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What You Can Learn From Getting Hit in the Face

06.01.13 - On rainy days in junior high gym class we played a game called, appropriately, War Ball.

War Ball was like a brutal version of dodge ball: Put two teams of about 30 boys each facing each other across the half court line in a cramped gymnasium with twenty or so rubber kickballs and turn them loose.

Kids often left the court with huge whelps and the occasional bloody nose. Sometimes a ball would ricochet off the back wall and hit a boy in the back of the head and knock him off his feet, sending the watching gym teachers -- all male -- into a frenzy of whoops and high-fives. (Yes, times were different and yes, I'm old.)

I hated War Ball since I didn't hit puberty until oh, around tenth grade. I cowered at the back and prayed not to get hit... which usually meant I got hammered, occasionally in the face, by a ball I never saw coming.

And while waiting for the inevitable I saw the fear in the eyes of the boys around me who, like me, just wanted it to be over, and their fear fed mine.

Yeah, it sucked. I hated rainy days.

Then one day I decided to stand at the front.

I'd like to say it was because I found a little courage, but really I just got sick of waiting to get drilled by a ball I never saw coming. Moving up front was like diving into a cold pool instead of slowly easing in. I figured I'd just take my pain all at once and get it over with.

At first it was terrible: Balls whizzed past my head from every direction, I could see the murderous gleam in kids' eyes as they tried to hit me, and my heart raced as I swiveled my head wildly and spun and twisted and jumped.

Then, slowly, standing at the front turned out not to be so bad. Even though only a few feet away from the people throwing at me I realized I could now see what was coming and had not less but actually more time to react. And now I was around the better players, ones who looked out for each other and tried to work together. Their confidence fed mine and I didn't feel nearly as alone.

Surprisingly, standing at the front meant the game slowed down.

Nothing about me had really changed: I was no quicker, no smarter, no stronger… yet simply by moving up front, everything about me had changed: I felt more confident, more skilled, more in control -- and a lot less scared.

When we're insecure or afraid our natural tendency is to stand at the proverbial back. That's too bad because insecurity tends to breeds insecurity: The actions we take out of fear tend to actually increase our level of fear. In War Ball I was afraid of getting hit so I stood in the back. That only made it scarier because then getting hit was more of a random occurrence.

I knew I would eventually get hit... but I didn't know when, or where, or how hard. Out of insecurity I gave up control and my level of fear multiplied.

The next time you feel insecure or afraid — about dealing with a stressful situation, about stepping up to a new challenge, about trying something you've never tried — don't stand in the back. Don't give up control.

Nothing ever goes perfectly, so we all take the occasional "hit." Why not get hit on your terms? It feels like it hurts a lot less. Often it doesn't hurt at all. And sometimes by standing at the front we even win -- something we will never when we stand in the back.

Jeff Haden, writer for
(Photo from Dodgeball, courtesy Red Hour Films)

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