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Today, I went to a church picnic, and afterwards a group of about 12 of us went to play a game of ultimate frisbee. We played for a bit, and after about 30 minutes when some of the other players dropped out, I was the oldest one playing – at the ripe ol’ age of 38.

If you’re not familiar with the game, it’s fast-paced like soccer or hockey. But the rules are kind of like football. You have two teams, and you advance by tossing the frisbee to each other. You have to stand still when you throw it, and if the frisbee hits the ground the other team takes possession. The object is to get the frisbee into the other team’s endzone. There is a lot of running back and forth with little stoppage in play, you’re moving around for most of the time.

I gotta tell ya – I hike as much as I can ; I walk 10,000 steps (at least) every day; I take 11 flights of stairs at work and sometimes do the entire 28 while on a break without stopping; I watch what I eat; but this game was something else.

I was able to run back and forth at full energy for a couple of end-to-ends, but it wasn’t long after that I started getting tired and couldn’t go full out. I could stay on my feet, and didn’t black out, but my body was not letting me sprint back and forth to get open and cover people.

Ultimate will do that to you, because there’s so much turnover in play, and it’s not like football where the play ends after every one. It’s continuous, so it’s more like soccer, but faster paced so it’s more like hockey. But whereas hockey has substitutions of players and stoppages in play, ultimate doesn’t so in that regard it’s more like soccer.

My team was playing against a couple of people who played in college, so that team destroyed us. I was no competition. I am not an athlete, and I never was, but that was clearly obvious this time around, too (as usual). The only sport I’m decent at is floor hockey, and to a lesser extent football, and to a lesser extent badminton, but to a great extent hiking (which is an activity, not a sport).

I think to myself “Could I have played continuously back in my twenties?” And the answer is “I don’t know.” As I said, not only am I not an athlete, I never was. But over a decade ago I feel like I was able to go longer without getting tired. Or maybe I never played a sport where I had to be on the entire time (the exception is sponge hockey where there were some games where I had to play the entire time, and during those games I got just as exhausted).

Still, playing with friends was a lot of fun and I would do it again. Anytime.

Even though I’m still the oldest guy on the field.

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When it comes to making predictions by experts, 2016 has been a terrible year.

  • In June, the polls were forecasting a win by the Remain side, yet the Leave side won the vote in Brexit by a whopping 4%. That’s a big margin of victory.

  • In November, the polls forecast a 75-95% chance of Hillary Clinton winning the next presidential election. Yet here we are, only a few weeks away from President Donald Trump.

  • Back in June, most odds-makers gave the Golden State Warriors the most likely chance of winning the NBA Championship, and the situation looked especially likely when they went up 3 games to 1. Yet unlikely as it was, the Cleveland Cavaliers came back to win the championship.

  • In October, most people thought that the Cleveland Indians would win the World Series when they went up 3 games to 1, yet the Chicago Cubs came back to win their first World Series in nearly 500 years.

With that said, this past Sunday the Ottawa REDBLACKS beat the Calgary Stampeders to win the Grey Cup, Canada’s Football League championship.

This wasn’t supposed to be a close game, Calgary went 15-2-1 during the regular season and dominated teams. Ottawa bumbled their way to an 8-9-1 record, taking first in the east division but only because every other team stunk.

I predicted that Calgary would blow out Ottawa. I checked http://cfl.ca and all six sports writers picked Calgary. After the game I checked out http://3downnation.com for their predictions, and 5 out of 6 picked Calgary. This means 11 out of 12 picked Calgary to win, and I also did.

Even when Calgary was down by 20 points halfway through the third quarter I thought they would win. When they were down 10 points with two minutes to go I thought they would win. When they went to overtime I still thought Calgary would win.

And then Ottawa did, and I was shocked. That city’s first championship in 40 years.

Good for them.

But the wisdom of the experts isn’t doing well this year.

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My own push-up challenge

If you’re on Facebook, you’ve no doubt noticed various friends of yours doing the 22 push-up challenge. The idea is that when someone tags you in a post, you have to do 22 push-ups per day for 22 days in a row; each day you are supposed to record yourself doing it and uploading to Facebook. This is to raise awareness for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that occurs so rampantly in military veterans.

I had noticed this was going on so I decided to do my own challenge even though nobody had challenged me. I decided to do it to get into better shape and help strengthen my shoulder muscles because I have chronic neck and shoulder pain that requires me to go to a massage therapist.

My goal was this – do 25 pushups on day 1, and then on each following day do 2-3 more.

And at first, I could do it. 25, then 28, then 30, then 33. And so forth. My goal was to get to 100.

But then I started having problems. On one day I got to 50, but the next day I couldn’t do more than 35. What the heck? A drop of 15 overnight? What’s going on? Even worse, my lower abdomen beneath my belly-button was hurting while I was doing it, and even running into the next day.

I started doing research online, and I discovered that this was normal. Instead, I had to rest 2-3 days in between pushups and let my muscles recover and rest.

