Maria Pinkerton has a fear of sports.
“I wasn’t ever really good, and P.E. is always kind of a traumatic experience when you’re not good – especially when your family is,” said Pinkerton, a UNO sophomore social work major.
Now that P.E. is out of the picture, Pinkerton still remains weary of sporting events and games involving throwing things—she “hates” to throw things.
“I don’t understand the affinity toward sports, so when people get super intense, that’s what’s intimidating,” she said.
Pinkerton’s feelings of nervousness and intimidation were mostly caused by a lack of understanding. Because each sport has its own rules and culture, newcomers to the game can sometimes feel left out or afraid that they won’t be accepted. If you are also hesitant about athletics because of a deficiency in sports terminology or rules, fear not: There are several helpful online guides for you, such as Esquire’s “How to Talk About Sports When You Know Nothing About Sports” written by Dave Holmes. Another way to help conquer your fear is to start attending sporting events with a knowledgeable friend, asking them to explain the rules to you throughout the game. You can also “fake it until you make it” by wearing the team color and shouting along with other fans.
Another cause of sports-related fear could be an unwelcoming or competitive environment. When junior journalism major Erin Chance decided to attend a UNO club volleyball practice, her first time playing volleyball since middle school, she was excited. Her excitement didn’t last long, however.
“When I got there, everyone seemed to know each other and had their own little groups already. So, I felt a little left out,” Chance said. “I don’t think they meant to seem stand off-ish, but I definitely didn’t feel welcomed or involved.”
Chance said that feeling like an outsider caused her to be slightly intimidated and insecure. She said, however, that her negative experience was not caused by volleyball so much as the environment in which she was playing volleyball. Her inner fear of failing was heightened because she felt she was not safe to fail, and she might be judged or isolated if she did.
Chance is not alone in this fear – in fact, a fear of failure is common among athletes according “How to Overcome Sports Performance Anxiety” from Psychology Today. If you’re like Chance, and you’re playing recreationally, one of the easiest ways to dismiss this fear is to remind yourself that you, and those around you, are playing for fun – even if your team members don’t seem to be on the same page. You can help create a welcoming environment by being supportive and kind to those around, helping to placate the tension on the team.
Sports can be intimidating, but by familiarizing yourself with the terminology, rules and culture and by reminding yourself that it is just a game, you may be able to conquer some of your fears. If you’re still not sure, take some advice from Pinkerton and become a UNO hockey fan.
“People fight, and it’s easy to understand,” she said.