Category Archives: sports

Bicycles and women: Engineering social reform

I have a new respect for bicycles.

This one in particular. I wasn’t alive in the 1880s, but this bicycle directly affected my life nonetheless. 

First modern bicycle
First modern bicycle on display at the Coventry Transport Museum

John Kemp Starley developed the Rover safety bicycle to replace the precarious large-wheeled Penny Farthings. The safer bicycle allowed more people across more classes to get around, and some of those people were women.  

Plaque reads: Engineering Heritage Award. The low-riding position and chain-driven rear wheel allowed this bicycle to be enjoyed by all. It also played a role in the liberation of women.

Can you imagine biking with a long skirt and petticoats tangling in and around the chain?

Around the same time that J. K. Starley was engineering a safer bicycle (and lessening the impact of fossil fuel emissions hundreds of years later), the Rational Dress Society formed in London, England to protest clothing that deformed the figure, impeded movement or injured a woman’s health.

Many people (men and women) didn’t like the idea of women traipsing about in pants.

How would they tell the genders apart, by gum?

But women of the time wanted or needed to get around, and the safety bicycle made it possible. If only they didn’t have to take their life into their hands every time they peddled along with long skirts dangling around a bike chain. The Rational Dress Society was right: wearing a long skirt while riding a bike was not only irrational, it was downright dangerous.

The demand was too great and the logic too sound. Society changed, and rather quickly for the time. Bicycles allowed women freedom of movement, both in terms of clothing and transportation, and that opened up other areas for them.

Without bicycles, changes to wardrobe might have been a longer time coming.

I doubt that J.K. Starley had women’s rights or environmental protection on his mind back in the 1880s, but those are the unintended consequences of his work.

I have a new respect for bicycles.

Four-year-old girl riding a small bicycle with training wheels.
Thanks to J.K. Starley, my daughter could smile with carefree joy (in pants) while learning to ride a bike that had the same features as his first safety bicycle. (Photo 1998)

The Captain Class and the art of social loafing

My reading material during my ski vacation last week was The Captain Class: The Hidden Force That Creates the World’s Greatest Teams by Sam Walker. The book had me thinking about leadership and team work beyond the world of sports.

What makes a great leader? How to get the most out of a team?

To write the book, the founding editor of The Wall Street Journal’s sports section examined sports teams that achieved exceptional success and tried to figure out what drove the outstanding accomplishments. His findings surprised him, and me.

He found that the freakishly successful teams shared the same kind of captain, and it wasn’t the glamorous version of captain that would spring to your mind. Instead of the gregarious highly skilled aces, the flamboyant superstars or the squeaky clean idols, the captains were what he called the glue guys, or the water carriers. 

They were:

  1. Dogged and focused to the extreme
  2. Aggressive players who tested the limits of the rules (and sometimes crossed them)
  3. Willing to do thankless jobs in the shadows
  4. Low-key, practical and democratic
  5. Able to motivate others with non-verbal cues
  6. Courageous and willing to stand apart if it meant upholding a strong conviction
  7. Ironclad controllers of emotions

His captains achieved success not through exceptionally skilled play, but by never giving up They didn’t shun the small jobs, but instead did whatever grunt work needed to be done for the good of the team, not themselvesThey didn’t deliver flowery motivational speeches, but they held people accountable by looking people in the eye

It’s easy to quibble with the scientific method Sam Walker used to arrive at his list of exceptional teams, but with hundreds of thousands of sports teams around the world to work with he had to narrow it somehow. He almost excluded baseball which would have led me to shelve the book immediately, but—phew—baseball skimmed through his criteria sieve and I was able to carry on.

I was particularly intrigued by the idea of social loafing, an idea born out of research by Maximilien Ringelmann. Ringelmann tested the amount of effort exerted by people pulling on a rope. He started with low numbers of people and then added on. You would think that the more people pulling on a rope, the more effort would be exerted, but he found that the more people, the less effort each individual exerted. Working as a team caused people to work less strenuously than when working alone.

We’re willing to coast a little when we feel other people can carry a little of our load. 

Anyone who has ever been part of a group project has seen this kind of dynamic at play. We assume that the highly skilled star players motivate teammates to work hard and try to excel at the same level, but Walker’s examination of exceptional teams seemed to indicate the opposite. Fellow team members of superstars were willing to let them carry the load.

But when less-skilled dogged captains courageously and aggressively lead a team, individual efforts around them increase too.

Who are the people in the organizations that you work or play in who never give up? Who does the grunt work for the good of the team, not themselves? Who holds you accountable by looking you in the eye?

Who are your water carriers?

Baseball: A guilty pleasure

I just finished reading Stacey May Fowles book, Baseball Life Advice: Loving the Game That Saved Me. I read chapter after chapter thinking, “Yes! She gets it.