And that’s what I have been doing. But I still can’t push past 50 pushups. Instead, I do a whole bunch, rest, do a few more, rest, and continue. I’m currently up to about 90. My goal is to get to either 100 without stopping, or 200 with rests in between.

I still have a long way to go, but I’m making progress.

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Did I ever tell you the time I went to a cult meeting?

No?

Oh, let me tell you about it. It was so weird.

It was two and a half years ago, and one of my friends wanted to go to this celebration. A lot of people were going to be there and he wanted a ride, so I said I’d take him. Maybe it would be fun. This was a special occasion as some of the local deities that the cult members worshipped were involved in an annual ritual, and this worship meeting was dedicated to celebrating the deities.

Let me tell you, it was a crazy atmosphere.

There were two groups of deities and the event was televised, but unless you identified yourself as worshipping the local deities, you were ostracized and insulted. Maybe of the worshippers there wore clothing signifying their identification with the group, and some of them even painted their faces.

During the celebration on TV, whenever the deities did something positive, all of the cult members cheered and screamed loudly, giving a chant “SEEEEE… HOX!” They chanted it over and over again.

Many of the members consumed copious amounts of alcohol, and it was encouraged by the other members. Everyone who clearly identified themselves was treated as a valued member of the cult, even if they hadn’t met before. Screaming at the TV was encouraged, and saying a word against the local deities was discouraged regardless of whether or not a competing cult member made a good point.

I didn’t like the cult mentality. No tolerance for other views, loud people getting in each others’ faces, an atmosphere intended to reinforce all of this.

I decided I wouldn’t go back the next year.

The Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl turned the local fan base’s party into as repressive a cult as any you can imagine.

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Tomorrow, Feb 23, 2014, is the gold medal men’s hockey game between Canada and Sweden. The game is 4 am local time where I live and I plan to get up and watch it (whether or not I execute on that plan is still up in the air).

While I enjoy hockey, I am not the best analyst. But I think Canada will win for two reasons:

  1. Defense

    I watched the Canada/US game and Canada just has a big, pounding defensive style. They clog up their defensive zone and it’s tough for the opposition to get anything going. They get one shot on goal and then the puck is cleared (that’s how it was against the US, anyhow).

    Olympic hockey rinks are bigger than NHL rinks and that favors fast, passing teams which is what European teams like Sweden are known for. And this Olympic tournament has demonstrated that Sweden is a good team – they have skilled players and they good at streaking and passing.

    But Canada’s defense is suffocating. I think that gives them an advantage because the passing and fast skating is neutralized if you can’t get anything going.

  2. Personal Bias

    As I said, I am not the best analyst. Team Canada does have the best players in the world but the fact is I am Canadian and I want Canada to win. That probably shapes who I think will win more than I consciously realize.

Anyhow, that’s my rationale for the pick. But what I want to discuss is my goal of getting up at 4 am and watching the game.

Why am I doing this (trying to do this)?

I enjoy hockey but I’m not a huge fan (it’s my second favorite game to watch but my favorite to play). I don’t watch very many games anymore. When I was a kid I used to watch a lot but less so now.

Instead, the reason I will make the personal sacrifice of waking early is because I like the commitment that it demonstrates.

12 years ago, I was living in England. It was also the same year as the World Cup of Soccer and it was hosted in Japan and South Korea. I wasn’t a big soccer fan but all of my friends were. And, the big game in the opening round was England vs. Argentina!

In case you don’t know, at the time (not sure if still true), England had a huge rivalry against Argentina:

  • In 1982, Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands and England responded by going to war

  • In 1986, Argentinian soccer star Maradona scored a goal by swatting it into the net against England and it counted, and it was the decisive goal (the referees missed it)

  • In 1998, a 22-year-old David Beckham of the England team got kicked out of the game by drawing a red card; England eventually went on to lose in a shootout

So, when England drew Argentina, it was huge! A bunch of friends said they were going to get together at 7 am to watch the game as Japan was about 7 hours ahead of local time. I was like “7 am?” and my friends said “Yes! We’ll make breakfast!”

I was unemployed at the time, this was right after the dot com bust. So, at 6:30 in the morning I left my house and walked down to my friend’s place where a bunch of us watched the game and witness England defeat Argentina 1-0 after David Beckham scored on a penalty kick late in the first half.

Even though the game was super early, it was a lot of fun. I don’t remember much about the game but I do remember enjoying hanging out with everyone and the experience of getting up to watch a sporting event.

That’s why I plan to get up tomorrow. It’s a big sporting event, men’s Olympic hockey only happens once every four years and the next time they not even have NHL players in it. This could be the last time I see Canada win gold (or even play for gold).

But more especially, I want to recapture that experience.

So why not get up? Every time I’ve made such a commitment, I’ve enjoyed it.

Hopefully this time is no different.

