Monday, March 29, 2010


I wear the same elastic in my hair every time I play soccer. Well, elastic is a pretty generous word for this stretched out grey stringy circle I use to tie up my hair – but that’s what it was, an elastic, back when I started being superstitious. Yup, same one, and when it’s not in my hair at the field, it’s wound around my right hand, where my life line would be if I could read palms.

There are other things too, I realize, that have become part of my elaborate pre-soccer ritual. They are what keep me from getting injured. I wear only short black ankle sports socks to play (do you have any idea how hard these are to find?!). I brush my teeth (well, now, that’s just good oral hygiene), I put my cleats on before my knee brace, and I listen to the Clash before I play. Superstition is something I came to late in life, and I’m very selective in the way I practice it.

When my hair elastic stopped being pink and sparkly (I swiped it from my daughters), and well, elastic, I started to wonder if I had a problem. So I began to ask around amongst teammates and soccer friends. Do you have any superstitions around playing? Anything specific you do before a game to prepare? Nothing. Nada. One fellow finally admitted “well sometimes if I have time on a Monday night before we play, I’ll watch the top 50 goals of all time on youtube.” If I have time. Feh. That is not a superstition.

So, like all people who feel isolated and alone in their little worlds, I turned to the internet. And I started to feel better.

What I discovered was that everyone loves the crazy superstitious story –like that wackjob Turk Wendell, the major league baseball pitcher who would chew 4 pieces of licorice and brush his teeth every inning he pitched, or Mike Hargrove, another major leaguer who had so many little ticks and routines for every swing that he was nicknamed ‘the human rain delay’. I’m interested in it, of course, because I have some of these little quirks myself and seek to feel less.....weird. But there’s not a lot of actual scholarship or study on why people do this. I did find one study on the website “Athletic Insight, the Online Journal of Sport Psychology”, entitled “An Exploratory Investigation of Superstition, Personal Control, Optimism and Pessimism in NCAA Division 1 Intercollegiate Student-Athletes”. Close enough, right? The article mentions women soccer players as part of the group study, and more importantly, it must be worthwhile because it uses vocabulary like ‘locus of control’ and ‘behooves’.

After wading through fourteen pages of research and bibliography filled with language such as “a negative correlation emerged between a God-mediated local of control and prayer frequency (-3.7) and prayer effectiveness (-3.6)” , all I can think is wha? Those cutesy licorice stories are looking pretty good right about now. But the foray into academia wasn’t a total waste. I found out that people who believe in God are more superstitious. Considering my kids call church ‘you know mom, that building with the big plus sign’ – it’s apparently a little surprising that I’m superstitious.

I also learned that the authors differentiate between superstitious behaviours and rituals and what they call preperformance routines; they feel the major difference is that the preperformance stuff is something athletes can control, as opposed to the superstitions, which athletes tend to feel control them....(mmm, licorice anyone?) So....brushing my teeth before playing – fine, normal, preperformance routine; ridiculous grey stringy hair elastic of questionable effectiveness and need to wear short black sports socks - not fine.

Also– in the past, the limited studies that have been done showed that women were more likely to emphasize superstitious ‘appearance rituals’ than men, but over a period of twenty years, this has changed; apparently now there is virtually no difference in the kinds of ‘appearance rituals’ men and women undertake before playing in sporting events. Dudes worry about the way things look just as much as us girls. (Thank you, David Beckham.)

More tellingly, for me personally, is the explanation that ‘superstitious behaviours have been used to reduce anxiety, build confidence and cope with uncertainty” and that they are “utilized to give the illusion of control over reinforcement in an uncontrollable situation”. Ah, the illusion of control. Don’t we all want that? The study says that women have a stronger sense than men do that they can control things, but I feel just the opposite. I’m in control of nothing in my life. The kids run the household. We must remember of course, that these are collegiate athletes being studied, those pre-kids women who say things like “When I have kids, I’m never going to let them watch TV” and things of that ilk. I too used to think that way. But getting married and having kids and working and driving for field trips and helping with brownie badges means exhaustion, and it’s strange how quickly things can spiral out of control before you know it.

