October 29th, 2012 | Uncategorized
Recent experiences have convinced me that nothing compares to a smiling 6-year-old soccer player on a Saturday morning to reinvigorate your love and passion for this game. One of the stories I’m most fond of is one of me at an early age, having just recently been selected to my first travel team – I woke up at 5am on a Saturday, pulled my uniform on and went to wake my parents up to
In any sport, as you get older and rise to higher levels of competition, the novelty and excitement often gradually fade. Don’t get me wrong, you never stop loving the game…but your priorities do seem to inevitably evolve (I purposefully avoid using the word “mature”). In hindsight, it’s somewhat painful – knowing that a playful infatuation for those weekend games, mud-soaked jerseys, Capri Sun, orange slices, and running around like idiots in hotel hallways, was ultimately replaced by the overly focused, job-like pressures that come with higher levels of competition. I’m convinced that my love and passion for the game have never wavered. But that innocence and genuine excitement driving the young boy to wake his parents up at 5am for an afternoon soccer game – it’s been inevitably tainted… smothered, so to speak, by the misplaced pressures and seriousness invoked by the more “mature” version of the game. The version that leaves you awake at night, wondering if you ever will reach a dream of playing professionally. And so, when the opportunity comes around to renew that excitement, and relive that innocence, I can’t help but grab it and try to make it last for as long as possible.
Case in point…this Saturday, I woke up early (nostalgia already triggered), hopped on the bike (the best 50 euros ever spent), and rode down a back road behind campus, past farms and abandoned buildings to a soccer field out in the middle of nowhere. I was scheduled to help coach a group of 6-7 year olds…players in Limerick FC’s academy system. The session provided an interesting mix of frustration (attention spans seem even shorter over here, somehow), laughter, and that occasional learning opportunity, when you try to teach a hyped up 6 year old how to take a corner kick. It was the 20 minutes following the training, however, which caught my attention. Several of the kids’ parents were late picking them up, so the other coach and I stayed behind to wait. We took turns taking penalties on 6-year old goalkeepers (unfair?) and letting them shoot on us, and for a few moments, I was vicariously back in the late 90s, when the game was nothing but laughter and sheer fun. After spending 5 minutes trying to keep the ball away from two kids who seemingly turn into obsessed little monsters when you won’t let them have it, one of them asks me “Are you a real soccer player? Can you teach us soccer tricks?” I couldn’t help but smile and remember coaches and older players who sparked my interest when I was young. It’s a wonderful blessing to have the opportunity to do the same for these kids this year.
I think that it’s one of the truly unique and magical aspects of this whole Sport Changes Life experience – the many ways it has acted as a reset button. I’ve been able to gain a clearer picture of what I want out of my academic future. And the game I love has become new again. Injuries have made it very difficult for me to see a streak of consecutive days on the field…I cannot begin to express the frustrations of this in words that are appropriate for a blog…it crushes me to attribute this to getting old. But, having time away from the game has allowed me to access some of the novelty and excitement that characterized it so many years ago. Vicariously or not, I’ve been able to get back some of that innocent passion. Leave it up to a bunch of 6 and 7 year olds to have the biggest influence over me so far in a foreign country. I can’t wait for next Saturday.