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.