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Posts Tagged ‘sports’

How sports preps women for leadership and power

In behavior, business, children, domestic life, education, family, life, parenting, sports, women, work on July 16, 2013 at 12:45 am

By Caitlin Kelly

I don’t normally look to the sober-sided Financial Times for career advice, especially on the value of sport(s) for women who aim high professionally. But here’s Gillian Tett:

English: Dilma Rousseff with her running mate ...

English: Dilma Rousseff with her running mate for the 2010 Brazilian presidential election, Michel Temer. Português do Brasil: Dilma Rousseff, candidata a Presidência da República, com o companheiro de chapa Michel Temer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In recent months Ernst & Young, the American consultancy, has been analysing sporting activity among senior female executives and leaders. And it has discovered that the higher the executive level, the more
likely it is that a woman played sport at high school or college. Most notably, some 19 out of 20 women who sit in the “C-suite” – holding the title “chief something” – were sporty as a teenager; indeed, seven out of 10 still play sport as a working adult, while six out of 10 played sport at university. One in eight C-suite executives played sport professionally. However, among the middle levels of working women, athletic skill was lower: just a third of mid-level women, for example, played sport at university..

A few examples:

IMF head Christine Lagarde (a former member of France’s synchronised swimming team), Condoleezza Rice (a keen figure skater in her youth) and Hillary Clinton (school baseball). Or Dilma Rousseff (the Brazilian president, who played volleyball to a high level), Indra Nooyi (the CEO of PepsiCo was a keen cricket player), Ellen Kullman (CEO at Dupont, who played basketball to a high level at college)…

Secretary Rice meets with newly appointed Afgh...

Secretary Rice meets with newly appointed Afghan Foreign Minister Dr. Rangin Dadfar Spanta. State Department photo by Hamid Hamidi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Girls who play sport at school learn at a young age that it is acceptable to compete aggressively. They also discover that success does not depend on looking good and that it can be acceptable to take pleasure in winning. ..Being an athlete is one of the few socially accepted ways for teenage girls to compete, without peer criticism.

I’m such a huge fan of girls and women being athletic!

I’ve been sporty since childhood — when I had no choice in the matter, because we did sports after school every day at boarding school and all day long at summer camp.

Some of the sports I’ve played, and some I continue to play:

softball, hiking, cycling, downhill and cross-country skiing, kayaking, canoeing, ice skating, fencing, golf, tennis, squash, badminton, volleyball, basketball, swimming (competitive), diving, snorkel, horseback riding, sailing, solo and in a racing team (12 f00t to 60 foot boats).

I also studied ballet from the age of 12 to my late 20s, jazz dance in my 20s, and I still do a jazz dance class every Monday morning.

I include yoga and any form of dance in the same  category of “sports” — requiring discipline, flexibility, training, practice, strength and determination to master them.

For all the endless paranoia/obsession about the size and shape of our bodies, what we really need is to be strong and limber, at 5, 15, 45 or 65.

If it weren’t for my athletic activities, I wouldn’t be able to control my weight, manage my stress, tap into my creativity or relate nearly as easily to the many men and women I meet who are sporty. I can always find someone to go for a hike with or play golf with my husband or take a jazz, modern or ballet class. For many years, I crewed every summer on more than a dozen racing sailboats on Long Island Sound, often trimming jib, a job requiring lightning reflexes and strong arms, shoulders and hands.

I moved to New York when I was 30, knowing no one, with no formal American education, no friends, relatives or a job. To stay busy while re-making my life, I took up saber fencing, coached by a two-time Olympian, and was nationally ranked for four years.

I learned a tremendous amount in  the salle and on that narrow strip, all of which has helped me in life, work and relationships:

How to control my temper (at least during a bout!)

How to stay focused for 20 minutes, crouched in en garde, on a minute object to the exclusion of all distractions

How to compete with confidence against opponents far bigger, stronger, taller and more experienced

How to lose (and not freak out)

How to win (and not gloat)

How to buy a bit of time, even at nationals in the direct elimination round (tie your shoe)

How to control an opponent

How to stay focused and compete effectively even when injured and in pain

How to accept criticism and feedback from my coach

How to initiate an attack quickly and decisively

There is no doubt that my strength, stamina and flexibility still help me stay fit and strong in a crazy business in a difficult economy.