Skydome/Rogers Centre where we love to go to cheer for the Toronto Blue Jays

She writes about going to baseball games alone (done it), treading with reverence on the turf of the Skydome/Rogers Centre (done it), stopping at empty baseball diamonds and taking time there to meditatively soak up an atmosphere that feels sacredly church-like (done it), going to games with dad on Father’s Day (miss it), stepping out of social events to check on the score of Jays games (do it all the time), and so on. Chapter after chapter she touched on subjects I could relate to.

It’s not easy being a female baseball fan.

Many times I have been involved in baseball conversations with people and made comments about a particular game or a team or player—comments that reveal my baseball knowledge as much more than casual or superficial—only to see a look of startled re-evaluation appear on their faces.

Enjoying one of my favourite pastimes – an afternoon at a baseball game.

Most people don’t expect a woman to really know the sport.

I don’t make a secret of my passion for baseball. Our son plays, so we travelled with him all over southern Ontario and the northern U.S. for years. And I often joke about how my favourite time of year is when I give my television remote a good workout by watching baseball, hockey, tennis, and curling all at the same time. It’s even part of my official biography on this site. People know this about me.

But I don’t brag about my love for baseball either. Maybe I need to start, because it’s apparent people don’t fully understand.

Last Tuesday night I hosted my book club at my house. Before the event started, I was home alone—my husband out at his usual Tuesday night tennis match. My friends wouldn’t arrive until 7:30p.m., so at 7:00 I turned on the TV thinking I could catch the first 20 minutes of the Jays game. I was annoyed to discover a 30-minute rain delay in Boston. “Great,” I muttered. “Now I won’t see any of the game.”

I stayed with the channel though, because any baseball is better than no baseball. I watched Baltimore and Texas, quite happily until my book club friends arrived. When I saw the cars pull up I left the TV on so I could peek in and check the score later in the evening when I was preparing the refreshments.

I ushered my friends in, and as we walked by the TV one of them said, “Don (my husband) must be here.”

“No,” I said. “He’s playing tennis.”

“Oh?”my friend said. “Who’s watching baseball?”

“I am,” I said.

Surprised into silence, my friends carried on into my sunroom for our book club discussion.

It struck me how my friends—who know me so well—could not believe that I would watch a game by myself, by choice. They assumed a man needed to be around to make that choice and then I would just follow along. They would certainly not guess that of all the viewing options on any given evening, baseball is my first choice. I felt just a little like I’d been caught watching porn, or something that I should feel guilty about.

I don’t feel guilty. Baseball for me is not a guilty pleasure. It’s just a pleasure.

Not everyone understands, but it’s good to know that at least Stacey May Fowles gets it.

 

The music of the universe

Have you ever noticed that when a sports team celebrates a spectacular play or a big win they gather in a group and jump up and down in a rhythm that matches that of every other sports team celebrating a spectacular play or big win, no matter where or when it happens in the world?

Baseball players jumping around the walk-off home run hitter, soccer teams jumping around the penalty shot goal kicker, football linebackers jumping around the winning touchdown receiver—they all jump up and down in the same rhythm.

It’s the Big Win Beat.

April is National Poetry Month so my mind turned to rhythms, and  thinking about rhythm led me to ponder baseball/soccer/football team jumpers, and sports teams made me ponder the music of the universe.

Anna Maria Island beach

The rhythmic sound of ocean waves

Rhythmic vibrations, like chirping crickets, cars travelling on a gravel road, cicadas piping in, cardinals calling to each other, car doors slamming, winds howling . . .

Discordant sounds we want to write out of our daily life symphony—a Sea-Doo on a quiet lake, a frantic child’s cry, bombs . . .

Do we all subconsciously live by this rhythm? Do we all adjust our actions to it? Are we picking up music from the atmosphere like the child in August Rush?

Is that what leads us to poetry?

I don’t know the answer, I’m musing so you can muse along with me—rhythmically, not discordantly.


April 27 is Poem in Your Pocket Day. People are encouraged to pick a poem, carry it with them through the day and share it with others.

Find out more here: http://poets.ca/pocketpoem/


My poem will be one written by my much-missed friend Bruce Henderson, who had to learn how important it is to receive gifts from other graciously.

GRACE OF THE GOOD GIVEE

Bring me your gifts,
I will be strong,
strong enough to take them.
Yes, I have room for your gifts,
in my hands, in my home, in my heart,
I welcome you in—to my infinite yin.
There is a time to give
and a time to get,
and every Giver needs a Good Givee.
I am ready to accept,
to receive your loving kindness;
the warm message of your gifts.
In joy we will celebrate
the power of your act.
When you reach out
I will not try to run away.
Come spirit,
grant me the grace of the Good Givee.

©Bruce Henderson 2010

 

A candle of hope, advent, and football

Advent. Something’s coming. Get ready. 

candle-of-hopeAt our house on the four Sundays leading up to Christmas we light Advent candles during a pre-dinner ritual: candles of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love lit one by one in a countdown to Christmas. Most of those candle-lightings take place at our dining room table. Quiet, dignified affairs.