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I was listening to the radio a couple of weeks ago where the Atlanta Braves baseball team were requesting a new stadium. There was some negotiation with the city and eventually they agreed to a land deal in Cobb County which is just outside of Atlanta. I’m not sure of all the details but the owner of the Braves, Ted Turner, was threatening to leave the city unless he got a new stadium or massive renovations to the old one.

I am fundamentally opposed to sports teams owners getting public money to construct a new facility. The public taxpayers assume most or all of the risk of developing it and will have to pay for it for years or even decades. In return, the owners keep a professional sports team in the city and collect all the profits while incurring little or none of the risk.

This isn’t fair.

The argument is that sports teams generate a lot of revenue from the off-shoot industries like ticket sales, sports agents, and other sorts of public spending. Yet the economic reality is that sports teams are basically a trade-off – if someone spends money to go to a baseball game, they normally would have spent that money to go to a movie or buy clothing or some other recreational activity. The net effect of a new stadium is mostly neutral. There is no free lunch.

Neutral for the public, that is.

On the other hand, it’s a great deal if you’re an owner. You get all of the upside with almost none of the downside. If you happen to own a football, baseball or basketball team and you are in a large market, you make money. If you’re an NHL owner and you are north of Utah, you’ll make money.

That doesn’t seem fair to me.

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Back when I was growing up, my favorite hockey team was the Winnipeg Jets. This was because I lived in (near) Winnipeg and they were my local team. I knew all the players and faithfully read the Winnipeg Free Press every day to see if there was any Jets news during the winter.

I started watching in the spring of 1988 when the Jets were eliminated from the playoffs by the eventual Stanley Cup champions, the Edmonton Oilers. From that point forward, the Jets were always a mediocre or poor team. They either finished third in their division and lost in the first round of the playoffs, or last in their division and missed the playoffs.

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After the 1996 season, the Jets moved to Phoenix. I followed them for a season or two before finally losing interest and not following hockey too closely. After I returned to Canada in 2002, I followed hockey again but I didn’t have loyalty to any one particular team. For a while I liked the Ottawa Senators and the Vancouver Canucks but I was not that attached to them. Because I didn’t have a local team, my personal attachment went down.

The Jets returned to the city in 2011 when the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg. Everyone in Winnipeg was excited! No one in Atlanta noticed.

I have many friends back in Winnipeg who follow the new version of the Jets and express their disgust when they lose games and can’t get it together. In both the 2011/2012 and 2012/2013 seasons, the Jets missed the playoffs. The first year back they were fairly far out of playoff contention but last year they missed it by a little bit.

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I’m not sure if my friends are serious or not about their expectations for the Jets. Before they left for Phoenix, the Jets were very hit-and-miss. They were either one of the worst teams in the league or an average team.

The modern Jets are still basically the Atlanta Thrashers and the Thrashers were a terrible team. In the eleven seasons since they came into the league in 1999, they only made the playoffs once. They have only had 3 winning seasons their entire history (and one of them they had one more win than loss).

In other words, the current version of the Jets, when they moved, were not a very good team to begin with. I don’t get too upset with them because, in my emotionally detached state, I don’t see them as a good team not playing to its potential, but instead as a bad team doing as well as it can.

Yes, it’s fun to cheer them on. Yes, there’s always hope that perhaps one day they will go on a playoff run (they haven’t advanced in the playoffs in nearly 30 years). Yes, let’s go out to games and have a good time.

But let’s keep our expectations realistic.

At least for a few more years.

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This past week, the Winnipeg Jets, Winnipeg’s NHL hockey team, missed the playoffs for the second consecutive year since returning to the city. They missed the final playoff spot by 3 points compared to 8 points last year.

Many of my friends on Facebook are saddened and disappointed by this. While it is frustrating for your team to miss the playoffs, let’s put this in perspective:

  1. The Jets relocated from Atlanta where they were the Thrashers. They retained most of the same players, changing a few in the off-season the same way that most hockey teams change players in the off-season.

  2. Therefore, we can probably expect the Jets to have the same level of playoff success that Atlanta did.

  3. The Atlanta Thrashers only made the playoffs once in eleven seasons. This is season/playoff success ratio of 9%.

Given that hockey teams tend to have similar success from year-to-year unless they go from good to bad (due to loss of key players), it usually takes hockey teams a while to reverse their fortunes. There is a lot of competition.

It is no surprise that the Winnipeg Jets are not making the playoffs because the team they relocated was not one the league’s most successful franchises. So calm down, my Jets friends. It’s (unfortunately) news when the team makes the playoffs, not when they miss it.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Are Winnipeg’s expectations too high?

Looking over 1979 to 1996, the Jets made the playoffs 11 times and missed it 6 times. But during that time, the Jets were a below-average team. They only had one great season (1984-85 where they won 16 more games than they lost), and a pretty good season in 1986-87 where they won 8 more games.

The rest of the time, they were either slightly above or below .500 (even wins and losses), or a very bad team (at least 15 more losses than wins – 6 times which is nearly 1/3 of the time they were in the city before leaving for Phoenix).