On the crummiest day I know I can still shoot hoops or swing a driver with the young ‘uns. I can hit to the outfield and pop a golf ball 150 yards.

Do you play sports? Do your daughters?

How do you think it has affected them or changed their lives?

How waving a sword changed my life

In aging, behavior, business, children, culture, life, sports, women, work on January 3, 2013 at 1:42 am
English: Marines with Special Marine Ground Ta...

English: Marines with Special Marine Ground Task Force demonstrated the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program as well as displayed weaponry in support of Fleet Week 2010. More than 3,000 Marines, Sailors and Coast Guardsmen will be in the area participating in community outreach events and equipment demonstrations. This is the 26th year New York City has hosted the sea services for Fleet Week. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I moved to New York in June 1989, I arrived just in time for the worst, (of two since!), recession in my industry, journalism. I knew not a soul, had no job and had not attended university in the U.S., which, I belatedly realized, makes a huge difference in getting ahead here.

I wanted a fresh, fun challenge unrelated to work, and decided to take up fencing, through night classes offered at New York University. They’d supply the equipment. I just needed to bring energy, commitment and a pair of sneakers.

I’d taken ballet for years, and loved its grace, French terminology and history. But I wanted something ferocious and competitive, not endless plies and tendues going nowhere. Classes were taught by the NYU coach, Steve Mormando, a former Navy guy and two-time Olympian.

It was deeply, quickly humbling, as new muscles announced themselves with aches and pains. I was too slow and clumsy for foil and didn’t like epee. So Steve decided to make a small group of 30-something women into saber fencers, an unheard-of ambition in the early 1990s, when women had yet to compete nationally in that weapon.

I and my team-mates would make history by doing so.

The lessons I learned in the salle have stayed with me, helping me in work and private life. (NB: An epee, foil or saber is actually called a weapon, not a sword. But using the word “weapon” in my headline seemed unwise!)

Here is some of what fencing taught me:

Tenacity

Fencing bouts have only five touches. I was once down 4-0 and once would have simply thought “Fuck it” but Steve taught us that every point is a new bout. I won that bout, which changed how I see life’s possibilities. If I assume I’m defeated, I will be.

Fearlessness

In sabre, the weapon’s style is based on cavalry fighting, with only the body above the hips as target, including the head. Getting hit on the head is always a bit of a shock, even wearing a metal helmet, and I always came home with bruises on my arms and legs. No biggie. If you’re scared to get into the game, how can you compete effectively?

Anticipation

Fencing has been called “chess at the speed of boxing.” Like chess, the sport is very much a mental one, a matching of wits and temperament and the ability to look multiple moves ahead in order to win. This skill is essential to any sort of professional success.

Observation

The only way to win in fencing is to observe each opponent carefully, before and during the bout, in order to pinpoint and penetrate their weaknesses. Everyone has one, and likely several; I once had to fence a much larger man but used my smaller size and greater speed to my advantage.

Persistence

Fencing often hurts and, like many athletes competing in a sport they take seriously, pain becomes a mere distraction. The end goal is to stay focused and win. 

Detachment

Of all the lessons fencing taught me, this was by far the most valuable. I learned to stand back, to wait for an opening, to pull distance, to not react. Becoming emotional  — often a default female choice — is self-indulgent and useless, as anger and frustration simply impede the ability to fight (and win) with a clear head.

Here’s a fun story from The Globe and Mail about a Toronto businessman who fences extremely well with all three weapons.

American designer Vera Wang, best known for her wedding dress business, was a former competitive figure skater and ballet student, both of which shaped her drive as well. She told Allure magazine:

It was my life. I think the training and the discipline, the loneliness — you have to develop a core of strength — helped me in my career. And I danced at the American School of Ballet. That is is intense, intense shit. You know, feet bleeding, Black Swan.

Ralph Dopping, a Toronto designer, blogged about how his sport, martial arts, has shaped his perspective as well.

What does it take to get to the black belt level?

Training.

What else?

Those are just words.

But they convey a mindset toward learning. The martial arts are centered in lifelong learning whether you practice consistently or not. The principles that are taught behind the study of the art is what stays with you.

For life.

What sport or physical activity has shaped you?

