For kicks

It all started when I mentioned that I might want to start getting into soccer, and my friend Sara started sending me links from Kickette of half-naked male soccer players (Tim Howard at the top of the list). And then I started actually watching soccer on tv, and watched a zillion UEFA games. And then I got Olympics fever and watched every women's game that was aired here in the US. I mentioned that to my friend Wendy, who told me if I liked soccer so much why didn't I join a recreational league?

I read that and my eyes kind of blurred and I got a cramp in my chest. You see, I've never played soccer. And I've never played a team sport. (I don't think JV tennis in 1988 counts much. I only did it to have a sport for college applications, and I was playing singles so it wasn't very teamlike, and the only match I ever won the whole season was when my opponent didn't show up.) And I grew up thinking I was uncoordinated and unathletic. Team sports were for people not like me.

But if there's one thing I've learrned since having kids it's that if something makes you feel that scared, you need to look at it and push into it. So I found a league that said it accepted beginners. And I emailed the registrar and asked, "Do you REALLY want beginners? I have never once played soccer, and the only things I have to offer are enthusiasm and a willingness to run around the field until I puke." Shockingly, they said yes, so I signed up. 

[Editor's note: I've watched enough soccer to sort of know what's going on, but since I've never
played it before I thought I should do a little research. I typed in
"How to play soccer" and got this list of 6 steps. My favorite is Step 4, which tells me how to head the ball.]

I told my parents, who were shocked but supportive. I told my ex (I needed to clear the nights I'm playing for him to take the kids) and I am sure there is nothing I could have told him that would have shocked him more, but he was cautiously encouraging. My friend Jen and her daughters came over for dinner and I told them. Jen was all, "Go you!" and her 9-year-old A, who had just come off her first season of playing soccer in the spring, gave me tips for choosing gear. The next morning I went and bought shin guards, socks, and cleats, and wore them around the house for the rest of the day.

The first game was last Wednesday evening.

Jen's girls were over for a playdate on Wednesday afternoon, so I asked A if she had any advice for my first game that night. She told me, "Soccer is kind of scary and kind of fun!" Then I asked her what she thought I should remember when I was on the field, and she said, "If you see the ball and you think you should run away, instead you should go toward it! Pretend you're a cheetah and the ball is a bull and you want to catch it so you can eat it!"

So I drove to the field and got my shirts and almost immediately one of the other women confessed to me that she'd never played before. Yes! We could be beginners together. But then it kind of didn't matter because the whole gang of women, some of whom knew each other but most of whom didn't, seemed to use consensus to decide who played what position and who would sub in and out when and who should do what. Honestly, I haven't experienced this kind of spontaneous interrelated harmony since I was in undergrad at Bryn Mawr. And now I'm wondering if this is what I was missing all those years by not playing a team sport.

But anyway, I played left midfield for the first half, and three of the women on my team near me coached me through it, and then at the half I switched to right mid, and three different women coached me. And I ran almost the whole time (OMG you get to just run flat out like a little kid! The joy!) and they kept telling me that whenever I touched the ball I was doing well. And I was mesmerized by the rhythm of the game, how you just respond respond respond to what happens and you're out on the field in the cool of the evening and nothing else in the world exists but the ball and your legs running and the women yelling out encouragement to each other.

[Editor's note: Yes, my foot is still sprained. But if I was going to play soccer, I had to just play soccer.]

The next time I saw A she asked me if I used her advice when I played. "I sure did–I was a cheetah going after a bull when I went after the ball," I told her. "I knew you would," she replied. Then we discovered that her team shirt from last spring and my team shirt are both purple.

I'm on a work trip next week, but the week after that I'll be back on the field running around for 90 minutes for the ball.


33 thoughts on “For kicks”

  1. Awesome! I had surgery for a weak bladder after my youngest was three. I realized that it wasn’t just pregnancy that had weakened it; I’d had issues since high school gym and jumping jacks. After surgery I also realized that I had gradually changed my life from childhood run-and-play to adult sit-and-talk much too completely. I hadn’t run freely since I’d been a kid. Even in college when there were pick-up frisbee/football/soccer games on the quad I never participated b/c I “didn’t know how” but I didn’t know how because I was afraid I’d wet my pants. I’m amazed at how that little medical issue I never mentioned to a doctor (for 20? years) shaped my whole life. I’m so impressed with you for taking this big change in your own life.

  2. Yay! Now I want to play soccer too! My youngest is obsessed with the sport… I get in lots of practice that way, but there’s nothing to put my practice towards.