So yes, I think Jets fans have waited a long time since 1985 to see a great team, but unfortunately, mediocrity occurs more often.

Even so… Go, Jets, Go.

 

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Tonight, I played badminton for the first time in two years. I was apprehensive for two reasons:

  1. I was pretty sure I was going to suck.
  2. I wasn’t sure how my hip was going to hold up.

Regarding #2, my hip didn’t hold up that well. It didn’t bother me much, but moving it around was very sore. Clearly, I have regressed over the past two years in spite of all my treatment (surgery, massage, exercise). All the movement in badminton stresses it in ways that hiking does not. However, this means that I need to exercise it in order to strengthen it, and what better way than badminton?

Regarding #1, I was right – I did suck. However, tonight (and for the next three weeks), I took and signed up for lessons. And man, I learned stuff. For one thing, I learned that my technique has been wrong since the beginning. Sheesh! From Day 1 my grip was wrong! Not only that, my footwork was wrong and my hitting technique was wrong. No wonder everyone at the Pro-Club used to destroy me.

Finally, it was hard work! There were times when I was tired, and I’m pretty sure my right arm and right leg will be sore tomorrow.

Luckily, I can improve. I learned a lot of new things tonight, and perhaps I will eventually pull out my first ever victory in the greater Seattle area playing badminton!

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I have a confession to make.

I have so far watched zero Olympic events. I only caught about 15 minutes of the opening ceremonies a week and a half ago as I was up in a hotel in Squamish, B.C.  But after watching those 15 minutes, I got bored.

It’s not that the Olympics aren’t cool, they are.  And I have plenty of friends who are playing close attention to it.  And I do feel guilty about not watching them.  But the problem is that we don’t have a TV at our place.  We got rid of cable a long time ago and all the TV we watch now is on Netflix or Hulu.  There’s no live TV.

I haven’t bothered to figure out how to stream the Olympics.  You see, every time I try to figure out how to stream live TV, it always turns out to be a huge pain in the arse (with the exception of CFL games which I can get on ESPN 3).  I have to perform an Internet search and wade through a bunch of useless results before I find a web site that makes me register or download software.

No thanks.

That means that I pretty much have to give up watching the Olympics even though there are a number of events I’d like to watch:

  • Track and Field (well, mostly just the sprints)
  • Swimming
  • Badminton (which I’ve tried watching before but got bored because the rallies are way too short)
  • Beach volleyball
  • Rowing

Yet I am too lazy to figure out a way to do it.  I’m relegated to merely reading up on Yahoo.ca the next day about how Canada did, followed by how the USA did, followed by other notable events of the Olympic Games in London.

Maybe I’ll pay more attention during the Winter Games in Russia in 2014.

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Moneyball

A couple of months ago, the wife and I rented the movie Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill.

If you haven’t seen it before, this post contains spoilers.  But I’ll say right now that it’s one of my favorite movies that I have seen in the past couple of years because of the math in the film (not actually shown in the film).

In the movie, Brad Pitt is Billy Bean, ex-baseball player and general manager of the Oakland Athletics.  Oakland has one of the lowest payrolls in the league but in spite of this, they still make it to the playoffs in 2001 where they are eliminated in the first round.

During the off-season, they lose many of their star players to teams that can afford to pay them a lot more.  Yet this is where things turn around.  For you see, conventional wisdom says that teams who can afford to pay more money will always finish near the top of the league.  Better players = more expensive players = better results.  This is true in baseball but it’s not as simple as it seems.

In the movie, conventional wisdom for finding new players is that discovering good players is an art, not a science.  Scouts say that you need to evaluate his batting average, home runs, fielding skills, personality, and a host of other characteristics.  If you don’t understand baseball, let me tell you that baseball statisticians tracks tons of statistics.  You can’t imagine how many they track. 

But in the movie, Billy Bean finds another guy (Jonah Hill) working with the Cleveland Indians and hires him to work for him in Oakland. Hill has discovered that almost all statistics in baseball are useless for predicting how good a baseball player someone will be.  Instead, he narrows it down to one or two stats and says that the players with the highest of those stats are the ones you want.  Great players have those stats, but Bean signs the players who have those good stats but have been overlooked by other teams (bad attitude, bad knees, poor batting average, etc.).

By doing this strategy, Billy Bean builds a team with the lowest payroll in the league but still makes the playoffs.  They also set a record in 2002 by winning 20 straight games.  The moral of the story is that you can build a winner by seeing what others do not, and you can do it on the cheap.  In terms of dollars-spent-per-game-won, the Athletics were much more successful than the New York Yankees (the A’s would not win the World Series, however).

I like this movie because of that moral.  I like finding things (at work) that are undervalued but powerful.  And I love digging through numbers and statistics, it’s what I am good at.  Nay, I am great at it.  That’s why I like this movie so much.

Now if only I could find great movies that were similarly undervalued… a lot like Moneyball.

