I’ve never been the athletic type. My health has always been good enough that I could take it for granted, which suited me just fine, because I have a natural aversion to exercise and a bit of a self-destructive streak.
With all of that as background, you can imagine how surprised I was to find myself embarking on a workout routine at the beginning of this summer centered on the basketball courts at the local Y.
It all started with a pool membership for my kids. On our second visit, on a sudden whim, I requested a basketball and headed out onto one of the courts, curious sons in tow.
That first outing was humbling. I tried out all of my spin moves, heaved up 3-pointers to no avail, and basically looked like an idiot, even to myself. You see, it was my first time on a basketball court in about 40 years. My body had changed many times over in the interim, but my brain hadn’t kept track. After flopping on my ass a few times, I started to get the message.
The next day, finding bruises in places where I didn’t know I had places, I made, for me, a curious decision: I decided to start working on my shot. I headed back to the Y, got a ball and launched into a disciplined regime. I picked seven spots on the court, all inside the 3-point arc, and began a personalized drill – 10 shots from each spot, after 70 shots, start over – on which I would spend 30 minutes a day.
What was the point? The immediate answer was part of an effort to lose some weight. As I’ve said, I’ve never taken much pleasure from exercise, but I knew that I could stand to shed 10-15 pounds and it wasn’t going to happen just by adjusting my diet. Some kind of exercise was inevitable, and jumping up and down a few hundred times in a half hour seemed a little less dull when coupled with heaving a ball at a small, impossibly high hoop.
As it turned out, it was oddly liberating to work on something for which I had no expectations. At age 52, with a vertical leap that wouldn’t make an ant look up, it’s not like I’m headed for the pros. It called to mind the middle-aged guy who, not having touched a piano since childhood, suddenly gets some software and decides to try his hand at composing. What’s to lose?
I wouldn’t have minded having some coaching. I had a fantasy that the bored-looking guy sitting in a foldout chair at the entrance would look up from his hand-held and, admiring my gutsy determination, come over to offer me a few pointers. But I couldn’t deny that whatever he had on his screen was probably a lot more interesting that the spectacle I was putting on.
Speaking of screens, it’s been bracing to engage in an activity that excludes the possibility of glancing at one. As with many of us who have bought into the smart-technology loop, I’ve felt my brain rewiring to accommodate and expect a constant flow of fresh input from a pocket companion, a phone that quickly becomes smarter than I am. Without the opportunity to have my smarts sucked down into the palm of my hand, I found my focus shifting. After a few weeks, I began to feel an unfamiliar sensation: rising up from the floor in mid-shot, as the ball left my hands, I could feel my fingertips subtly adjusting their balance, compensating for any error in my initial trajectory, in a reflexive effort to guide the ball to its destination.
Brain rewiring? Consider it done.
I made another interesting discovery: It didn’t take long before I was getting more satisfaction from missing a shot and having the rebound come right back to me for another attempt than I got from making a shot. I know there is a compositional metaphor hidden in there somewhere, but I’m going to pass on digging any further to find it.