  3. Wow, Magda,you rock. Congrats! Your post reminds me of my attitude toward horseback riding. Terror. Sheer terror. I dodged the issue for years until one winter, during a cabin trip to the Poconos, I let Cecily talk me into it. I remember standing at the rail of the horse farm, watching the old placid horses. I was about to puke from fear when I saw a 9-year-old girl, giddy with excitement, climb aboard and ride off. I said to myself, “Jeez, you’re the old barfly, you’ve had knives pulled on you, and you can’t get on a horse?” So I swallowed, took a deep breath, and climbed on. Needless to say, it went fine. It was like riding a giant puppy.

  4. Awesome! Good for you! I would love to play soccer. It’s the only sport I tried to play in highschool. I would love to get in shape for starters, then find something I enjoy doing! Keep us posted!

  5. I’m so inspired! I want to join a soccer team now, too! (Nevermind that I’m almost 8 months pregnant, and can hardly waddle around the house without hurting myself somehow!) What a great thing to do for yourself, and what a fantastic example you’re setting for all of your kids! Way to go!

  6. Excellent! That is just what a team sport is like when it is good. Also, I don’t think it is as much about the winning (even though winning is fun) but about have a game where both teams are competing their hardest and trying their best. If you lose, but make the other team set a record or really play hard to do so, then you’ve still won (in my mind).My older daughter has played soccer for the Y since she was 4 (she’s 9) and the younger one, since she was 3-ish. At kindergarten they start to be on all-girls teams, which is neat because you get to see a lot of girls who are starting to self-identify as athletes at a young age (vs. the 2/8 of the team in pre-k who are girls.)
    We’ve started to go watch the local college women’s team play and that is a lot of fun too. Because they have skillz and because my older daughter really thinks the young ladies are neat.
    Also, as a side note the ped said something at the last well visit – that she’d always have a team sport that she knew how to play.
    Anyways – it was great to read your story of triumph. 🙂 That is fab.

  7. Yay for Moxie!My high school required participation in team sports, so I have a breadth of experience. In fact, I find solo exercise difficult – I’d much rather play co-ed rec volleyball (that is, if I could get the evenings free). I find it funny when we’re discussing sports to find that I’m the sporto in the family. I certainly never felt like one in school. Just competent. Learning to work as a team is incredibly satisfying and fun. Its the sense that you are stronger together.

  8. At 31 I just purchased my first pair of cleats and signed up for a women’s flag football team. I too have always labeled myself as ‘not an athlete’ so this was WAY outside my comfort zone… But I love it! My husband is SUPER supportive as he loves any and all sports and thinks it’s awesome that I am doing this. My advice to anyone considering joining a sport is to just DO IT! We have plenty of women who knew nothing about football at all and who can now tell you every position and how to set up plays!

  9. I took up soccer for the first time since kid leagues shortly after I separated from my husband, and it’s been the best therapy imaginable! A nice thing about being a beginner is that you keep getting better! Take care – it’s easy to get hurt (pulled muscles and such) early on even if you’re in shape for other things. Orthotics really helped me with foot issues I was having when I started.

  10. I choked up on this one, Moxie – so dang cool, the courage and will to take it on, the finding peers and team and encouragement, and the physical joy of motion. SO much good all in one thing!

  11. This sounds great. I played basketball in grad school, literally the only team sport I’ve ever participated in, and really enjoyed it.I love rule 5 on the link you included, I cannot even understand it. E-how, anybody?
    Hope you will (continue to) have fun, and keep us updated!

  12. Great article and inspiring as always. I played soccer in college for two years and now my 5 year old daughter is starting soccer through Parks & Rec. We’ve started kicking the ball around together and the joy of it is coming back to me. Keep having fun and running your heart out!

  13. YAY! I’m so psyched for you. You have made me consider doing the same. I don’t have to just ogle professional male soccer players, I could PLAY!!!I’m in the same boat as you, Moxie, I’ve never played soccer before, but I dig the game. And I do love to run. Your description of running like a kid was what did it.
    I’ll let you know if I can swing it, b/c really, it’s good if my girls play, but maybe what needs to happen is for Momma to take the field!
    <3 Sara
    P.S. I'm not gonna stop sending you Kickette links, btw. [sigh] Tim Howard!!!!

  14. Step 5 makes more sense if you state it as “point your planted foot (typically your non-dominant foot) where you want the ball to go and kick it with the other foot.”I have to be careful not to get to aggressive when Miss R wants to play soccer. Of course she tries to smoke me.

  15. This whole article is awesome, but the part where your wore your new gear all night made me love you even more. No wonder you can empathize so well with what kids are experiencing.

  16. Talk about a timely post for me! I just decided to start playin soccer with a friend’s team and I have never played before either. Reading your post made me feel like I have someone in the same boat, and it gives me a little more courage. Thanks Moxie!

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