I’ve been an avid soccer player for over 25 years, and have played the game at a reasonably competitive level since I was about nine years old. I’ve played on regional travel teams, in provincial and international tournaments, and was once even judged to be skilled and fit enough (which is hard for some to believe now) that I was once considered as a varsity athlete by some universities in both Canada and the United States. Of course, like most young athletes, my ambitions and my dreams overreached my body’s durability and a combination of injury and just not having as much tangible skill as I thought I did relative to others that I was competing against relegated me to the bench, and ultimately out of varsity sports.
Now this is not some sort of lamentation about missed opportunities, far from it. Soccer (or football, as I and my European readers prefer to call it) made me dozens of long-term friends, provided me with hundreds of memories, taught me how to cope with failure and loss, showed me how to properly behave in victory, and ultimately became an inextricable part of who I am as a person. In this way, my soccer experiences mimic my hunting experiences in many ways. Hunting has given me perspective on my place in the natural order of the world, taught me respect for the wilderness and the importance of hard work and diligence, and most importantly has imbued my life with memories and camaraderie that I would not of otherwise had. Not to be too clichéd but in this respect, playing soccer and participating in hunting have legitimately been blessings in my life.
So once more we are led to the question of where am I going with this?
My son is not yet two years old but in my neck of the woods there is a program called Tiny Tots Soccer where two and three year old boys and girls get to come together, chase soccer balls around aimlessly, learn a modicum of teamwork and sharing, and generally get some exercise. All these are good things and those with the vision to implement this program at Cambridge Youth Soccer deserve some kudos. My son certainly seemed to have a fun time last Saturday, and the key philosophy of the program is for kids to have fun and get positive reinforcement for participating. All things I can certainly be supportive of.
But on my way out I saw something that seemed hypocritical in all this. On a large whiteboard directly inside the entrance to the facility (as this first session was indoors at a soccer fieldhouse) was a large capitalized message regarding tryouts for youth soccer teams. I can’t quote it directly, so to paraphrase the message, it ran something along the lines of:
REP TEAM SOCCER TRYOUTS ARE NOT AN ACTUAL GAME. THERE IS TO BE NO CHEERING, CLAPPING, SHOUTING, OR COACHING FROM SPECTATORS ON THE SIDELINES
This apparently stands in stark opposition to the “have fun and be positive” ethic of the program my son is participating in, although both programs are ostensibly run by the same organization: Cambridge Youth Soccer. Apparently soccer is only fun up to a competitive point or age level, at which time all positive vibes and joy must be extirpated from the game so as to instill some sort of deranged ethic of austerity. I still play at a (reasonably) competitive level, and most of the actual fun comes from performing for spectators and your team-mates, just not apparently if you want to tryout for youth teams in Cambridge.
I’m sure (or at least I hope) this is just the mandate of some deranged coach or league administrator on a Napoleonic power trip and not the stance of Cambridge Youth Soccer at large, but really? No clapping or cheering? No words of parental encouragement? And this was the first thing you saw written in red ink on a five foot whiteboard upon entering the COM-DEV Soccer Dome.
Fine, I guess. When it comes time for my son (if he chooses) to try out for rep soccer, I’ll take him half-an-hour out of the way to play in Guelph…I’ve had exposure to that league as well and at least they seem to put participant enjoyment ahead of competition. I really can’t think of a reasonable explanation for this policy, so I’m just going to cease my business with CYS (after this year, I’ve already paid and can’t get a refund…believe me I asked) and put it out of my mind after that.
But seeing this drivel posted publicly at the entrance to a youth soccer centre did give me pause to think about my other passion, which is of course hunting.
Unlike soccer, hunting actually does have a “life and death” aspect to it, and in a lot of ways it carries more gravity than a kid’s soccer game. After all, weapons are designed to kill and the purpose of the hunt is to take game for consumption as food. Perhaps soccer would be more interesting to the North American audience if the losing teams were eaten…but I digress.
