From one generation to the next

Once upon a time, I played a sport called korfball. And then I stopped. But now maybe the baton is being passed on to Isaac.

What the hell is korfball? It’s a sport which originated in the Netherlands and is designed to be played with mixed teams, four male and four female players a side. Think of it as a cross between basketball and netball but instead of nets there are two baskets (‘korf’ is the Dutch word for ‘basket’) on posts 3.5m above the ground. That’s korfball.

That was then …

Heather and I joined Oxford City Korfball Club shortly after it was formed in 1992. We played for most of its first decade, also representing both Oxfordshire and Hampshire (long story, not very interesting) at the annual county championships. My personal specialities were long-range shooting, minimising the amount of running I had to do and breaking bar-stools in Cambridge college bars (short story, not very interesting).

Then I turned 30, moved to a job with a lengthy commute and drifted away from the game. Many of the friendships endured but my fitness waned and what limited talent I possessed was eroded by the ravages of time.

Occasionally I would reminisce about my glory days. There weren’t many – I was a decent player but I was not so much a korfballing Lionel Messi as just plain Mr Messy – but there were enough.

… This is now

Recently, Heather has started to play korfball again as a means of keeping fit. And, as Oxford City prepared to host its 25th anniversary summer tournament last weekend, a plan was hatched among some of its, ahem, more experienced former members to enter a veterans’ team as a thinly veiled excuse to reunite the old gang and have some beers together. (Beer has always been an important part of korfball. Sometimes the game itself is almost incidental.)

I didn’t volunteer to play in the tournament. The mind was semi-willing but the flesh prone to aches, pains and a desire not to embarrass myself any more than normal. However, Friday evening saw me driving up to Oxford for beers – I did say beer was an important part of korfball – and dinner with former teammates who I hadn’t seen for as long as 17 years. The faces were the same, the hair greyer and we talked much more about kids, work stress and back problems than we ever used to. But the conversation flowed as easily as the beer and it was like it had only been a few weeks rather than several years since we were last together.

On Saturday I brought the kids along to Oxford to see their first live korfball. Toby declared himself bored within five nanoseconds. (No surprise there.) Kara was up for having a go but still a bit too small to really participate. But Isaac, who in the past six months has suddenly developed some sporting interest and ability in general, wanted to learn more. I taught him the basics of the game and we practised passing and shooting together. Gratifyingly, he proved to be both keen and competent.

Throwing a ball around with Isaac and watching the improvement as I refined his shooting technique reminded me of long summer afternoons spent with my father building my cricketing skills. They remain some of my happiest and most enduring memories of childhood. Maybe one day Isaac will remember this too.

I don’t think I will ever pull my korfball boots on again – 15 minutes of practice shooting left me with more than enough twinges to remind me I’m not 25 any more – but perhaps this will be the first step towards Isaac taking up the game one day. And while I’ve never had either the inclination or the ability to be a coach for a team, maybe I can be one for my son. That’s just what dads do, isn’t it? We pass so much down to our children as they grow up. Maybe it’s time for me to focus less on my glory days and more on building the opportunity for Isaac to have his own.


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