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Way back in 2003 or 2004, I used to play sponge hockey with a group of friends.  These friends also played in a touch football league.  I didn’t play, although I have always enjoyed football.  With my bad hips, I wouldn’t be able to play today.

Anyhow, one time the captain of their team – who was an incredible athlete and could run circles around anyone in sponge hockey – asked me if we wanted to get together and play a game of football against them.  I said “Sure!  It sounds like fun!”

I asked a bunch of guys my age from the church I was attending at the time to see if they wanted to play.  A bunch of people said yes, and so that’s what we did.  We played a pickup game one Sunday afternoon, and we figured this one scrimmage game qualified as as ready to play.

How wrong that was.

We got to the field about 6:30 pm and my brother and I were the only ones from our side there.  We waited for a bit, wondering where the other goonies from our team were.  Eventually they all showed up (late).  We prepared to play.

Unfortunately, we weren’t prepared for the level of preparation this other team had.  Unlike us, they had actual predefined plays, and they had a good quarterback.  You see, their QB could run faster than anyone else on our team, and we sent our slowest guy to rush after him.  Not a good strategy.

The way the game worked was that the QB had the ball snapped to him 5 yards back from the line of scrimmage, and they could do a full rush (i.e., no steamboats) but they had to start 5 yards back.  This meant that as the QB, you had perhaps three seconds to get rid of the ball before the defender arrived at you and tagged you.  No one on our team was prepared for that.

I still remember bits and pieces from that game:

  • On the opening kickoff, they tried something funny.  They tried to lateral the ball across the field from one kick returner to another.  I knew this was coming and figured I could recover the fumble but never got there in time.

  • Our team was so out of shape!  These were a bunch of guys in their twenties running around, puffing and pulling muscles like they were in their 60’s.  “Ow!  My leg! A charley horse!”  “Oh, I’m so tired!”  “Can’t we call a timeout?”  My brother and I were the only ones on our team that felt fine while the other fatties struggled after the first 15 minutes.

  • Their offense killed us.  Their QB was so good that he would frequently run for the first down (10 yards) and then stop so that we could catch up to him and tag him.  He did this because it was a friendly game, knew that they overpowered us, and wanted to get in some good fun.  That was a bit humiliating.

  • Their defense killed us.  Our QB’s couldn’t get rid of the ball quick enough, and eventually they sent a slower rusher in so that we would have time to think.

  • I was our team’s starting QB and I couldn’t do anything at first.  Indeed, I even threw an interception to one of the guys on the hockey team.  I sucked. 

    But I didn’t suck as much as our other QB. I will create an anagram of the letters in his name and call him “Yentil.”  Yentil was an even crappier QB than me.  He threw two interceptions, back-to-back, and both of them were returned for touchdowns.  To the same guy as me!  Yentil!  You can’t be QB anymore!

  • But it wasn’t all bad news.  We calmed down and sorted out a plan.  Down by three touchdowns, eventually we got our act together, no thanks to me.  We led a drive down the field with me back in as QB (since Yentil sucked).  We got down near the goal line and I ran in a touchdown.  Score!

  • With the game still not over, eventually I led our team down the field on another drive.  I threw for another touchdown, and I think it was to my brother.  Score!  I also remember throwing another long ball to him (not sure for a touchdown or a conversion) that was tipped away at the last second.

In the end we lost the game 35-14 (touchdowns are worth 7 points).  But two of their TD’s came off of interception returns.  And of our 14 points, I ran one in and threw for the other.

I think that made me the Team MVP.

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Ever since I had my second hip surgery in January 2010, I haven’t played many sports.  My hip just hasn’t felt good enough to play.  I tested it once that summer but it wasn’t strong enough to last for an hour and a half playing badminton.

But now I want to get back into it.

Unfortunately, I currently have no place to play.  I used to play at the Pro Club in Bellevue which is the gym I go to, but I don’t want to go back there.

Why not?

For two reasons:

  1. I’m out of my league. 

    The people at the Pro Club are really good.  Whenever I play there, they are so much better than I am that I feel like I’m dragging down whoever I’m playing with.  I used to think I was a decent player, but when I’m down there I’m either the worst or second worst guy there (I know there’s another guy who’s worse than me because I beat him).

    It’s no fun playing sports when you can’t compete with anyone and you’re aren’t making progress at getting better.  I had nobody show me how to improve except for one person who showed me why my lobs were crappy (I was swinging from my elbow instead of my arm).

  2. I don’t like the people there

    This is the most important part.  I don’t like the people at the Pro Club because they don’t go out of their way to be inclusive.  Not in the least.

    I’m kind of shy and I go there by myself.  I would go on Sundays and the games are all doubles.  What happens is people play a set, the game ends and then the people leave the court and new people sitting on the bench come in and play.  People then rotate in and out and everyone gets a chance to play.

    But not at Pro Club.  I felt that many times, the people were very “clique-y”.  What would happen is that a group of four people would play a game.  When it was over, they would look at each other, change players amongst themselves (the same four) and then play another game.  They wouldn’t change players with people on the bench.

