The Sport that Changed my Life: Soccer
When I look back at my past encounters, it always surprised me how one ball can be a catalyst for influence in your life. It first started out with me hating the sport, but now I can’t go several days without playing. When I turned eighteen years, I began to enjoy playing and running up the field for ninety minutes. It was like a switch that flickered in my brain to turn my fear into determination. The urge of wanting to be subbed out turned into the need to stay on the perfectly cut grass despite being tired. I noticed I began sharing my teammates frustration when we would lose a game. “We had the game!” and “Dang, why couldn’t we freaking score man!” These were the most common phrases after a game and yes, I’ve been around several teams and have had my own fair share of frustrating loses. This ball brings so many people together and can forever change lives.
I began practicing much more on my own because I knew that I was way behind on skill level. I enjoyed scrimmaging and playing from 4 vs. 4, 6 vs. 6, to 11 vs. 11. There was this one player that I noticed who was very talented but my ego would prevent me from appreciating it. His soccer iq is amazing and his simplistic style leaves everyone respecting his authority with the ball. Truth be told I hated how he pranced around so confidently with the ball and directed others with a simple command. I remember him saying, “Just play simple, pass to the open guy.” As I played defense and marked him I knew that we had to mark with caution. I knew what to say, “Stay with your man and follow. Don’t ball watch!” I didn’t want any of my teammates to get sucked in to guarding the same man. “I got him”, I would yell and get defensively aggressive with him.
“Matt just play simple! Why do you have to try and dribble through?!” As he yelled those words in frustration he shook his head in disappointment. I knew this was a little win for me when this cool, calm, and collected player lost his cool. It did not matter to me as to what team had the most points; I just enjoyed besting this player at a personal level, as well as getting a great workout in. Strangely enough after playing against this player we had a lot in common.
The action begins!
I always played with this team on Sundays and met other great players. One day, one of those players on the team asked me to work for him. After I declined several offers from him a month later I finally agreed to help him out. He turned out to be one of the biggest soccer enthusiasts I’ve ever met. His name is Jack and we spent hours at work exchanging ideas to influence our games on Sundays so we would win. He would constantly talk about my cousin and he admires his skill. Honestly, I have learned so much soccer terminology from speaking with him.
“Man, Santi is such a good finisher, I wish Darren would just play him up top.”
I knew my cousin more of course and responded to Jack and said, “Yeah I agree with you there. The thing is Santi likes to play on the wing or middle.”
“Yea. I don’t know man. He would get a lot more goals if he was a striker.”
Jack was always relentless on telling me about my cousin’s skill and I could never disagree with him on that. I loved these moments when we had conversations while working on the roof.
I told him how I felt honestly about my cousin, “Yea he is such a naturally talented player. Plus he has the tall gene in our family too. He does have a couple of header goals too. I’m pretty jealous on his skill level. He knows where to shoot.”
He encouraged me and said, “Dude, he’s been playing for years and has had trainers. I think you’re naturally better at defending.”
My friend started his own business and later started his own soccer team with my cousins, his friends, and me included. These were one of the most challenging teams we have ever played, but we had the skill to meddle in one of the highest divisions. Everyone fairly knew each other and gained a great understanding of how we played. My brother became a really amazing goalkeeper with very little experience. He too had the tall gene but lanky body. His reflexes were that of a cat and his lanky exterior allowed him to dive from one side of the goal to the next. I played next to him as defense and we would constantly exchange words.
“Great save Alex!” I knew that if my brother lost his confidence he would get too nervous to play. Half time conversations were always filled with strategies. Jack loved to talk and he somewhat looked like a trucker with his long beard and fisherman’s hat.
“Yall guys want to go in with a 4-3-3 formation?” Jack was always first to talk.
“Jack can I try playing center mid to start?” Santi was used to playing on the wing but soon grew to love the center mid position. I knew changing positions during half time was exciting but there are great dangers to it.
I said my peace, “Lets not try to change it up too much. If we do we might confuse ourselves and get scored on.”
Jack agreed and said. “I agree with Gus. Lets not get too disorganized. We will start the same way except Santi will start as cm.”
“Alright Jack. Pelon watch out for number ten. He keeps switching sides. Don’t get unorganized”, said Santi. My family called me Pelon as a nickname ever since I was a bald young baby with very few hairs on my head. I laughed every time someone else other than my family would call me by that name. The name Pelon never came out as fluently unless my family would say it. We were a great team. We won more games than we lost and continued to dominate the top divisions. Everyone had his own skill set on the team. We had our very own Hulk in our team with huge muscles and a small trim on his waste. His name was Angel and he was one of our top scorers in our team.
We had lost a few teammates and needed to recruit some new players. Some people left due to work or just following parents out of town. It was strange how sad I would become when I knew we were losing a teammate. This unknown bond was built from playing this one game with teammates. This formation of this bond seems very indescribable and seems to be some strange force to turns enemies into friends and teammates. A sense of respect was achieved by playing along each other and a unity was strengthened for the moment that would never falter after a win. We were so lucky when the league paired us up with a set of two new players. One of them stood out over the other and even the whole team. His skill was second to none and his acceleration could be compared to a cheetah. His feet were in sync with the ball and he had wittiness to his dribble. He could easily make three defenders look like statues as he slips right past them. Everyone respected his skill and knew he was the one to pass it to for creating opportunities. His name was Chris and we changed the way we played because of his skill.
Rivals become allies
Ironically there was one more familiar face we would recruit on our team as well. Angel said, “Why not invite Willy? He is really good and who knows some of the guys.”
My brain paused for a moment, as I felt reluctant to say anything but that didn’t stop me.
“Do you think he would be a good addition to the team? Is his attitude good?”
Angel and Jonathan both nodded and Angel replied, “Yea man. He’s a cool guy, plus he is really good and smart with the ball.”
Willy was the same player I used to practice with and hated playing against him. He was the confident player as I said before and is soccer iq never lowered since the last time I played with him. He joined our team and I realized something. I was the problem for judging this player without getting to know him. We had the same ideas and thought processes on how to play soccer and even liked the same professional team because of their style of play. We grew to respect each other and played with each other in different leagues such as indoor and coed. Our conversations varied from talking about the professional team we both liked, or complimenting on our style of play. “Nice Willy, just keep playing simple”. Our goals consisted of “team goals” where we would simply pass around the opponent’s defensive side and pass it in the goal. Our style of play was the same and we both knew what the each other would do before we did something. It was simply simplistic soccer. He and I would practice with each other for a couple of hours and to this day I miss those times. This was a soccer relationship that I would not have anywhere else.
Angel (right) and Willy (left) discussing the game.
The love of the game
I long to find that relationship again. The bonds that grow from playing soccer, as a team is something that could only be understood between like minded players. I’m hoping to find that connection again, I may be in a different state now, but that shouldn’t change anything. This one ball can change so many lives. The beauty of it is that it is a worldwide phenomenon.