How Soccer Shaped My Life
By Lila Dubois
How Soccer Shaped My Life. A few weekends ago, I found myself on the yellow grass backlot of a local middle school, pacing the sidelines of a girls-under-8 recreational soccer game. As a college student with no 8-year-old relations, this was unusual.
But I was an ex-soccer player and had nothing better to do on that Sunday morning, so when my friend wanted company at her younger sister’s game, I offered my services.
The score was tight, 6 to 5 – and who’s to say what could happen after some halftime orange slices and a pep talk from Dad? I watched their ankles bending impossibly as they navigated gopher holes and the variant can of Coke, the half-empty bag of sunflower seeds, and a misplaced shin guard.
It was nostalgic for me, reminiscent of my own time spent traipsing the gambit of lumpy fields, scorching turf, and squeaky orange futsal courts.
As I looked down a sideline of parents in every variety of beach and camping chair, with shade pop-ups and coolers galore, I thought of my parents. I thought of their own tournament gear.
I thought of the expert spectators they’d become over the course of two daughters and fourteen years of team carpool duty.
On any given Saturday, the trunk of our family car would reliably be packed with the essentials. The Costco beach chairs, a few gallon jugs of extra water, the weathered Ziploc of electrolyte gels, blister BandAids, and an old inhaler or two. The rainbow umbrella with the missing stand, which my dad held over my mom on hot days and wielded like a javelin in the case of a goal scored. A picnic blanket, the love-seat folding chair, any number of sweatshirts, sweatpants, and loose Adidas slides. The orange peels and once-sweaty socks growing crusty in the car’s furthest corners. By 7:00 am, we’d have been out on an open freeway, GPS routed, my dad’s Grateful Dead full volume from the radio, and at least one sister (most likely whichever wasn’t about to play) sleeping against the window (on the way home, it was the opposite).
At the time, I took all of this as pretty regular; our car was not a shrine to competitive youth girls’ soccer but simply a happenstance assemblage of our habits, of the things my family and I needed and used on a daily basis. What else would our car be for if not to transport gaggles of sweaty teammates to and from the tournaments and training facilities? What would my family do on a weekend if not spend it sweltering in the stands of a field hours from our home?
It was a family affair. It was never just me or just my sister who felt the world that was club soccer; it was my parents, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles and cousins, my friends, and a boyfriend or two.
During my time on the field, I was lucky to have had so many familiar faces grace the sidelines. And it meant a lot, too. It wasn’t just a passing act for them to show up for me or my sister like that. It was them buying into our world, into our interests, our successes and failures. It felt like them buying into us.
As anyone who has watched the World Cup or has been in a bar (any bar) with a soccer game (any soccer game) playing on the television can attest, the sport comes with a certain emotional charge. I felt that even on my club sport level – the game is infectious.
For most of us who never make it to that World Cup or Premier League pitch, youth soccer ends with just that. You grow up and age out. Maybe you get another four years in college, but after that, it can seem like it’s done. Like anything that has become a pillar in one’s life, that change feels like a big loss. It can feel like you’re losing not just the game itself but the community you got to live in because of that sport.
For me, soccer took on a whole new life once I was done with club. I was burnt out of the hypercompetitive Development Academy circuit by the time I graduated high school, and I had decided not to pursue playing in college. I explored my other interests, I got excited about my academics, I spent more time with friends, and, once at college, I jumped into playing a bit of pick-up. I met a whole new group of people, I got to play the game on a purely joyful level, and whenever the intramural 4v4 tournaments come along, I get to tap into that ultra-competitive piece of me that got me into sports in the first place so long ago.
My life and my family’s lives after youth sports are not ones without soccer; they are ones with the game in a whole new, enriching way.
When I am out of college, I am sure I will find different avenues to enjoy the game. Maybe I’ll play in a Sunday league or join the yearly office tournament. I’ll kick around with my baby cousins in the backyard. I’ll juggle on the beach with strangers, play one-v-one down the hallway with my dad, and take the train up to watch my sister play for her club college team. I’ll even watch some of my former teammates kill it out there for the USWNT.
People often think that without an end accomplishment or some final, objective success to hang your hat on, the whole experience is rendered pointless. But my time playing youth soccer has given my life now a whole other dimension and opportunity for joy and connection that I couldn’t have had without it.
And if my dad running around in his old man’s league is any evidence, soccer has and will continue to add to my family’s lives. The game is truly just infectious.
When my friend’s sister came off the field that Sunday morning on the backlot, she beamed a sweaty smile at me, declaring, “Now that was fun.” I couldn’t have agreed more.
More Articles From Ilovetowatchyouplay.com