after that either, because nothing ever ends with “and everything was fine“. There was the “high jump” incident and the “guava stealing” incident. There was also that one time I came on Seychelles national TV ‘by mistake’ (and everyone except me saw the footage, of course). But that’s a story for next time.