    And when there were people on the bench, they would just trade in and out with the same people, over and over again.  It was like “Okay, us six people are playing together with each other.”  In order for me to get in games, I’d have to find people who came alone or I would need to butt in and get onto the court when a game finished and hope that they wouldn’t go back into their cliques and play with each other… again.  Because I am at such a lower level than they are, I feel intimidated breaking into their groups.  And then I don’t get to play.  It sucks.

Especially because of (2), I haven’t gone back to Pro Club.  When I used to live in England, a group of people from church used to play every Friday at a gym not far from where I lived.  I would walk there.  I loved playing badminton with those folks, even though I wasn’t very good. 

I enjoyed it because I played with people that I knew and the leader of the group went out of his way to be inclusive.  He would organize the games and make sure that everyone got a chance to play and not just sit on the bench.  It was a lot of fun and it’s one of my fondest memories of living in England.  I miss that.

And that’s what got me to thinking about starting playing badminton again, but starting up a group of badminton players with a bunch of friends.  And I’d run it the same way my friends ran it back in England – going out of my way to be inclusive.  I’d make sure that everyone got a chance to play, at least if I were in charge.  That’s what makes the game fun.

Back in England, afterwards, we’d all head up to the lounge in the gym and have a beer (they served alcohol at the gym… seriously).  I wouldn’t have a beer, but others would buy me a Coke.  That was also fun, and people would chat about random things.

I want to recapture that.  Anyone want to play badminton with me?

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As someone who has never played competitive sports or considered himself an athlete, I’ve been fortunate to avoid injuries to parts of my body from overuse (this is what frustrates me about my hips – the fact that I have never overused them but yet they have chronically deteriorated).  Certainly, I have played sports and suffered many injuries.  For example, in sponge hockey I once slid into the end boards foot first and hurt my ankle.  While playing football once I sprained my finger once and my wrist another time.  But those are acute injuries, they are not a natural part of the game but occur as an accident.

When I do get injured, I rest the sore body part and avoid exposing it to more danger (unlike my brother who doesn’t seem to learn from this sort of thing).  However, now that I have taken up hiking, acute injuries are the least of my concern.  Now I get injuries from overuse.

Runners often get shin splints.  Tennis players get problems in their elbows or shoulders.  I have two problems from prolonged hiking:

  1. I get a sore left foot.  It’s not the top or bottom of my foot but a tendon that runs alongside the navicular bone called the post tibial tendon.  The full name of the muscle is the tibialis posterior muscle.  This is right along the side of the foot and after I have gone hiking for a prolonged period of time, it hurts.  It feels like the side of my foot is rubbing up against my boot and it aches.  In order to heal it, I have to rest it.
  2. Of course, rather predictably, I get problems in my hips.  I’m not entirely sure but I think I have bursitis. This occurs when small sacs in your body filled with fluid become inflamed.  Normally the joints glide over them, but when they inflame they are painful.

    I feel hip pain in the outside of my hips.  This distinguishes it from my chronic pain in the inside of my joints (both hips).  Luckily, this current condition is treatable with rest, ice, compression (or stretching) and ibuprofen.  I guess after not using them for physically demanding activities in the past, they are protesting that they prefer inactivity to doing stuff.

Luckily, the joints I don’t have problems in are my knees or ankles (other than fatigue after a long day).  I don’t know how I managed to hit the jackpot on those joints seeing as how my genetics have disposed me to all sorts of lousy physical short coming (hay fever, poor vision, bad hips, etc). 

They say that exercise is good for you.  I agree; but I didn’t realize it was also hazardous to your health.

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Organized sports

For my entire life, I have been a mediocre athlete.  I have never played any sort of organized sport – one where you have to show up and have people coach you.  I have played on amateur teams such as when a bunch of people get together and commit to a season, but that’s as far as it goes.  In recreational activities I have never been an outstanding player although I have had occasional flashes of brilliance.  For example, I used to attend a youth church boys club and we would play floor hockey (hockey in a gym) most weeks.  I was not the best player, but one time we played a close game and my team lost 6-5.  I scored all 5 goals in the game.  For someone like me who might score one goal per game, certainly no where close to where the leaders would be, I was pretty proud of myself.  I think that is a very impressive showing that I was able to upstage people who were much better than myself.

Well, lo and behold, last week we got an email notice from the admin of my division saying that there was a softball league being organized.  I immediately sat up and took notice.  Softball?  A softball league?

In my time, I have only ever played on two softball teams.  Sure, we played pick up games when I was younger, but not very often.  Growing up, my two preferred sports were hockey and football.  You can play football anywhere there is a field and if anyone has a ball, whereas for baseball you need quite a few more players; you can play football with as few as six (three on three… it’s not as much fun two on two).  Hockey, of course, is Canada’s sport.  They inject a drug into us at birth so we grow up watching it and wanting to play it.

