I am standing solemnly in the tunnel leading out to the arena. There’s a slight chill in the air and my bare arms and legs are riddled with goose bumps. I am staring intently at my feet. The lace of my left trainer is loosely tied and I wonder if I should tighten it before I walk out. I take in one deep breath smelling the sweetness of the freshly mown grass, and the lingering, sharp scent of my perspiration. My breaths are shallow but rapid and consistent and my loose shirt billows over my chest and stomach. I must look like a boy in this uniform. I have a white-knuckle grip around the hem of my shirt. My view shifts and I think when did my legs get so lanky and pale? I begin to question whether or not I am built for a day like today. Whether or not I am built for this kind of physical contact. Doubt runs through my mind like blood through my veins. I am not ready. Maybe next year, I think. And then, almost ironically my feet begin one in front of the other, headed straight to the arena. My head is hot and my knees are weak. But I keep walking. Left foot. Right foot. Left foot. I march. I am not ready. What if I fall? What if I can’t get back up again? What if I get hurt? My mother always warned me about these kinds of games. I am not ready. There is an eerie silence in the air, filled by the beckoning taunts of my consciousness. I am not ready. As I reach the end of the tunnel and raise my head, almost as if on a string and look out into the seats I see there are three people watching me. Waiting for me to enter. Only three. In the entire arena. I can feel the sweat running down my temples and my fists clenched around my shirt becoming clammy and sore. It is in this moment I want to turn around. I want to go back down the tunnel and away from these intense gazes. I want to go back to safety. Almost ironically, my legs keep moving. I will them to turn around and yet they keep marching forward, robotically, toward the middle of the grass, centralizing these six eyes onto me. I am not ready. I feel small. But I keep walking. Left foot. Right foot. Left foot. Once I have reached the middle of the arena, I look up. I see the same familiar six eyes, staring judgingly down at me. In this moment I realize I have lost all breath. Instead, I stand solemnly, not breathing, staring back at them terrified. Second pass, and feel like years. Then I look down. To the front row of the arena and I see my mum. She’s waving at me, smiling from her seat, wrapped up in a blanket striped with my team’s colours. Then I see my dad. And my sisters. And my grandma. All smiling, waving, cheering me on. Then, as if part of a dream, sitting next to my family I see myself staring back at me. My cheeks are flushed, my eyes bright and the corners of my mouth turned upwards in a comforting smile. I squeeze my eyes shut and tears burst from their seams. I open them again and surely enough see myself sitting there. Still waiting. Still smiling. I draw in a deep breath and look up at the three people sitting in the nosebleed seats of the arena and suddenly they seem smaller and more distant. I stand up tall. And begin to play.
Theodore Roosevelt said that ‘it is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming.’
According to Brene Brown, there will always be three people in the arena. Shame, scarcity and comparison. These three people will be there to watch, to judge, to influence. As a player, we have no control over them being in the arena. All we can do, is reserve a seat for them, distant from the play, distant from our forethought and continue. It matters not so much that they are there, but that you walked out into the arena in the first place. And instead of fixating about their presence, look to the front row. See who is there. See who is cheering you on. See who is wearing your colours because they are who matters.
Whether you err, or are covered in goosebumps or want to turn back, the most important thing is that you made it into the arena and that you’re sitting in your own front row.