Nerds and Sports


I grew up as a Star Wars-loving, science-fiction-addicted geek/nerd type who was picked on by jock/popular types and who bought into that narrative, so of course, I grew up hating organized sports. I still did hiking and biking and outdoors-y activities at my parent’s behest, but now I sometimes feel like I missed out on a lot of what competitive and organized sports can offer besides just physical activity — the development of discipline, an outlet for competitive behavior and expression, learning teamwork and social skills, etc.

I don’t feel that I missed out on those lessons themselves just because I didn’t play sports, but I do feel that I missed out on an avenue for a physically-involved manifestation of them, which I think might have worked pretty well for me. When I have kids, I’ll probably want them to be involved with some kind of sport, or at the very least, have a fair chance at trying to enjoy them.

Again, I’m not suggesting that sports is the only place (or even that it’s necessarily the best place) to learn these things, or that all athletes take these sort of values away from their experiences, or that the activities I did in place of sports didn’t teach me many of these same things, but sports do represent another place, and everyone learns and develops differently — shouldn’t all kids have as many options and opportunities to develop as possible? I feel confident that there are other people out there, who, like me, grew up as a geek, but who would have really benefited from and enjoyed participating in sports, but who chose not to because of bullying, harassment, or a heightened fear of embarrassment, or just the assumption by coaches and teachers (and themselves) that they would fail at them.

I’m 28 years old now, and weightlifting is still teaching me a lot about mental discipline, the value of incremental progress, and setting and sticking to long-term goals, all of which are things I’ve struggled with for most of my life. Now, a good amount of that may be just a new-found maturity, but when I look at young athletes like @katrintanja or @mattiecakesssss who really have their stuff together (though they may also just be extremely exceptional individuals), I can’t help but shake the feeling that I would’ve taken something valuable away from participating in sports throughout my youth.

It makes me really sad that some kids potentially miss out on organized sports growing up, just because of some arbitrary stereotypes. Being a geek or nerd and being athletic are not things that are diametrically opposed. In fact, there’s a substantial amount of similarity and overlap. I am nerdy about my love of weightlifting and its athletes. Even for ‘non-nerds’, collecting baseball cards or playing in a fantasy football league are pretty indistinguishable from say, Magic: The Gathering or Dungeons & Dragons. Video games (not even counting sports video games) also offer a lot of parallels to sports: character management, leveling, and min-maxing are pretty akin to diet, training, and programming; and other skills definitely have more direct analogues: teamwork and strategy, reflexes and skill, and so on.

While I definitely think the line between geek or nerd and athlete has blurred a lot since I was younger, I would love to see even more overlap — in both directions — more athletic kids who felt comfortable having and expressing really geeky or nerdy interests, and more geeky and nerdy kids who didn’t feel like they were going to fail at something athletic just because they have glasses and like reading and science fiction. Sure, some geeks or nerds still may not be interested in sports and some sporty kids may not be interested in nerdery, and that’s perfectly fine, but in the end, being an athlete and being a geek or nerd both come down to being passionate about something! All it means is that you love something, practice it, learn all you can about it, compete for enjoyment and to exercise your mastery of a skillset! In the end, it’s all just to express your love of the game!

Note: Please leave a comment if you feel any of this is way off base, or was substantially different from your experience! Or just if you have something to share, like if you were into both nerdy things and sports!

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