When the final whistle blew, I was on the ground, close to midfield. When I got to my feet, I almost fell back down again as I realized that my final competitive soccer game had just ended.
I cried harder than I’ve ever cried before. I don’t usually break down, but I couldn’t contain myself. As I walked over to address my teammates one last time, I felt the captain’s armband pulled tightly over my arm, and realized that within minutes I would remove it for the last time.
Sorry to bring you down, but that’s what it was like. A year later, I’m still, in some ways, on that field. I hate going to varsity soccer matches here because they remind me of my old teams and wins. I check my phone constantly to see how my high school team is doing, and I watch the Saturday morning premier league games every weekend.
I am an ex-soccer player, an ex-high school athlete who didn’t take it to the next level.
Excuse me, I meant to write that I was an ex-high school athlete before I went to West Turf Fields one Wednesday in September. There I found something close to heaven—well-kept turf fields with dozens of soccer players of all skill levels messing around. A few had organized pickup matches. I jumped in and started to play.
Something spiritual happened that day. The shackles of coaches and spectators and angry teammates broke, and I was free. It was me, the ball, and 10 other players whose names I don’t remember. I made spectacular passes, scored a few goals, and pulled out some moves that I didn’t know I’d learned.
I learned that two of my teammates were law students. My goalkeeper was a Hispanic man, probably in his 50’s, who didn’t speak English. I made a few friends and even laughed a couple of times.
I was on the field for about 2 hours, and was only mildly tired as I walked off. Everyone agreed that they’d return soon.
My day at West reminded me of a time in America when sports were, well, sports, and not fulltime jobs. When there was a sandlot-like tempo to every summer day and kids played for fun, not for scholarships, or for that cute girl in the stands, or Mom and Dad.
I wasn’t born during this era of the sports epoch, and I had a wonderful experience as a member of a competitive high school and club program. Two state championships and a league title formed some of the best memories I have. But I also remember the tough times, the crushing losses, the harsh voices of coaches, the five-plus practices every week and unwatched tournament games on the weekend.
I gave the game my childhood, and I believe it was completely worth it. But while I was working on my game, I wasn’t a child—I was an employee.
Soccer at West was an entirely different game. I played that day because I enjoyed it, not because I had to. I fell in love with the game in a different, but stronger way–seing it for the first time as a medium of physical self-expression that I always hoped it could be.
The point is that I now play soccer to play soccer—not for glory, girls or possible money. I think that many of us, as good hyper-focused students are encouraged to do, do things that we don’t really enjoy for the sake of tacking it onto a resume. I plan to shy away from doing this, in hopes of finding something I enjoy. Because with enjoyment, play and relaxation comes creativity, and with creativity comes greatness.