Monday, March 5, 2007

My other sport


This morning our backyard Magnolia tree is in spectacular bloom, and I'm nursing some seriously sore muscles after reviving myself from a 12 year soccer retirement. Swimming took over soccer long ago as the sport in my life, but yesterday I finally put those cleats back on and played a full game. 90 minutes has never felt so long. This morning swimming was my recovery.

I love telling people I played soccer in college (it's a vanity/pride thing). When they probe further, I love telling them we were No. 2 in the nation and that I played against Brandi Chastain when she was at Santa Clara. This is all true. However, the more accurate claim would be that I rode the bench on a soccer team in college that was much too talented for me to find any game time, and that I watched Chastain work her magic from a few feet away (again, from the bench). Accurate, but not sexy. And still, it's the truth.

I did get a few minutes of game time once, in-between injuries and breaks in my spirit. My collegiate soccer experience is the reason I can appreciate positive coaching so well. I broke myself before the season began, after months of hard work as an unknown incoming freshman, after catching a ride to Santa Barbara with someone I did not know and being dropped off on campus the morning of the try-out with no idea where I'd stay that night, after being invited to join the team. I never went home again. I was at college six weeks before any of the other freshman and my parents, who thought I'd be back a few days later, didn't get the chance to take their first child off to college. After all that, I pulled my hip flexer muscle nearly right away. In practice.

Even before the muscle pulled and I spent most of the season in the training room getting light and heat treatments and whirpool tortures, my spirit was broken. The coach didn't like me because I wasn't as good as the other players. Truly I wasn't. I had the potential, but deep down I believed I was out of my league (which was ultimately, of course what broke me). When I say this team was talented, I mean they were good. They'd all been recruited from across the nation and lots were All American stars. I had no business being a part of their closely knit unit, but it sure was an honor. When the coach brought me into the tiny room to tell me I'd made the team he didn't mince words. "I shouldn't keep you," he said. "You'll need to get better. But there's potential." That was the last nice thing I heard from him. And generally, that's okay. He was my coach, not my friend.

Still, I wish I had been stronger back then; strong enough not to let him help break me so quickly. I heard "Sarah you're losing the flow!" nearly every time I touched the ball. Or, "Sarah. Arghhhhhh!" and then finally, silence. He completely gave up on me. His criticism is no excuse for my lack of success but let's just say I lost a lot of love for soccer, something I held as a core part of my life, that year. I didn't go back and try out again, and I shied away from even casual pick up games.

Yesterday was glorius. The sun was out in Portola Valley and the smell of the field brought back childhood memories of traveling two towns over to tear up some freshly mowed grass and sweat it out with some similarly hard hitting females. A pure outlet from all that I dealt with in adolescence and beyond. An outlet I have found once again. I'm a world away from being in good soccer shape and my lungs felt desperate after the first sprint, but instead of a man on the sidelines telling me I was the weak link on the field I had two dear friends on the field with me plus my husband feeding me gorgeous passes and my two boys in the bleachers saying "Yayyyyyyy Mommy!"

Quite the way to return to something I once loved and hope to love again.

Now, leave some words of your own and tell us about your other sport! Did you grow up swimming or was some other sport your "thang"?

3 comments:

Nicole said...

Glad you had fun. I wasn't very athletic as a kid, and my parents didn't see much purpose beyond in team sports, but got to play IM in college and was so glad I finally learned to like playing as an adult. I loved telling people "I play co-ed hockey" (no need for them to know it's a low level IM game :)

I can't wait to get back to soccer (when my kids are old enough to watch and cheer and not run out and/or cry). My husbands soccer experience has some similarities to yours - he too will say he played in college, and he was at one of the top schools with an amazing coach he still raves about, but was pretty much a benchwarmer. What held me back was I never found a truly "non-competitive" team until I found paasl and maasl/maws.

Nori said...

Your question really hit a nerve. I composed a one-page diatribe about my life experience in sports. Long story short: my parents made me quit soccer because they didn’t want to drive my siblings and I to different sports. My sister was a star swimmer, and they figured if we all joined swim team, it would cut back on them having to drive us to different practices and meets. I love my parents, but I’m still not ready to thank them for making me do it.

I love swimming now. Coming back to it as an adult and doing it because I want to do it is a completely different thing than doing it as a child because my parents made me. My coach was into the negative reinforcement thing, too. I don’t remember getting much help from him, but I figure he knew I really didn’t want to be there anyways, so I’m not sure why he would care. I quit swimming for 12 years, and came back to it at age 27. I’m lucky that I ended up swimming Masters 4 years ago and had coaches who cared about my swimming when I thought I was just there to burn some calories.
- Virginia

sarah said...

Thanks so much for sharing your stories! Love to see them. It's amazing how deeply sport affects our lives. So much of my sense of self is tied up in what I did athletically throughout my life. It is so nice to be at an age when we can truly do everything for FUN if we wish. I have high hopes that my two young boys do not have to weather undue pressure in sports as they grow up, but I know that is nearly impossible. Hopefully they will have enough self confidence to realize what's it's all about: pleasure.