I started “playing” soccer when I was 5 or maybe 6 at the park closest to my home. I think that my dad heard about this up and coming sport and he wanted me to have an edge. I may have cried and alternately picked dandelions through my first practice. I don’t remember much except that our team wore orange t-shirts as jerseys. Since then I have played on too many teams to count. Some were awesome, most were less so, and many were downright were terrible, but I generally have fun no matter what and you can’t beat the exercise.
I played every season from the age of 5 to 17 (lots of times on more than one team) and when I went to college I wanted a break: from practice every day, from team building and bonding, and recovery for my body. I also thought that I would invent myself with short hair. Both were equally terrible ideas. I made it about two weeks and missed a team. I started playing rugby. They say about soccer that “It’s a gentleman’s game played by hooligans. On the other hand, rugby is a hooligans game played by gentlemen.” Having played both I can say that I agree with a smug smile on my face. Rugby had ceremony and teamwork, but I rarely understood what was going on…except when I had the ball and then I knew that I had to run as fast as I could to avoid being mashed into the pitch by players twice my size and many times faster.
In short, I missed soccer, but I didn’t have the courage to pick it up and join a team as an adult until I watched the 2009 World Cup. The players I watched were phenomenal and I spent a month at a bar (close to my home that would let me choose the channel) screaming at the TV.
I went home and did a Google search for soccer teams in my area and registered as an individual. I was picked up by a team that wore yellow with a name that I still can’t pronounce! I reluctantly borrowed a yellow shirt from my soccer playing nephew. I got some cheap pleather cleats at a store by my house as well as some shin guards. I showed up on a hot summer Sunday and have only missed a handful of games since, but not because of a broken nose and a concussion. I played a week after that.
This game has taught me more about life than I think my parents ever knew possible. They may have signed me up to keep me busy, but while I was playing soccer I was learning: to think ahead, keep my head up, and play with everything I had. I learned to push and shove, and hold my own with girls that were taller, and bigger, went to nicer schools, or had better training. I also learned to pull jerseys and trash talk, but only when the referee wasn’t looking. I learned to pick up an injured opponent and to say “Good game” even when I didn’t mean it.
Now, I play coed and on a half field with less people. The game still has all of the same elements with a lot more running than I remember. I still laugh and have a good time. I am by no means the best person on the team, but I like to think that I play with a whole lot of heart. I still trip over my own feet and push and shove. Today, I surprised myself (and my team) when I ran off the field for a quick second to get a hair tie for a woman on the other team because her’s had just snapped. But my favorite part about soccer now is that whenever life smacks me right in the face, and I feel that lingering sting all week, I know that on Sunday for at least one hour all that I am thinking about is winning the ball and getting off a decent shot on net. As I write this, I’m sore from my match and I love this game.