And so we start to need these things, these simple little things, like formerly pink hair elastics and black socks. It’s no wonder someone like Michael Jordan wore his UNC basketball shorts under his Chicago Bulls ones every time he played. He didn’t even make his high school basketball team, but suddenly he’s playing collegiate ball, he’s amazing, he’s in the NBA, and he’s famous and talk about spiralling out of control – everyone wants a piece of him and he’s making commercials for almost every product imaginable, and kids all over the U.S. want to be just like him and even though he can seemingly fly through the air towards the basket, he still knows inside that he’s human, and flawed, and that he screws up sometimes, and maybe those UNC shorts help him remember what it feels like to be shocked at how good he is all of a sudden, and humbled somewhat.

Now I wish my weird greying hair elastic and short black athletic socks made sense in the same way, but instead, they are boring and inexplicable. Probably I was so worried about getting hurt while playing that after wearing them once and not getting hurt, I wore them again and this false sense of safety started to build up around them to the point where it has just become ridiculous.

I should be thankful, I suppose, that my superstitions aren’t worse; I’m not worried about stepping on lines on the field, which could affect my game; I don’t have the lame superstition of not washing my socks or jersey if I win, a fairly popular superstitious habit, according to my research, which I’m certain would make me less popular amongst my teammates. They’re just funny little things I do, and it doesn’t really affect anyone negatively. Looking for ankle length black athletic socks give me something to do at the mall. Besides, it behooves my ego (and my vocabulary!) to study this and to compare myself in some remote way with real athletes out there, those Tiger Woods (red shirt on Sundays) and Wayne Gretzky types (hockey jersey tucked in on one side). After all, if it worked for them.....

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Soccer Part

Monday night, the kids are finally down, so here I go: change into sports bra and soccer gear, check; brush teeth, check; flaccid old pink hair elastic, check; short black athletic socks, actually matching, check; keys and phone and money, check; stop for cleats that must be kept outside because otherwise our whole house smells like feet, check; Clash London Calling CD on in the car, set to track #5, check. It’s 9:00pm and I can finally back out of the driveway.

Two and a half minute drive to the field. The Clash egging me on. I’m off to play soccer with fit young men, most at least 15 years younger than me. Most very tolerant of me. But still, I must concentrate. I must imagine it. I must repeat it, my mantra: No accidents. No injuries. I sit and pull on my socks, cleats, and cheap neoprene knee brace, and put my hair in a ponytail. I say hello to a few of the guys. I stretch out my quads, my hamstrings. I tell myself When I leave, I am going to walk off the field, all tired and sweaty, but glad that I went. ( Walk is the key word here, of course, because if I am walking, I am not being carried off on a stretcher.) Warm up by passing the ball back and forth with a few fellows in a circle. The odd shot on goal as practice – usually sailing over the net, rather than into it. A yellow pinney on - the worst colour for me, really, terrible with my skin tone. Wonder briefly if any of the guys ever think about how yellow goes with their skin tone? Ha. And away we go.

For the next one and a half hours, I am golden. I am running, I am tackling, I am passing, I am crossing, I am shooting, I am calling, I am laughing, I am teasing, and occasionally, I am scoring. Occasionally.

Of course there are times when it is not all golden– like when I give away a terrible pass to the other team, or take a ball off the face from Bruce, or call for it when I’m wide open on the right, but never see the ball - those times are less golden. But overall, still fun.

Of course the pub afterwards doesn’t hurt either. Five or six of us go, sometimes more, and we order a beer, and then because of some kind of policy for sports teams, we get a free pitcher. We talk about all the sports highlights we see on TV. When soccer comes on, we compare our skills with the pros. (Somehow we keep a straight face when we do this.) We talk about all the good or terrible or questionable or gossipy things from the game we just played. Everyone who scored that night manages to work it into the conversation.