What female jocks learn — and Olympic athletes know

In behavior, life, news, sports, women, work on July 28, 2012 at 12:02 am

As millions of us tune into the Olympics today in London, Mariel Zagunis, a saber fencer from Beaverton, Oregon, who won the U.S.’s first gold medal in fencing since 1904 in 2004 was chosen to lead the 529 American athletes into the opening ceremonies. Her parents, Kathy and Robert, were rowers, who met when they competed in the Montreal Olympics in 1976.

FedZag6

FedZag6 (Photo credit: Kashmera)

When I moved to New York, and was eager for a new athletic challenge, I trained with a two-time Olympian, saber fencer Steve Mormando, and was nationally ranked in the mid 1990s in that sport for four years.

Fencing rocks!

Competing in sports, especially when you’re aiming for the top, teaches many powerful lessons, some of them of special value to women, in whom unshakable confidence and physical aggression can be seen as ugly, “unfeminine” or worse.

Some of the lessons saber fencing competition taught me:

– Saber (one of three weapons used in the sport), requires aggression and a sort of boldness that’s totally unfamiliar to many girls and women in real life. If you hesitate or pause, you can easily lose to the opponent prepared to start the attack. Go!

– In saber, you “pull distance” and create space between you and your opponent by withdrawing backwards down the strip and extending your blade. This buys you time, and safe space, in which to make a smarter or more strategic move. I’ve often slowed down in life when it looked like I should speed up or jump in quick. Fencing taught me the value of doing the opposite.

– Anger is wasted energy. I hate losing! But stressing out when I did lose, which is inevitable in sports, as in life, only messed with my focus and concentration. Move on.

– Pain will happen. Keep going. I was once hit, hard, early in a day-long regional competition and my elbow really hurt. But I had many more opponents to face and didn’t want to just drop out. Life often throws us sudden and unexpected pain — financial, emotional, physical. Having the ability to power through it will separate you from the weaker pack.

When I fenced at nationals, the first group of American women to do so, there was no option to compete in saber at the Olympic level, let alone world competition. It was frustrating indeed to work and train so hard, traveling often and far, competing regionally and locally, but never have the chance to go for the ultimate challenge, trying for an Olympic team position.

The sport was dominated by European men, and its organizing body, The Federation International d’Escrime, decreed that saber was (of course) too dangerous for women.

Now the U.S. has Zagunis, a young woman of 27, who dominates the sport.

This year, a new sport (which I truthfully find horrifying, but that feels hypocritical, doesn’t it?) — women’s boxing — has been added to the Olympics.

As we watch and cheer and cry and shout over the next few weeks, remember all the women along the way, their efforts often initially dismissed or derided, whose hard work and tenacity break down these barriers.

What Billie Jean King And I Have In Common

In aging, behavior, Health, Medicine, news, seniors, sports on September 2, 2011 at 12:12 am
The Tin Man. Poster for Fred R. Hamlin's music...

He's a cutie. But you don't want to feel this stiff, ever! Image via Wikipedia

Not what you think, smarties. Not tennis. Not sexual orientation.

OA. That’s osteoarthritis, a degenerative disease that grinds away your cartilage and bone and makes it really painful to walk, dance, lift, carry and just get on with life.

So the Arthritis Foundation is running a new campaign to get the arthritic among us — all 50 million of us! — to keep moving.

It’s a little bizarre, but true, that the more you hurt (and you do!), the more you need to get moving, as often and vigorously as possible, to lessen your pain. After only three or four days of inactivity, I feel like the Tin Man, the pain in my left hip so excruciating I wake up at 3:00 a.m. to gulp down a painkiller.

I recently wrote an essay about my addiction to exercise to stay flexible, fight weight gain and avoid depression from my constant arthritis pain for Arthritis Today. It has not yet appeared; I’ll link to it when it does.

Do you have a physical disability or chronic issue that makes your life tougher?

How do you deal with it?

How Many Communities Do You Belong To?

In behavior, blogging, books, domestic life, family, life, love, men, sports, urban life, US, women, work on June 25, 2011 at 12:13 pm
1987 GE Softball Team

Go team! Loving the camaraderie...Image by Bitman via Flickr

I loved a recent post by a young Canadian man teaching English in Korea, about his belated discovery of belonging to a trivia team and its pleasures.

