Shirts vs. Skins and an Uninformed Boy

My nine-year-old son had his first basketball practice last night and everything was going well. The group of ten boys ran up and down the court with the energy of a litter of puppies. They sprinted toward the basket, took an awkward shot, and ambled away with the gangly misery of a newborn pup. Every now and then, they glued their eyes to the net, held their arms in perfect position, and sunk the ball, fists raised in victory.


(Photo credit: mvongrue)

When the coach split them into shirts and skins teams for a scrimmage, three boys yanked their shirts off without a second thought. My son and another teammate stood baffled. Shirtless? In public? From courtside, my son appeared to be bargaining with the coach. He pulled his short sleeves up onto his shoulders as if that would make enough of a distinction from the other team. The coach got a good chuckle. My son edged to the side of the court. The team waited. Like a cowering pubescent teen in a locker room, he slowly peeled his shirt off and revealed a pasty white chest that has never seen the sun. He felt exposed. During the scrimmage, instead of covering a player on the other team, he tried covering himself with his arms.

“When the coach said we were skins, I thought he meant the Redskins,” my son said later. “Then Henry ripped his shirt off and I figured it out.” My kid had never heard of such a thing. And why would he? Growing up in sports where kids practice with flags or scrimmage vests to distinguish teams, no one uses shirts versus skins anymore. At the pool, I’ve always made him wear a rash guard to protect him from the sun. He doesn’t go shirtless in public.

My husband said they used to play shirts versus skins at school. My son’s jaw dropped at the thought. An image of all the boys in his P.E. class praying they didn’t get put on the skins team must have been flashing through his mind.

The truth always comes out though. My son goes bare-chested at home. It’s not like he’s uncomfortable without his shirt. So what’s the real reason behind the embarrassment? He was afraid a bunch of girls on the other side of the sports complex would see him shirtless.

That will change. One day, he’ll hope they do.



Filed under Boy Stories

25 responses to “Shirts vs. Skins and an Uninformed Boy

  1. such a cute story! My 2 boys (3 and 5) are in a phase where they are obsessed with lifting their shirts and showing their “nickels” 🙂

    • Funny! Well, one day last year my son came home bothered because he had worn a jersey to school without a shirt underneath and he felt like people could see his “nibbles” all day.

  2. The Redskins… Lol Sounds like something my boy would say. I thought shirts vs skins sounded a little dated… A little 1990s maybe. But you’re right, someday soon, he’ll look for any chance he can get to take his shirt off, and hope that a girl will like what she sees. Maybe that basketball game was just opening that door… 😉

    • If he’s already worried about girls seeing him with his shirt off, then he’s already noticed them. Something else I haven’t a clue about in parenting. Should make for lots of laughs though.

      • Well please keep blogging about it, so that I can get a heads up. I overheard my son (kindergarten) at the park talking to his buddy about their “girlfriends.” Whaaaat? I tried to sneak closer to hear what they were saying exactly, but I was spotted and the girlfriend talk ceased. Dang. And when I asked if he had a girlfriend all I got was a “no.” Hmmm…

  3. Oh my goodness. I find that adorable actually. Next he’ll be pumping iron in his room just in case he gets put on Red-“skins” again.

  4. K. Eley

    I’ve never heard of shirts vs. skins. Cute that he’s worried about the girls already.

  5. I am sure my eight and ten-year-old boys would both feel the same way your son did!

  6. I’ve never played skins despite only coming across the practice maybe twice in my very knowlegable 16 years but, I’m honestly thankful.

  7. lisa

    I wish we could have gone shirtless. We had to wear those stinky pennies.

  8. I can imagine your son’s hesitance with this!

  9. I think your son showed great wisdom in questioning this practice!! And it’s a fabulous story. Here’s to 9 year olds everywhere – adorable!

    • Good point. It’s quite unlike him to question authority when it isn’t us, so that’s a big step for him. I’ll take that as something to be proud of because in his case, it actually is.

  10. My son who is six now, was obsessed a few years ago with showing off his ‘pimples’. When he discovered they were actually nipples and the same things used for breastfeeding (BUT ONLY FOR MOMS, he would always add in) he was horrified. This story made me smile 🙂

  11. Gosh, I never heard of that! Thank goodness I do not have boys. They would be more embarrassed by my horrified reactions to things like “shirts and skins” than they probably would be by the actual requirement to take a shirt off.

  12. Lex

    I actually play pickup basketball at the Y and we play shirts and skins, in all seriousness. We’re all adults of course, but not even all male. A lady shows up and she’s usually just on shirts. My son is 12 and they do not play it in his school anymore. I think if it’s among cosenting adults, sure, but I agree, I remember being on skins as a teen and I was, like your son, covering my nipples and my bellybutton the whole time…for whatever reason!

  13. cooljoe,ny

    as a male i always wanted to be on skins so as me and simon were the only 2 who wanted to be shirtless we were always on skins

    also me, simon another simon,david and adam used to go swimming and walk to my house shirtless and then we play shirt vs skins barefoot basket ball however i would have loved shoes vs socks vs barefeet sometimes we all just take our shirts off and have a water fight

  14. Kev

    Oh my God! I’ve just checked and I’ve got bare skin under my shirt! Think I’ll need counselling. A boy who’s been brought up with a healthy attitude would not have given taking his shirt off a second thought….

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