Other girls never go to the pub. Occasionally, they’ll play with us, but never drink afterwards. I take flak for this. Not from the boys, but from other people I know that go to the pub and happen to see me. Like friends husbands, of course, who pop in to watch football with a buddy or who just finished playing a hockey game...and who don’t know this part of my life. Or older guys I know from my summer softball league. “Cathy?! Watcha doin?” they call out loudly, genuinely wondering what I am doing sitting in the pub with all these young men. I smile and wave from my little coterie of soccer studs who are all surrounding me, looking at me with quiet awe. Somehow magically my hair no longer looks soaked and limp and my face isn’t covered in dry sweat, makeup-less and ruddy. I am glowing. I am beautiful. I am golden again.

Okay, I may have just made up that last part.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Boys

Playing soccer with the boys all these years means they are used to me and will therefore say the most offensive, questionable things in front of me without a second thought. On a recent Thursday night, Graham, who looks like a 40 year old Burton Cummings, with the big handlebar moustache, had this conversation with me:

Graham: I had to buy these new white shorts for ball hockey.

Me: Yeah? Why white?

Graham: It’s a team thing. But guess what? They’re women’s shorts.

Me: What?!

Graham: Yeah, well, I hate shopping, so I went into the Bay to the sports department and bought the first pair I tried on and bought them. Then when I washed them the first time, I read the tag and.... damn.

Me: Well it doesn’t really matter I guess....they don’t look girly.

Graham: But I feel girly.

Me: Why?

Graham: Well, now I am starting to wonder if my ass looks fat.

Me: Very funny.

Graham: And once a month I can’t wear these shorts for a week.

Me: Aww, Dude....

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Not Clown Sex

At some point after University I took a weekend workshop on how to write a romance novel. I had never read a romance novel, and frankly had no interest in it, other than the part I had heard about how you could make $30,000 if you wrote one that was published. How hard could it be? I liked to write. I needed $30,000. But after the course itself, I came out knowing there was no way I could do it. You have to like those kinds of books to write them. Plus, so many rules: the fated couple have to meet by page 6 and they have to kiss by page 40. And there were a whole bunch of topics that were off limits because according to their research, women don’t like them, specifically: golf, politics, clowns, and finance. Of course the jackass in me who doesn’t like writing rules decided that I should immediately try to write a very romantic, very sexy novel about golf, clowns, politics, and finance. There’s tons of sex in politics. Now with Tiger Woods, apparently there’s also tons of sex in golf. But finance? Clowns? Clown sex? Maybe this was a little too challenging after all.

And so I am going to write about soccer. Why? Because it is something I know. It is something I like. Like most obsessed people, I unfortunately plan my week around it; some weeks I play four or five times. I’m 41. I should work more. I should probably spend more time with my kids or make my house or garden look more presentable. Instead, on Monday nights or Wednesday mornings or Thursday nights or sometimes, if I drink some of that vitamin water, even Friday mornings, I will be out on the field playing with the boys. (They are mostly boys I play with.) It is not always perfect. I, in particular, am not always perfect. But I still have fun. It is still better than scrapbooking, or craft fairs or knitting or any of those other girly things my girlfriends do. Why do those things? Why? When you can take the ball from a beautiful throw-in down the right wing, deke around someone, plant a lovely cross in front of the goal, and see a friend head the ball into the net? Sometimes in the pouring rain? Sweat dripping off the end of my nose, knee shiny and swollen the next day – all worth it. That is what gets me kicking. Kicking itself.

I just thought I should tell you. In case you thought I should have named my blog “Deoderant”.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Wake up and smell the roses

The other night at soccer, when we started to break into two teams by choosing pinneys, we noticed that they hadn’t been washed from the week before. Gaak! Putting that thing on unwashed is akin to jumping into the trash compactor in Star Wars. I don’t stink that badly when I play do I? I guess I do. My husband, who smells me when I come home from soccer, assures me that I do. No one thinks it’s them, of course. One of the guys, Jason, even joked: I must be wearing Steve’s jersey from last week, cause I know I don’t stink this much.

