Soccer, Boys, and Aggression


Last night I laced up my black Adidas soccer cleats, hiked up my navy blue soccer socks, and pulled on a T-shirt and running shorts. No, I wasn't picking out an early Halloween costume. I was getting ready for my first outdoor soccer game since my junior year of college.

I originally decided to join the soccer team when a school-wide e-mail from the girls' soccer coach appeared in my inbox. It basically said that there was a small turnout for the team that year, and he encouraged anyone who was at all interested in playing for the 2005-2006 season to contact him.

I'd never even so much as kicked a soccer ball before, so you can see why the idea of being on a college soccer team was not the most brilliant idea on my part. But I had just started my sophomore year at Greenville College, and I was bored.

Apparently double majoring in English and religion and working on campus and being in the honors program and also joining the tennis team wasn't work enough. I’m not really sure what’s wrong with me.

Looking back, I'm now convinced some evil senior was getting a good laugh while he or she controlled a voodoo doll of me. Okay, not really. I don't believe in that stuff. But something weird was going on. I was pondering this as I walked into the locker room and demanded to speak with Coach Mac.

"I got your e-mail." I stood up straighter and tightened my ponytail. "I’m interested in joining the soccer team."
"Okay." He looked me up and down and gave me an I-don't-know-if-you-know-what-you're-getting-yourself-into look. "Have you ever played soccer before?"
"Not really...okay no."
"Well, that's fine. Are you a runner?”
“Not really.”
“Do you know any rules?"
He sighed and raised his right eyebrow at me. "Do you even know how many people are on the field at a time?"

I was beginning to question my sanity, which was immediately followed by the wish that this sanity-questioning thing had started before I found the coach and starting babbling like an idiot. Or, rather, not babbling, since I actually hadn’t said more than five words since my initial, foolhardy declaration.

"I guess we'll have to get to work, then. See you on Monday. Oh, and get some cleats."

I’ll cut a really long story short and not tell you about how I almost died running sprints or how many times the ball rolled between my legs or how every day I embarrassed myself with my sad attempt at juggling. By juggling, I mean dropping the ball on my foot and kicking it up in the air. That sort of juggling. While everyone else was busy being athletic and cool and counting to ten thousand, I was trying to bounce it on my foot twice consecutively. Twice. (My great triumph the summer of 2006 was practicing every day for weeks and getting up to 30 juggles. Sadly, I’m now back to two, three if I’m super lucky and there's no wind or noise.)

But my failure is not the point. Okay, it sort of is the point. Because that soccer season, I struggled. Oddly enough, however, I also had the best time of my life. I fell in love…with running into people, getting yellow cards, and unleashing the built-up aggression from my insane competitiveness. Turns out, kicking the crap out of a soccer ball is really, really fun.

Another plus? Soccer helped develop one of my favorite things: leg muscles.

So by the time November of 2005 rolled around, I was tan, fit, toned...and sitting on the bench. No matter what it might sound like, I wasn’t good at anything besides knocking girls over. I didn’t score a single goal the entire season, except once during a practice game, after which I immediately burst into tears. It was so exciting and exhilarating and wonderful and horribly embarrassing. It was a practice game, for crying out loud! At least I didn’t rip off my shirt and run around screaming like some sort of Mia Hamm copycat.

This skill came in handy when I played soccer last night (the skill of knocking people over, not stripping and crying). A few of Jordan’s friends from his baseball team wanted to play, and he invited me along, after promising me that his friend’s wife, Becca, would be there too. We pulled up to the field at 7:00 p.m., and soon after I saw six guys jump out of their cars, grab their water bottles, and start jogging toward the field.

“Guess Becca’s not here,” Jordan said. He looked sideways at me.
“Forget it, then. I’m not playing.”
“What? Why?"
“I don’t want to be the only girl!”
“Are you kiddin’? What do you have to worry about? You’re taken, and the rest of those guys are married.”
“Uh, I know that. I just don’t want to play with boys! I’m scared of boys!” (Yes, I know that was a ridiculous thing to say. Yes, I know that sounds stupid. And no, I’m not making this up. I really did say that.)

“Scared of boys? Are you kiddin’ me? You’re comin’.” With that, he hopped out of his truck and started walking toward the field, where the other guys were busy pushing the goals farther apart while two of them practiced kicking goals.

I sighed and started after him, hating myself for being so lame. But there’s just something about cute, athletic boys that intimidates me. Boyfriend or not. At least now that I’ve got a boyfriend I don’t have to worry about them liking me or vice versa, but I still don’t want to look stupid.

Turns out, I’m still not good with my feet. I can’t really kick it very far, and I don’t do trick dribbling. But the graceful art of slamming into people hasn’t left me yet. I think they thought that because I was a girl, I would be picking at my nails or giggling or something, but after that first hit, they knew I was serious.

It was really fun, and by the time the game started, I was over my strange and unexplainable fear of the male sex and just wanted to run into somebody.

We spent two hours running and kicking and laughing, and I'm super sore today. But it was worth it.

I only played soccer for two college seasons--my sophomore and junior years--but they were some of my favorite memories. Soccer socks and dirty cleats. Ace bandages and icy hot. That's when people started calling me by my last name and when my legs looked really good.

Which is what Jordan told me when he was driving me home after sun set and it was too dark to play.

All I could do was smile. Soccer socks do wonders for your legs. Although I doubt their magic will be as powerful in thirty years. But I'd rather not think about that right now. I'm just happy to be able to hit people. Boys, for that matter.

What a great night.
Anonymous said...

You know what ELSE is good for your legs? Biking. Which is the main reason (other than that I like my boyfriend) that I go biking with Joey. It is my goal for him to give me that same compliment someday. :)


Amanda said...

That's true! This will sound weird, but when my dad trained for his 550-mile bike ride, his calves got super in shape. I'm sure you'll get that compliment soon enough!