I grew up in a family of, if not lone wolves, non-joiners.

Team spirit? Not so much.

My father, mother and stepmother were all freelance creatives: film, television, magazine journalism, almost always done working from home, sitting at a desk piled with papers, an ashtray overflowing (step-mom), a cold cup of milky coffee defining our “office.”

No one ever worked for The Man, or could count on paid vacation and sick days or a pension.

No one went to church or synagogue or played a team sport or joined a club or organization. My two brothers and I have all been nationally ranked athletes and super-competitive jocks, but usually in individual sports (riding, rally car racing, skateboarding, fencing.)

So it’s been an eye-opener to see what pleasures lie within community, not defined geographically — as it classically is for most of us — but through interests. After my divorce in 1994, alone in the ‘burbs with little cash and no pets or kids to pull me into those groups naturally, I started racing on sailboats of all sizes as a crew member, and did that for about five fun years.

My communities, now, include:

– the board, and 1,400 membership of, the American Society of Journalists and Authors

– the board of the Writers Emergency Assistance Fund, a body that grants up to $5,000 quickly to writers in desperate financial straits

– a co-ed softball team that includes a literary agent, a pastry chef for a Big New York restaurant, high school teachers, a medical editor, a retired ironworker, an orthopedic surgeon and a cantor. We’ve played Softball Lite for more than eight years right until the ground freezes and the snow flies, and I love them dearly. Here’s my love letter to them that ran in The New York Times.

– my Episcopal church, an uneasy fit  for me and my sweetie (both career journos) in that most of its members are wealthy, conservative and work in finance, law or high-level corporate jobs. But I’ve been there since 1998 and have made a few good friends. St. B’s and its pastors and assistant ministers has seen me through some major crises

I never really thought about “community” in this way until I read the obit of the sister of a dear friend of mine. When I called him to offer my condolences, he said, “I never knew how many communities she had.” It made me realize how many we enjoy, far beyond our traditional and individual roles of friend, daughter/son, wife/husband, partner, employee/boss.


Being a member of a community, de facto, shapes you. Every group has its own character, standards, acceptable (and not) forms of behavior, interaction and address, how to handle conflict or disagreement.

In Softball Lite, for example, we all know (and love) that cell phones are verboten and no one is allowed to freak out or berate a fellow player for a bobble or error. The operative word — in hyper-competitive New York where we are all so hungry for a friendly break — is Lite.

What communities have you joined?

What do you get — and give — as a result?

Has it changed you?

Why Playing On A Team Can Save You

In behavior, sports on August 4, 2010 at 2:30 pm
Players at the Homeless World Cup 2007 in Cope...
Image via Wikipedia

I’d never heard of the Homeless World Cup. Now, for the first time, a women’s version will be held.

From The New York Times:

Earlier, during the end-of-tournament celebration, a moment of pride engulfed T K Ajiboye of Far Rockaway, N.Y. Ajiboye served 18 months on a drug charge, he said. After his release, he worked at various jobs and eventually joined the Street Soccer New York team and moved into the HELP Supportive Employment Center of Wards Island.

Ajiboye, now working as a waiter, was named to the 12-man player pool from which the eight-player United States team that competes in the 2010 Homeless World Cup in Brazil in September will be selected.

“Being part of this scene means a whole lot,” he said. “No one person has it worse. If you meet the next person and you hear his problems, you’re ‘Oh my God.’ It makes my foundation even stronger.”

For the first time, a women’s Homeless World Cup will be held. Wrightsman was named to the 10-member pool from which the eight-player United States team will be selected. Later in the day, she added the USA Cup’s most valuable player honors.

“I’m honored, shocked, “ she said of making the national team. “I’ve worked harder to do this than anything in my life.”

I’ve been playing team sports competitively since I moved to New York in 1989. It’s deeply ironic to me that, having moved to New York to carve out a place in journalism — a ferociously crowded field in a relentlessly elbows-out city — my sports pals and coaches, (and all that athletic competing), has proven my balm and refuge.

I didn’t grow up playing team sports seriously, but as an adult find them intensely satisfying. If nothing else, and it’s a lot, I find there a level playing field with bells and lights and whistles, rules and yellow cards and umps and judges. The best win, the weaker lose.