So, it should come as no surprise that baseball is not played as much in Canada when there are other sports available and the weather for playing it is shorter.  As such, I never really developed any baseball skills.  I could swing a bat and catch a ball, but that’s it.  I had no technique beyond the basics.

The first organized team I played on, oddly enough, was a team for work when I was working for Lucent while I was living in England ten years ago.  Yes, that’s right, the first baseball team I played on was when I was overseas in a country that is not known for it.  My team managed to finish second in the standings and lost the championship game. Not bad, all things considered.  I played catcher and my catching skills were alright and my batting skills were… less than that.  Try as I might, my eye-hand batting coordination just isn’t there.  I wasn’t the worst player on the team and I was a reliable catcher and did get onto base from time to time.  But, I would say that I struck out more often than I would have liked (kind of like my success rate with women).

The next organized team I played on were the following three years on my church’s softball team that played in a tournament each year, from 2002 to 2004.  Unlike my success the previous year for my team at work, my church’s team was terrible.  Like, totally sucked.  I mean, I’ve seen teams suck before, but we were the suckiest bunch of sucks that ever sucked.  Hmm, I better stop criticizing them, the damn wiener coach of the team might be reading this.  In the four years that they participated (one year excluding me, which was the year I was playing in England), they won one game and lost fifteen.  All but three games were lost by a margin so wide that they had to invoke the mercy rule (that is, if you are losing by 10 runs or more after 4 innings, the game is called automatically.  We never lost by 10 runs, it was more than that because the game is at least 4 innings.  So much for mercy, I thought this was a church tournament?).

My own skills on the team weren’t very good either.  In fact, no one’s was.  People who could catch a ball in practice could not catch a ball during the game.  It was incredible to see people who executed in practice totally crack under the pressure (myself included).  There were overthrows, under throws, drops, and poor decisions made all over the place.  Personally, my highlight of the first tournament was when I got a stand up triple, made possible by the other team screwing up.  I vowed to do better.

In 2003 and 2004, my brother would practice nearly every day.  We’d work on a couple of skills, throwing and catching.  We’d play a game wherein we’d hit balls to each other and if the ball landed in a certain place, depending on where it landed the other guy would get a point. We would take turns and formulate a game of it.  So, since we played so many “games”, there was always pressure to compete against each other.  And because we practiced so much and because there was pressure, during the tournament we each played orders of magnitude better.  It was like night and day.  Everyone else on the team was still awful (aside from one or two ringers that we brought in), but at least our own catching and throwing wasn’t terrible.

The one thing that didn’t improve, however, was our hitting.  Because we were tossing the ball up and to ourselves, and then hitting it to the other guy, we ended up becoming used to a vertical descent of the ball before hitting it.  This completely backfired in the tournament.  Because the pitcher tosses the ball to you at an angle during the actual game, the sense of timing that we had from practice was completely thrown out of balance.  My hitting that year was worse than when I was in England.  I kept striking out.  Not every time but enough times that it was frustrating.

All of this was seven years ago.  In that time I have played sponge hockey and badminton.  But since 2008, I have had to cut way back on sports.  I only played badminton once in 2010 and a couple of times in 2009 due to my hip injury.  My hip still hurts.  And I am not 22 anymore, I am 32.  Do I still have what it takes to be an athlete?  Well, in a professional context I sure don’t but then again I never did.  In a pick up league against other tech folks?  I think I might.

One thing is for sure, I need to start training.  Already I have started stretching my legs every couple of days and I will need to do it more.  I am also going to start working on my batting technique, not sure how I will get my catching technique back up to par since it has been years since I caught anything.

My one goal this year: To not suck.

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Last night I had a dream.

The dream was that I was back in Winnipeg and I was invited to play for my old sponge hockey team.  I initially protested that I didn’t have the right set of shoes, nor even a jersey, but they insisted that I take to the ice because they needed the extra player.  So, I agreed.  I mentioned that due to my chronic hip pain I would be limited in what I could do, but secretly I thought to myself that since I have been exercising regularly for the past several months I could make up for it in other ways.

Well, I got onto the ice and on my first shift there was action down in our end of the rink.  There was a turnover and I picked up the puck, leading the rush down the other side of the ice with another one of my teammates, with another close behind.  I got down to that end of the ice and took a shot where the goal stopped it but kicked out a rebound.  Someone else took another shot and the goalie stopped that one, too.  There was some hacking and chopping in front and then I got the puck and stepped forward but I was facing away from the goal, so stepping forward meant I was looking back towards our end.  I then took a shovel-like backhand shot at the net and it kind of raised up a bit, hit the goalie on the back of his leg and trickled into the net, barely crossing the goal line.  It was close, but it was in.  I had scored the opening goal on my first shift!

Everyone cheered and I pumped my fists in celebration!  I had been out of the game for nearly four years yet I proved that I had still had game!  It was awesome!  I went back to the bench and then on my next shift, I got the puck and beat one defender and was on a breakaway with another player to the side of me.

And then I woke up.

