“Show some balls!”
Any young man over the age of 14 or 15, who plays sport – particularly team based, football codes – will have had this phrase thrown at them. The pre-game rev up speech from the coach, the half-time pull your finger out you lazy pricks speech, or the three-quarter time we’ve only got one left on the bench speech. Maybe a Dad or guardian living needlessly and unfairly through their child may throw this one at them, with the best(?) of intentions, hoping to coax an inspirational effort out of the young athlete.
It seems pertinent to discuss ball showing with round 1 of the AFL season dawning upon us, as suburban leagues start firing up with practice matches, and as the Australian cricket team continues to unexpectedly show some full frontal balls in the land of chronic ball breaking, India. So how do we define this widely used saying?
We start with the balls themselves. Undoubtedly, this was born out of anatomical, stereotypical and cultural means. Men have external gonads, women don’t; men are tougher and stronger than women; and men are expected to be braver than women. They have the balls, and they can show them in times of need. Aside from the fact that women are much tougher than men, in this writer’s opinion (pushing girthy baby heads out of tight orifices, regular hormonal imbalances, ingrained societal hurdles towards respect and achievement etc. etc.), showing balls seems to be unfairly attributed to sporting acts.
An act where you can hang your hat up and say “I showed some balls” would usually include one or more of the following features: resilience, courage, decision making, faith, strength, restraint, application, concentration. In general, we tend to recognise physical acts more so than mental, and symptomatic actions – those we witness – rather than those of restraint – “They could’ve done so and so, but they showed some balls and didn’t.”
While we recognise these readily in sport – every game you can take your hat off to the player’s bravery, and at times, blind stupidity at putting their body on the line, or running til they vomit. For Australia on this tour of India, we have witnessed their dedication to patience and concentration, resilience and restraint – for once, they have put their shots away! – and for that they are to be applauded. This is fantastic, and we should applaud the admirable physical and mental feats our athletes display, for many of us are genetically or physically incapable of performing under the pressure of competition. However, they pale in significance to the ball showing that goes on in real life.
Briefly, some examples of actions that DO NOT show balls – yelling and swerving at cyclists from your big strong 10 tonne motor vehicle (to be touched on in depth soon); physically, mentally or emotionally taking your frustrations out on others, particularly partners and children; not owning the consequences of your actions.
Briefly again, some generic examples of actions that DO show balls – working extra hours or an extra job so that you can keep a roof over you or families head; making the decision to put someone on bypass, to operate and save their heart; admitting you need help, with any problem, be it mental illness, a vice, or a decision. Recognition is an excellent form of reinforcement, so keep an eye out for these acts, and when you see them, appreciate them, and let the person know. We need more selflessness.
I finish with a story. I work at a hospital, in the emergency department. Late last year, I think it may have been a Sunday, in the last home and away round of footy, a middle aged couple came in. They had their St.Kilda gear on and decided they would leave extra early and visit the hospital on the way through. The wife had been feeling a bit ordinary that week and had a shocking migraine. The doctor ordered scans of her whole body, which we all found a bit odd. I took her up, with her husband, and we talked about the Saints, their year, their future prospects. We did the scan, and went back. She was already feeling better.
A half hour later, the scan and report came in. This lady, just popping in on her way to a sunny roof-open game at Etihad, had cancer throughout her body, pretty much spread to every limb. I went in to see her after the doctor had told her. Their nice Sunday afternoon, and their lives, had changed irreversibly. I passed my condolence – what else can you do? – and she turned to her husband, both clearly shaken, and said “I guess we won’t be going to Etihad today.” She asked if I could keep updating her of the scores. Amidst all this, all she cared about was missing out on seeing the Saints. That lady, and her husband, off to watch those who we revere most for ball showing, showed more balls than those players could ever dream of. The Saints kicked 25 goals that day, and won by 58 points. If only they knew the smile they put on her face.