I was a nationally ranked saber fencer in the mid 1990s, then took up sailboat racing and now have been playing co-ed softball for eight years. In every sport, in every venue, it is always my team mates and fellow crew who truly know me best.

However cliche, sports competition within the matrix of a good team with a smart coach, can elicit our deepest, most hidden strengths and, sometimes, tame some of our demons.

I hate losing, and it’s inevitable — at least your team shares defeat with you. In victory, each plays a part. Even until very recently, with a severely compromised left hip, I was still playing second base and hitting to the outfield, albeit with a pinch runner. I love the inter-reliance of my team sports, the high fives and long lunches afterward to debrief, celebrate, commiserate. I am in awe of one team-mate, a man in his 60s who had a multiple organ transplant last year, who runs the bases.

I think this experience of being accepted and valued — and coached and pushed — is essential for every young girl and woman, even if briefly or unsuccessfully. Women, especially, are told their bodies are only valuable when thin, pretty, conventionally shaped and/or producing babies. Athletic achievement offers us a clean and potentially powerful place to (also) appreciate our stamina, strength, flexibility, self-discipline.

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He Guards It With His Life — The Stanley Cup, That Is

In sports on July 19, 2010 at 4:08 pm
20x zoom photo = 5x optical zoom + 15x digital...

Image via Wikipedia

Talk about a fun job.

Mike Bolt, 41, a Toronto native, is one of four “keepers of the cup” — who spends his life guarding, and traveling with, the Stanley Cup.

From the Vancouver Sun:

You can touch the Cup. You can even kiss it. But you can’t hoist it over your head unless you have actually won it.

And there are places the Cup can’t go any more, like to strip joints or casinos.

In these days of instant Internet photography, a picture could be flashed around the world with the Cup next to a nude stripper. That would never do. It also can’t be used for corporate promotions, although charities are OK. Bolt has to act as a quasi-policeman, while ensuring that everyone has a good time with the Cup.

You might think Bolt has a glamorous job, traveling around the world with the hockey icon that is almost instantly recognizable even to people who wouldn’t know the Atlanta Thrashers from the Pittsburgh Penguins.

In the 11 years he has been doing Cup duty he has missed out on special occasions with friends and family, often gets little sleep and catches meals on the fly as he boards flights and travels long distances. He has no wife, no kids and no hobbies.

Asked about his life outside the job, the jovial custodian replied with a smile, “I don’t have a life.”

While on my B.C. vacation, visiting my old college friend who now lives in Kamloops, she showed me her favorite movie, the quirky and charming Canadian film, One Week, (co-produced by a high school friend of mine).

A key scene involved…the Stanley Cup.

My friend and I gaped. Was it the real Stanley Cup? Could you really get it to come and be in your movie?

Yes it was and yes they could.

I think this man has a very cool job, although this quote did give me pause:

As part of the job, he has to have the Stanley Cup within eyesight most of the time. And, yes, that means it stays in his room with him at night.

“I don’t actually curl up with it, but it actually sleeps in my room. It’s the best relationship I have had in 11 years.”

The Middle Seat, Between Two Pro Football Players — That's My Kind Of Air Travel!

In sports, travel on July 8, 2010 at 9:50 pm
Toronto Argonauts quarterback Kerry Joseph pre...

The Argos in action...Image via Wikipedia

So I’m sitting in the departure lounge for an Air Canada flight from Toronto to Winnipeg. I notice a lot of very good-looking men in the room.

Very large good-looking men, several who walk with that distinctive sort of stroll that marks a very skilled, very confident athlete.

Turns out I was sharing the Airbus 320 with the Canadian Football League’s Toronto Argonauts, off to play the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in their second game of the season.

Not flying business class, not flying charter. In with us civilians!

I sat beside one of the coaches, a former player, who at 37 is considered old. (!) On the other side was a player whose thighs were the size and consistency of tree trunks. As I can be a nervous flyer, this was a lovely surprise.

How could I be nervous when surrounded by row upon row of testosterone and muscle?

I did wonder briefly, if the plane crashed and we all perished, if I might make it into a footnote of history — “Football Team Lost….and Writer.”

The coach was intensely curious about the life of a writer and I was intensely curious about the life of a pro athlete. And what did we have in common? What else?