Dang it!  I wanted to finish off that rush towards the net!  But even more than that, after I awoke, I looked around and saw that I was not on the ice, but instead was at home in bed.  I sighed and lay back down.

That was a pretty good dream, though.

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Why am I a sports fan?  The teams I cheer on are always letting me down.

Well, I should be more specific.  The football team I cheer for is always letting me down.  And this season is no different.  My Canadian football team, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, are absolutely awful this year.  They are on track to likely finish with their worst record since 1998.  They have been getting worse each year since 2007.  They have 10 seasons in the past 16 where they have had a record less than 0.500 (only 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2007 were winning seasons).  They cleaned house this year and still suck!  Why am do I remain a fan after so much futility?

I guess because I am a loyal fan and not a fair weather fan.  Yuck.  When you get emotionally invested in a team, it doesn’t feel good when they lose.  Worse still, you get really frustrated when they lose all the time.  Players are not attached to teams (most players).  But fans are. 

You would think that in an 8-team league, the balance of power would eventually shift.  But geez, how do you miss the playoffs 4 times in 7 years (58% of the time) when you have a 75% to make it each year?  If we went by random chance, only making the playoffs 3 times in 7 years, then the probability of that occurring is only 7%.  This means that my team has to really suck to make the playoffs only 3 teams in 7 years when the odds of them making it is 3 in 4.

But you know what?  I’ll be back next year and I’ll be saying “Well, maybe this year it’ll be different.  Because, there are only 8 teams in the league.  Maybe this year’s the year!”

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I’m not much of a fan of soccer, but I do enjoy watching the World Cup.  Even though they are perennial losers, I still enjoy cheering for England, the country where I used to live.  There’s no point in cheering for the United States, they have no chance of winning.

Anyhow, I came across this video created by Nike.  It’s entertaining, especially the part from 2:20 – 2:25.

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Not in my yard

This past Sunday, Feb 28, 2010, Canada won gold in the Olympic Men’s Hockey final, 3-2 against the United States.  If you recall, a couple of weeks ago I posted my prediction that Canada would win.

Well, I was right.

After some unimpressive round-robin play that included a shoot-out win over the Swiss and a loss to the Americans, Canada got its act together and knocked off Germany 8-2.  They then defeated Russia 7-3, the Slovaks 3-2 and the Americans 3-2.  The American game was nerve-wracking for me.  When the US scored to tie it up 2-2 with 24 seconds left, my heart sank.  I was all set to cheer and then Niedermayer let two US players get behind him and have a clear shot to the net in front of Roberto Luongo.  How’s he supposed to stop that shot?

It wasn’t to be, however.  The Canadians dominated the overtime period and rather fittingly, Sidney Crosby scored the game winning goal in OT to give the Canadians the medal that they deserve.  Honestly, Canada had to win this.  They could have won every other event in the Olympics and if they had lost this, the games would have been a disaster.  Thank goodness for this win.

Incidentally, my American friends were a little confused about the US victory the first time in the round robin.  Most of them seemed to think that it was a big deal that they defeated Canada in round robin tournament, assuming that they had knocked Canada out.  They hadn’t; all they accomplished was forcing Canada to win against Germany, in addition to clinching a first round bye in the “playoffs.”  The rematch was all that counted.  After all, New England went 16-0 two years ago in the NFL season but lost in the Superbowl.  What matters?  The Superbowl, that’s what.  The Saskatchewan Roughriders were ahead of Montreal for 60 minutes in last year’s Grey Cup but lost on the final play in regulation after time had expired.  What counts?  Leading for the entire game?  Or losing the actual game?

You see, my American friends, you did win in round robin play.  But Canada lost a game in round-robin play in Salt Lake City as well.  Guess who won the gold medal then (hint: it was Canada).

See you all in Russia.

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I recently started playing badminton again. The last time I played regularly was in summer 2006, where I defeated my opponents due to my superior level of experience.

The experience at Microsoft is entirely different.  There are two skill levels at the gym where I go – advanced and regular-folk.  I made the mistake of heading over the advance side one day and promptly got clobbered in every game I played (in doubles; even though I had a partner I was still getting clobbered).  They also played this weird version of doubles where we went up to 21 points, and you could score regardless of whether or not your team served.  And, you only got one serve, instead of two like in normal doubles.

Anyway, after getting pounded again for the fifth consecutive game, one of my opponents came up to me and suggested that I head over to the other side.  I was beginning to wonder whether or not there was a good side and a regular-folk side.  For you see, I wandered over the regular-folk side two weeks earlier and had a good time, and this skill level seemed way harder.  I replied to my opponent “You got it.”

You see, I wasn’t at all offended that my opponent pointed out that my skills were below the good side.  I already knew that.  I just wanted to play on a side where I was competitive.  I headed to the other side and the skill level was lower, just like how I liked it.  I still ended up getting beaten most of the time, but at least I felt like I was in every game and not getting clobbered each time.  I don’t mind losing so long as I stand a chance.

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