by Daniel Roodt
Sports players that we idolise are strange cases because their significance to your life changes radically from childhood to adulthood. As you grow older, your sporting heroes start to mean less and less to you. We often still have favourite players, but at the most, they’re usually just someone you cheer a bit harder for or someone whose name you get on the back of your shirt. However, it’s an entirely different story when we’re children.
Our sporting heroes are so much more than just people on a screen as children. They’re your idols, and you look up to them. But beyond that, you want to be like them. You want to score the winning goal in a Champions League final. You want to lead your country to success on the rugby field and lift the World Cup. You want to dominate the bowling attack and hold your bat and helmet high as you race to a century.
And so, you do in a certain sense. When you pick up a football with your friends, you pretend to be one of your favourite players, and when you score, you celebrate as they would. And if you’re an only child with a big garden in a tiny town, you do it yourself.
You throw on some goalkeeping gloves and dive around the garden pretending to make save after save to keep your team in the game. Or, you grab a cricket bat and pretend to play magnificent shots all around the garden stadium. After you hit numerous sixes, you clip one to the covers, before sprinting to the other end of the ‘pitch’ and throwing yourself into the crease to narrowly avoid being run out, as you see on tv. Maybe that was just me, though.
In my case, it went beyond emulating them in the garden. My room was dedicated to my favourite sports stars. I had a Ferrari-themed room (because of my love for Michael Schumacher), with the walls painted bright red and a Ferrari flag and chequered flag painted on the wall. On top of that, it was covered in posters of South African rugby and cricket players that I had gotten for free in SA Rugby and SA Cricket magazines. As you can see, I was somewhat obsessed with sport.
But as time goes by, your admiration for them wanes. They no longer exist as these god-like figures you want to be. However, their influence on your childhood remains intact. You still remember pretending to be player X when you were kicking the ball around with your friends after school. I know someone in his 60s who still remembers the players he and his friends used to “be” when they played football in the garden. It highlights how fifty years later, one still remembers these players' impact on your childhood.
All of this is part of what hooks us into sports. For the formative years of our lives, sport is so much more than just a game in a stadium or on a tv screen. It is, in many ways, our life. It captures our imagination and attention and has a considerable influence on everything we do recreationally.
While there will be a last time you choose to pretend to be a particular player in whatever garden sport you’re playing, the memories you made don’t disappear. They might fade as time goes on, but no matter what happens, the effect they had on some of the happiest and carefree moments in your childhood will always be there.