Orthopedic surgeries! Another person to whom the phrase “bone on bone” means something. We traded notes on our meniscus repairs. Fun!

Two of my favorite movies, ever, are football movies: Any Given Sunday and North Dallas Forty. Which, for a woman who has yet to even see a live football game, is a little odd.

Female Athletes Almost Invisible On Television — Except Abby Sunderland

In sports, women on June 11, 2010 at 10:12 pm
Lorena Ochoa (MEX) on the day before 2008 Mast...

Lorena Ochoa. Image via Wikipedia

Women athletes are getting even less visible (if that’s possible) on television, according to a new study.

In 2004, they got a big 5.6 percent of network news coverage and today get — wait for it — 1.6 percent.

This, in the era of awesome women like race car driver Danica Patrick, golfer Michelle Wie, tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams, (recently retired) golfer Lorena Ochoa — and the wave of Korean women now dominating the LPGA.

Here’s an interesting post on what this might do to young girls who dream of sports careers. If you don’t see people like you (hello, men’s pro sports) playing at the highest levels of amateur, elite and professional sport, let alone talking about how they train, recover from surgery and injury, choose and work with their coaches, caddies and trainers — how will today’s eager young girls know it’s possible for them as well?

Anyone remember the media frenzy over soccer star Mia Hamm, who won Olympic gold in 1996 and 2004? Athletic little girls, and teens, need powerful, cool women role models much more than little boys — there’s no lack of guys on TV playing sports.

I burst into tears of pride and awe when the U.S. women took bronze, silver and gold (!!!) in saber fencing at the 2008 Olympics — because I was one of the first women (of about 300) to compete nationally in saber, back when it was considered too dangerous for women in the Olympics. That was only in the 1990s…Women who make sports history are often inspired by other women.

Ever heard of Isabelle Autissier? She’s my idol, a solo sailor in some of the world’s toughest races. She had to be rescued when her yacht went down mid-race.

I bet you Abby Sunderland, the 16-year-old sailor who’s been making headlines this week, knows exactly who she is.

Why are women athletes deemed so non-newsworthy?

My Weekly Ritual — Softball Lite — In Today's New York Times

In sports on June 11, 2010 at 7:50 pm
BEIJING - AUGUST 12:  Lovieanne Jung #3 of the...

Image by Bongarts/Getty Images via @daylife

The joy of a new editor and a new section….here’s my story in today’s Times about my beloved co-ed weekly softball game. It’s been nine years and we’re still going strong, even as I now need someone to run the bases for me (my hip) and I’m still, on a good day, lead-off hitter:

It’s lite because, with an age range of 14 to over 70, we’re looking for fun, not more pressure to perform. People don’t yell or look at their BlackBerrys or answer their cellphones while on base. We’re skilled and competitive, but chill enough that we don’t obsess over the score.

Since a number of players are in their 50s and beyond, some of us have been known to limp to the diamond. My team has seen me through shoulder surgery and a foot stress fracture, so when I hobbled up recently and warned the gang that I’d need someone to run for me — I had a newly arthritic hip — everyone shrugged. “I showed up on crutches,” said Joan, a medical editor.

I can still hit to the outfield, so even unable to run, I was lead-off hitter, and Alan, a lean, swift lawyer running for me, scored a double. In Westchester County, N.Y., not known for its diversity, we’ve got a pretty good mix, with players driving or coming by train from Queens, Long Island and Harlem: five lawyers, a literary agent, a pastry chef, schoolteachers, a retired ironworker and his three adult sons, a psychiatrist, a scientist. Perhaps most fortunate, an orthopedic surgeon, one of our more competitive players.

One unspoken rule of Softball Lite is that men don’t help the women — who usually make up roughly a third of about 20 players each time — or tell them what to do. We know what to do, and after a few games, our teammates know and trust our skills as well. If we goof up, well, it’s not fatal and we’re quite aware that we goofed. I usually play second base, and I didn’t appreciate one new male player who marked a spot in the dust and told me where to stand.

Even the photo than ran with the Times piece was taken by a good friend, fellow freelancer Alan Zale.

As a Canadian, I didn’t grow up playing softball, so my skills came much later in life, which is half the joy of them. I so treasure this little island of camaraderie in a sea of competitiveness.

Do you have a beloved sports team you still hang out with?

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