This is a two-part blog post about rewriting the rules.
I hated playing sports as a teenager quelle surprise. In a vain attempt to get me to love the beautiful game, a PE teacher once made me team captain for a kickabout. My rival? Sporty Dave. Head boy, house captain, and conqueror of puberty.
The PE teacher made us pick our teams. I went first and, naturally, chose the weakest of my classmates – Fat Derek. He was overjoyed not to be picked last for once.
“You idiot!” whispered Dave. He picked his mate Phil – who was similarly blessed in the sporting department.
I chose Asthmatic Gary next, while Dave signed up another sporting hero.
And so it went. I assembled a team of wheezers, misfits, and the terminally unfit. Dave had the cream of the crop – all of whom snickered at us. We went off to give our teams a pep-talk before kick-off.
“Right lads,” I said, “Do any of you actually enjoy playing football?”
They looked around sheepishly and agreed, collectively, that they found the whole experience pretty miserable.
“OK, so here’s how we have fun while making the other team feel as crappy as we usually do…” at which point, in the TV adaptation of my life, the camera pulls out and the sound trails off.
In reality, my plan was simple. Our aim was to help the opposing team score as many goals as possible. If the ball looked like it was coming towards us, we had to sidestep it. If we were ever unlucky enough to be in possession of the ball, we had to pass it to an opposing player. Whenever they scored a goal, we had to applaud them.
The whistle blew, and we were off.
The opposing team couldn’t believe their luck! Goal after goal flowed. By the time we were 5-nil down, the novelty of it had worn off. Once the score was 15-love, Sporty Dave jogged over to me.
“Ummm… Do you think you could play, please?”
“What do you mean?”
“Errr… It just isn’t fun doing it like this?”
“I dunno mate,” I looked over at my team who were grinning away, “We seem to be having a lot of fun. We’re not tired and sweaty, we’re not getting pushed, shoved, or humiliated, and we’re enjoying helping you win.”
“But it doesn’t count!” He whined. “It’s just too easy.”
“You’re scoring lots of goals. Isn’t that what you wanted?”
“Well then? My team get to be fresh and alert for the double-maths we’ve got after this. And you get to run around chasing the ball. Let’s carry on!”
And so we did. We rewrote the rules of the game so that we could have fun. Our idea of fun was radically different from the sporty-boys – but we didn’t care.
You don’t have to play the same game as other people on the pitch. Even if you’re bound by the same rules of play, you can alter your success criteria to be something that you want to achieve.
We ended the game triumphant. For the first time in living memory, we were happy after PE. Our rivals, despite their 37 goals, looked miserable and dejected.
They didn’t want to win. They didn’t even want to play. They wanted to humiliate their rivals. Once we were no longer able to be humiliated, they found the entire experience as demoralising as we usually did.
After that incident, I was only ever picked to be team captain once more. But that’s tomorrow’s post.