But naturally, as a woman, I am supposed to glow, not sweat. Yeah, riiiiight. When I play indoor soccer, I bring a towel with me to mop up my face when I’m on a break, because this sweaty Betty sweats buckets. People like to buy into this notion though, those same women who convince themselves they’ve had exercise when they’ve spent part of hour lying on a mat, barely moving, while they do yoga (I know I am going to get in trouble for this); the ones who falsely compliment each other on their outfits- those women, the ones who like to pretend, are the ones being marketed to. Especially with deodorant. And, interestingly, I discovered that while men can buy deodorant, presumably to hide the smell of their sweat, women cannot. We can only buy anti-perspirant. It’s as though the whole idea of women exerting ourselves in the first place is repugnant. But deodorant or anti-perspirant, whichever you wear, I went to the drug store and wrote down all the scents I could find for men and women. Here is the list:

Smooth Blast
Pure Sport
Pacific Surge
Game Day
Aqua Reef
After Hours
Wild Rain
Arctic Ride
Cool Wave

Radiant Silk
Smooth Cashmere
Energizing Grapefruit and Lemongrass
Nectarine and White Ginger
Cucumber and Green Tea
Refreshingly Floral
Raspberry Burst
Wild Freesia
Sugar Plum
Rose Petal
Water Lilly

Look at this list! Who are we? I am ashamed to be a woman sometimes. How come they get “Stride” and we are stuck with the perhaps delicious but still sickeningly sweet “Nectarine and White Ginger”? I can’t be the only person who thinks Raspberry Burst sounds like gum. Must the Pacific surge for men only? Don’t they know women play sports too, and they might not necessarily all love to smell like flowers and foods filled with antioxidants? My husband, who is a writer and an intellectual, and whose exercise routine mostly consists of pacing back and forth, pulling on his beard while deep in thought, gets to buy “Game Day”, when the only game he’s probably played in the last twenty years is a few stressful matches of Go Fish with the kids.

Now, I’m no student of feminist theory, but it’s not difficult to see that in the armpit world, men get the powerful images of ocean and athleticism, and women get the delicate flowers on fragile stems and easily bruised fruit. The world loves binary opposites such as black and white, hot and cold, big and small – and this idea suggests that there is always an exact opposition at work – but must men and women be marketed to in this way? I’m no marketer, but I can think of some examples of situations in which women are very powerful:
- Bunting.
- Book clubs.
- Childbirth.

Now bunting, if you play mixed slo-pitch softball, that’s one of the most powerful tools in a woman’s arsenal. Men are not allowed to bunt, but women are, and when there is a runner on first base, and perhaps even third base, and less than two outs, and a woman is at bat, she should play to her strengths and bunt. Why? Well, the throw to first base from the catcher or pitcher will almost surely put her out. But that’s just one out. And the runner from first has moved to second, which is officially in scoring position, and the runner from third base may likely have run home by now, scoring. Stay with me here. Had she batted normally, there’s a big chance she may have hit into a double play, getting herself and that runner from first out. And women are typically followed in the batting order by men, who can typically bash the crap out of the ball a lot farther than we can, and then more runs come in. We get to influence the score in a very positive way when we bunt.

Book clubs are powerful for women too. Since Oprah revolutionized the book industry with her own book club suggestions, as dodgy as they may sometimes be, what has come out of this is a realization that women read many, many of the books out there, and so more books are being written for women, or perhaps even by women. And the books that women buy and read, the popular ones get made into multi-million dollar movies, get the picture. And once you’ve joined a book club, there’s a sense of entitlement that after work you need time away from your household chores and duties to read your book for the club, see, and that you should be allowed to get together once a month and drink way too much wine and talk about the book and sometimes lots of other stuff.

Next, childbirth. If you can think of another more powerful image for women, I’d like to hear it. We utter guttural moans and pace back and forth for hours in labour, until we produce human beings.

So, women can be powerful too. Can we translate these powerful ideas to the deodorant marketers? Can we make them admit that women might like to perspire, and then perhaps lightly cover it up, as men do, as opposed to pretending it doesn’t happen at all? Probably not. Imagine women’s deodorant named the following:
- Bunt to Avoid the Double Play
- Book Club for the Body
- Push
I just can’t see it happening. Well, maybe Push with Cranberry Extract.......