21 May, 2010

The Forty-Year-Old Soccer N00b

The last time I played soccer was my freshman year, 1984. I was quite proud to have made the junior varsity team, as I didn't know that they pretty much took everybody. I even bought one of those wool jackets with the vinyl sleeves in the surety that I'd get to have my mom sew a letter on it in a few years. I have no idea what ever happened to that jacket.

I'm not sure I ever played during a game in regulation. I remember always coming on in the 'fifth quarter', 15 minutes for the kids who hadn't gotten to play. My scrawny body and lack of skills were only part of the reason I didn't play much; attitude was the rest. I never quite got it in my head that everyone on a team has a role, and maybe for a while mine was to play the position they assigned me and do my best to learn. So, I quit.

A couple of weeks ago when I found out about the lunchtime pickup game at work, I went right out and bought cleats and shinguards. I even got a pair of long black socks so I'd feel... well... like a right footballer. And today I played.

I don't like the expression 'youth is wasted on the young'. I agree that when we're young, we do a lot of things wrong. But I don't like the idea that we miss our chances. Sure, the body might not respond to training or heal injuries quite as fast as we age, but it's never too late. No, no, it can't be too late.

I did a lot of things wrong today. I didn't know how to properly mark a man, so I let quite a few get past me be either coming in too close or giving him too much room. I don't have a strong or accurate kick, so I put a few balls where I shouldn't have. And worst of all, a ball came right at my head... and I ducked it. I couldn't believe it. How 1984 of me.

But I did a lot of things right too. I played damn hard for sixty minutes. I had some sort of idea where I was supposed to be, and I ran there. I beat more than one younger guy to the ball--what I did with it when I got there was another matter, but I gave myself chances to do something useful. I even sprinted to fetch balls kicked out of bounds. I guess effort was the only thing in my control, given my lack of skill, and I wanted to at least show that. I made a couple of decent tackles, and at least one better-than-half-bad pass. And once I knocked a dangerous ball out of play with a jumping header... after ducking that first time, I was going to put my head on a ball that game if it killed me.

I got to my afternoon meeting still sweating after the shower. There's a blood blister covering the whole pad of my left big toe. I am so playing again next week. I'd like to think I'm going to get good at soccer, but I know I won't. The best I can do is run hard, be where I'm needed, and try to remember not to duck.

1 comment:

  1. Good for you. I especially liked this: effort was the only thing in my control. True of so many things in life.