Giant Killing 17 – Ball Don’t Lie

Have to say I breathed a sigh of relief for Sera after hearing that is injury is “just” a mild sprain, although don’t let the “mild” part of that fool you — it’s pretty damn painful! I sprained my ankle playing tennis in high school; it probably wasn’t as bad as Sera’s sprain, and it still hurt like a bastard. There’s nothing mild about a sprain.

Compared to the pain of a sprain, however, sitting out a game and being unable to help your teammates out hurts much more. Not that I can relate too much, because I was one of the low men on the totem pole on my tennis team, but hell, even being unable to go out and play at all really sucked. Presumably an athlete plays a sport not just because he or she is competitive and wants to reach new athletic heights, but also because playing the game is just damn fun. I wasn’t too great at tennis; however, I enjoyed playing it quite a bit, and still enjoy doing so, even though I don’t have as many opportunities as in the past. Nobody who enjoys playing a sport wants to sit on his or her ass while everyone else is out pushing themselves as hard as possible. It blows.

Sakai’s perspective on the injury/recovery business is interesting, though. He is pretty much dead on in describing Sera’s approach after injuring his leg. Sera is depressed about potentially losing his spot and is frustrated about not having the chance to play, but at the same time he is not really taking care of his body to the point where he will be able to bounce back as quickly as possible and take care of business. He’s thrown in the towel five rounds too early — young people (including myself) think they’re invincible, but once they get a taste of their mortality, many of them shrink away. Sakai is realistic enough to know he doesn’t have much of a shot to do much on the team due to his advanced age (oh, sports, where a 31-year-old is considered “old”); however, he has enough in the tank and enough desire to take a spot should the opportunity arise, and he bluntly tells Sera that he will be passed up if he does not approach his career the same way.

Natsuki’s career arc should not make Sera afraid; rather, it should inspire him. As Sakai says, the ball eventually finds its way to the guy who makes the effort to be there when it comes. Natsuki’s situation was way worse than Sera’s, and while he was nervous at points, he stepped up to the plate and never stopped going, fully confident that his skills and effort would bring him back to where he should be. Unless Tatsumi changes his game plan, someone is going to be on the outside looking in . . . but if Natsuki is the one who is sent packing to the bench, it won’t be because he let himself give up after being injured.

Those first few minutes where Natsuki comes back into the game are a microcosm of the ideal version of any good athlete’s journey back onto the field after an injury. He’s all hyped up and ready to go and somersaults onto the pitch because he has so much adrenaline running through him that he barely keep himself under control. Then he concentrates so much on making an impact that Urawa’s defender is able to slip in and steal a pass intended for Natsuki, and kick off a quick counterattack that puts ETU down 1-0. But instead of getting too discouraged and down on himself, Natsuki presses onward and is able to make an impact by tying the game with a flashy goal.

That won’t happen every time an athlete comes back, of course, but the point is that definitely won’t happen for Sera if he gives in to the self-fulfilling prophecy of, “Natsuki is too good, and I’m injured now, so my spot is gone; what is the point of even hoping for something good to happen?” An athlete’s confidence is just as important (if not more so) than physical skills. Once the confidence goes, then that’s it.

Pretty good episode. I like how the storyline with Sera is developing, and also the dynamic among him, Sakai and Natsuki. The rivalry is playing out in a way I can get behind — there’s clearly competition among the three for playing time, but none of them are being assholes about it. There’s no room for being malicious on this team. They all want to do well, but they want ETU to win just as much.

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