But still, in every commercial hunting DVD, every television show on the subject, and in innumerable hunting camps, cabins, farms, fields, forests, and marshes men and women are having fun hunting. That is to say, there is a sense of joy associated with a pastime that has the ultimate intent to take an animal life as prey.
Are we sick? Maladjusted? Psychotic? Should the concept of “fun” actually be one that is used when describing hunting wild game? Surely this is gravely serious business.
The answer in my eyes, and in opposition to much of the more virulent, unsubstantiated, and flawed impromptu psychoanalysis posited by those opposed to hunting, is that no we’re not the potential serial killers with a nasty streak of animal cruelty that some would have us made out to be. I think this because I have not met many hunters who actually relished in the act of killing. Sure I’ve met some who had no respect for the game they just took the life of, that had vile names to call the animals they hunted, or showed no deference or respect to wildlife at large, but I can say they were an unsavoury minority.
Most understand (without too much moralizing) that to hunt for your food means that at some point you’ll have to pull the trigger and take a life. It is a granular, dirty-hands approach to being carnivorous and it is a sight better in this observer’s opinion than just getting the antiseptic, flavourless stuff that is wrapped in plastic at the grocery store. So in that respect, yes, hunting is serious business. But in knowing this, most hunters (while they may be excited at a successful outcome to a hunt) don’t actually triumph or whoop up the act of the kill.
I’ll admit that the first time I shot a wild turkey I was excited and yes, I cheered out loud. This immediately gave way to calmness where I thought reflectively about the life I’d just taken. When I first harvested a whitetail deer, all those years ago in 1995, I likewise pumped my fist and grinned, but I also had to look pensively with a sense of sadness at the body of an animal that mere moments before was living and breathing but that now was destined ultimately for the freezer in my parent’s basement. Even animals that were considered pests and varmints (think groundhogs or coyotes) or that were, or have become so abundant as to be commonplace and accepted as generally simple to hunt (Canada Geese for example) were still to be viewed in terms of something that had a life of its own and that life should be given respect if a hunter takes it away.
I can’t help but feel strongly about this. It was how I was raised. My father, uncles, and grandfather were very firm that I have a respect and an understanding for all of the visceral and emotional aspects of being a hunter, and I consider myself very fortunate to have had that upbringing, even if sometimes in my own hunting excitement I need to be reminded of it. I also consider myself fortunate to be able to share this opinion with you the reader, and hopefully in a few years, to be able to teach it to my son.
Many aspects of hunting could be defined as “fun” on their own esoteric value. Observing game at close range, pursuing wildlife on their own terms where all the advantages of nature and evolution are stacked in the animal’s favour, actually “talking” to animals through the medium of game calls and observing their reaction, and ultimately sharing the small and large intricacies of the natural world independently or with family and friends are all moments that measured individually would be more than enjoyable. The fact that the kill is the inevitable conclusion to some hunts is, while important, not the defining aspect of what it is to be a hunter.
To combine them all together through the hunting experience is nothing short of being (and, again, this is just me) the simplest and purest way to experience all of the tragedy and, yes, all the joy and exultation of being a participant in the natural world. It is no wonder that emblazoned on the huntsman’s shield in the medieval age were the Latin words “In Venatio Veritas” translated (as my limited knowledge of Latin would have it) as “In hunting is truth”. There is just so much to experience as a hunter, both empirically and emotionally that to simply be glum or grave the whole time seems to be silly at best and pompously arrogant at the worst.
Having fun while you’re out hunting is okay, really. Laugh, tell a joke, share with your friends, and enjoy being alive. But with that in mind, just don’t lose sight of the life that the game animal has when you call yourself a hunter. Show some respect and for the love of God don’t be one of those slob yahoos that the rest of us are constantly apologizing for.
And lastly and most seriously…cheer for your kids at their sports tryouts, no matter what sport it is and regardless of what the coaches writing on the whiteboards try to tell you.