Not the first one.

As it happens, the first Sunday of Advent falls on the same date as an important sporting event: the Grey Cup. [For non-Canadians, that is the final game to determine the championship of the Canadian Football League (CFL). ] As it happens, a group of neighbourhood friends traditionally gathers at our house to eat unhealthy food, drink beer and watch the Grey Cup game. [For non-Canadians, think Superbowl party.]

We don’t let the raucous game and the noisy gathering get in the way of our ritual. At some point in the evening—at the time it feels right—we still the TV, quiet the conversation and we take the time to be peaceful, to appreciate each other’s friendship and to light the candle of Hope. Sometimes the team we’re cheering for wins and sometimes the team loses, but there is always Hope. Something’s coming. Get ready. Then it’s back to nachos, ribs, beer and raucous cheering.

The Grey Cup and the lighting of the candle of Hope have become so linked in my mind that if the CFL ever decided to change the date of the final I would have to take a moment during the game to light a candle just because. I would have to take a moment to remember, there’s always Hope.

Yesterday our hometown Ottawa REDBLACKS played in the Grey Cup. They were the underdogs, a long-shot to win against a Calgary Stampeders team that dominated the league all season. We took our quiet time to light the candle of Hope after the first quarter. Our team was ahead, but against Calgary a lead did not feel comfortable. We lit the candle.

Hope. Something’s coming. Get ready.

Against the odds the Ottawa REDBLACKS won in an overtime nail-biter. We jumped around the living room. We cheered. We blew our air horn on the street.

There’s always hope. Something’s coming. Get ready.

__________________

Just for fun, you’ll want to see these spectacular photos of the game the REDBLACKS played in the snow the previous Sunday. LIFE IN A SNOW GLOBE: EASTERN FINAL THROUGH THE LENS OF LANDON ENTWISTLE

 

 

Like magic, our stories turn something into nothing and nothing into something

There’s a piece of paper on my desk. It measures 2 inches x 3 inches.

Is it valuable, do you think?

Let me tell you more. It has a bar code below the words “Cineplex Cinemas: Admit One. Present this ticket to a cashier to exchange for one admission ticket.”

What do you think now? Is it valuable?

But wait. There is more. “Expiration: April 30, 2016”

So, not so valuable after all.

For a moment, you and I could both believe that a mere piece of paper had power. I could take it in my hand and go places where others could not so easily go. Then, in a magical kind of way, the same piece of paper instantly became worthless recycling.

Nothing physical about the item changed, but the power it held dissipated into the ether. The science remained the same, but the story changed. Like magic.

When my kids were little, they became quite upset when they got “jinxed” by friends; they bought into the “jinx” story. I said to them, “You can only be jinxed if you choose to be jinxed.” They didn’t believe that though, because the stories of friends hold more power for children than a mother’s thoughts on the matter.

The power doesn’t exist in the object or the words, it comes from us. We choose to give it to them.

Everyone has objects to which they transfer their power: sports memorabilia, Beatles artifacts, paintings. The sticky point is: not everyone buys into the same stories. A World Series home run baseball is only valuable to people who don’t say, “Baseball? Who cares?” Beatles memorabilia only counts to those who don’t dismiss them as overrated. How about a painting like “Voice of Fire.” Is it worth 1.8 million dollars to you?

For Roman Catholics the consecrated hosts and wine of communion are much more than bread and wine. Scientific-minded sorts scoff at this. They don’t buy into the commonly accepted story. Those same scientists use money every day, so apparently they readily accept some forms of magic, but not others.

Money is big magic. If I want to go to see a movie—now that we’ve all agreed that my coupon piece of paper is not magical—I have an alternative. I can pull other magical pieces of paper out of my wallet, hand over an agreed number to the theatre and happily enjoy the film.

Of course, it depends which city I’m in at the time. If I were to pull out colourful Canadian pieces of paper at a movie theatre in an American city, they would be viewed with derision. Our paper is not so magical in the US.

The paper itself doesn’t change, but as soon as our car drives across an imaginary, magical line the story does. (Or in the case of our wonderful Canadian money, the polymer doesn’t change, but the story does. We really do have some of the finest money in the world.)

Commonly accepted stories help our society to function. If we all accept the story that red means stop and green means go at a traffic light, we prevent accidents. If we buy into the story of concert tickets, we avoid stampedes at Paul MCartney concert hall doors. (The Beatles are definitely NOT overrated.)

Beyond that, we have to recognize the stories for what they are and choose to delegate our power carefully. I’ll keep this Steve Rogers baseball on display because I love it, but you can bet that I won’t be bidding on “Voice of Fire” any time soon.

BtbrewGCcAE9Dk4

 

 

 

 

 

%d bloggers like this: