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  • Writer's pictureNatalie Price

Participation Over Perfection

Updated: May 18, 2022

When I was about 9 or 10, I joined an after school football club. It's a bit of a blur as to how I got involved, as up until that point I had very little desire to play football!

Both my dad and step-dad were massive United fans so I'm guessing I might have just accepted my fate! I will leave it to you to guess which 'United' team I'm referring to!

(Hint: my school was situated in the borough of Trafford in Greater Manchester and it was the late nineties, some might say the glory days!)

I was a pretty outdoorsy kid, I loved riding my bike, climbing trees, attempting cartwheels and of course like any regular child; dangling upside down off the swing set in the garden.

A real life 'Upside Down Girl' from the cartoon Recess!

It's highly likely that my mum had thought that football was a pretty good alternative to my hanging upside down 'hobby'.

And of course it was a good way to burn off some energy before returning home from school too!

(I was a tad hyperactive at that age and wasn't allowed to drink orange juice for many years!)

Where there's a will, there's a... reward

Each week at football club we'd go to the local field near school along with the football coach and whichever teacher got the short straw that week!

At the start of each session the coach would teach us a new football skill and we'd try to copy it. I'd try my best not to lose the ball in the process!

I genuinely enjoyed learning the football skills, but playing an actual football game was not exactly for me. I was playing against kids who understood how to tackle and in order to avoid getting kicked, I would give away the ball.

Now, you don't need to know much about football to know that giving the ball away is not the aim of the game!

After a few weeks, it was quite clear to me that I couldn't compete with kids who had been playing for a few years. However as I say this, I do remember that I learnt to dribble the ball, so at the very least, I'm sure that's one for the C.V. under hobbies and interests!

It's interesting that I can actually remember thinking I had to gain something from going to the football club for it to be worthwhile. And because I wasn't any good, what was the point?

Even before reaching double digits I'd somehow learned that participating wasn't really the focus of doing something. Well at least not to me! I was and likely still am a perfectionist at my core. And I feel fulfilled when I am good at something. I'll go one step further. I feel fulfilled when I'm recognised for being good at something! Oh hello external validation!

I think about it now as an adult and I'm somewhat under the impression that unless I'm doing something well, then there's little enjoyment to be had. So this makes me pretty risk averse at starting something new.

But looking at my past experiences, what was I like as a kid, what made me stick at something? Even though I was pretty terrible at football, what was the hidden driver? If there was no admiration for being good at something then what else was there? The possibility of a reward?

Ding Ding! At the end of every session the coach would award someone with a medal. Now as a child I enjoyed being outside, but confusingly I did not enjoy sports. I liked the freedom of being in nature and wasn't 'naturally' gifted with good hand/eye co-ordination, so up to the age of 10 I only had a 10 metre swimming badge to my name and little else in the world of tangible awards. So I can understand why the prospect of getting a medal was so thrilling for me.

And the award goes to...

One particular day during the after school football club, it started to rain quite heavily. The teacher asked us if we wanted to continue or go back to the school, but since we figured we would still have to walk back in the rain and there wasn't masses of time of the session left, we all decided to play on. (Also rain is very frequent in Manchester or it feels like it).

At the end of the session we huddled around in a circle and the coach announced the name of the student who had the best performance. He says my name!

I, much like you, was very surprised by this announcement and wondered what I'd done differently in this session from the rest.

From the coach's adidas pocket I was presented with a gold coloured medal with a red, white and blue ribbon. Up close it was actually plastic, but had a bronze centre piece with the image of 2 footballers. I was so proud and put it on straight away and just kept staring at it.

Because it was raining they decided to give the certificates out the following week.

I'd always wanted a medal from the very first session, but I knew my capabilities were somewhat limited. I started thinking that maybe my skills had improved more than I'd realised.

The following week, when we were back in school, I was handed my certificate to accompany my medal.

It read, "This certificate is awarded to Natalie Price for...

...smiling in the rain".

Now if that isn't an award for participation I really don't know what is! Now I still feel rather conflicted about the reasoning but at the time I shrugged it off, that smiling could be an important part of a match right?

Maybe this was an early lesson that not being the best at something doesn't always go unrecognised?

Now let's fast forward to the end of term, the football programme have a trophy to award to a student who has consistently performed well throughout the term at the football after school club.

In Assembly the head teacher calls up a kid named 'Joe'. He was great at football and was definitely deserving.

Now for the only reason I can think of as gender equality politics, the head continued to then call my name!

At this point I was dying of embarrassment. And was prompted by my teacher to make my way to the front of the hall. Together Joe and I held up the trophy to a hall full of kids. Forget imposter syndrome, I felt like a full blown "Catch me if you can" Leo DiCaprio character.

We apparently agreed to share the trophy over the school holidays and then it would return to the school to be put on display.

Being 1 of 4 girls, and with a somewhat disinterest in sports, I imagine my mum was surprised at my football achievement and she took the opportunity to display this in the kitchen cabinet, which had a glass front. I saw that thing everyday for weeks!

In Reserve

The following year, was to be my final year at primary school before sitting my 11+ exam and moving onto high school.

Now one of the sports that I genuinely enjoyed was Rounders. I absolutely loved it!

Again I can't exactly say I was very good, but I think it was because it was a summer sport and you didn't have to do that much. (I would enjoy sitting in the field on a hot day whilst making daisy chains).

Somehow I was awarded the crucial spot of 'Reserve' for the school Rounders Team. Slim pickings clearly!

So where I lived in Trafford, all of the primary schools in the borough got together and decided to do a Rounders Tournament.

This was a knock out event where the last team standing would be declared the winner. Now I had thought this would be a nice day out. But unexpectedly they decided to put all the reserves from the various schools into their own team to compete in the tournament.

Now luckily for me and them, we had too many players in the reserves team, can you see where this is heading... yes... I was a Reserve for the Reserves Team!

The tournament was a fairly hot and long day and around 4pm I hadn't played a single game, so when my school team were knocked out of the tournament, one of the parents offered to take me home. I said my goodbyes to the other reserves and headed home, 10 daisy chains heavier.

Monday rolls around and first thing it's assembly in the school hall. Myself and a student named Charlotte are asked to stand up (she was also on the reserves team but actually got to play). Uh oh! I'm in trouble for leaving early...

The teacher starts to clap and then the students start to do the same. We received a round of applause and I had no clue why.

It turns out that the Reserves Team went on to win the Rounders Tournament and because I had left early I didn't even realise I was on the winning team. (Ignorance was bliss in the days before broadband and mobile phones).

So here I was again... a fraud being rewarded for someone else's achievements. I didn't even pick up a bat! (I might have been smiling on the sidelines so that could have been the reason!)

Now you might think that my sporting achievements are a bit immoral, or a result of outdated views and maybe it reinforced the wrong message to a young child? And I think you could be right!

But I've also been thinking that if there was a negative impact on my perception of reward, wouldn't the trajectory of my personal achievements demonstrate some form of excessive inauthenticity?

I think it's actually done the opposite. In some ways I would still say there's a negative impact.

I'm super conscious of needing to feel like I've earned something in order to be recognised. I haven't competed in any sport or won medal or anything much beyond Attendance certificates and recognition for my academic work during High School.

But I think it's actually been a helpful push against my perfectionist tendencies and a continuation to want more of the normal over the spectacular.

Throughout high school I was further encouraged to participate in things that were beyond my known strengths, whether or not I would win anything from participating wasn't really a thought, I was sort of forced to participate because I had shown an interest.

I'm not naturally a try anything kind of person, or at least not without careful consideration and a persuasive conversation with myself first!

I wonder if these events were the catalyst to those thereafter and helped to give me the confidence to continue to sing and perform in public?

In Music there's no clear reward or concrete milestones and I wasn't by any means a born performer, so why didn't perfectionism kick in and convince me not to do it? What started to change?

Just around the river bend

I first started singing at home, and music was always being played in our house. I was somewhat comfortable performing at home. Me and my sisters would be encouraged by our family to become the "Price Girls", which was sort of a "Stars in their eyes" rip off in our living room on a Sunday evening. There was also renditions of Take That, Boyzone and Steps, expertly performed whilst reading the lyrics from the booklet on the inside of the cassette tape. Font size 1.5 pt! The good old days!

Only a few years earlier, I would dress up as Disney's Pocahontas and repeatedly play the sing along, much to the annoyance of my entire family. I would impersonate Pocahontas word for word and had memorised all of the lyrics. I still remember them!

In the same year that I'd been a Rounders Reserve, I decided to apply with a few of my school friends to perform a song from Grease at the school talent show, I was along for the ride and decided why not just join in.

I can't say I liked performing in public, I was painfully shy, and would even shake with nerves, but I also dreamt of being in a girl band, or being a pop artist like Samantha Mumba.

I didn't even know if I was any good at singing but I knew I enjoyed it and performing was something I always visualised myself doing.

Looking back, since I've been performing music, I've found that I have repeatedly pushed myself out of my comfort zone for all sorts of music related projects.

In recent years, I'd perceived myself as being a perfectionist, but I've started to realise that I've always been a participator. I do try out new things that I don't know much about and learnt how to do it. And in most cases I'm happy at the time with the output. I've realised that sometimes a part of doing something new is also learning to ask for help from those around you. Other people will encourage you to do things you never thought you could.

Motto #1

I was thinking about how I can remind myself to continue to be a participator and enjoy the process, as I'll likely need constant reminding! So my reminder is going to be:

Look for the daisies in everything you do. Even if you're not scoring 'rounders', create something you enjoy whilst you're in the field, or just enjoy being in the field.


A trip down memory lane

This post took me right back to the 90's, so I thought I'd reminisce a little bit longer. And it honestly made me chuckle at some of the crap and some not so crap that I used to be obsessed over!

- Furby's

- Beanie Babies

- Pogs / Slammers

- Spice Girls Photos

- Mizz Magazine

- TOTP's Magazine

- Football Stickers

- Pokemon Cards

- Trolls

- Trouser Skirts

- Jelly Sandals

- Butterfly Clips

- Roll on Body Glitter

- Scented Gel Pens

- Dream Phone game

- Kerplunk game

- Push Pops

- Sunny D

- Teletext

Who also remembers:

- The Millennium Bug / Y2K/ The Millennium Dome

- When Nickelodeon became Paramount after 7pm

- When Polly could actually fit in your pocket

- When a 10p pick 'n' mix would mean 10 sweets!

Let me know if you have any others that bring back memories in the comments below!


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