The year? 1998 (I’m not actually sure). Ninth grade (I think). My team made it to the state championships in soccer, and we drove 4 hours to the tournament. It was cold that weekend, so cold we wore hoodies under our jerseys, gloves to push back the bitter wind, and wrapped in blankets to stay warm when we weren’t playing.
And that is exactly what I wasn’t doing: playing. Because I sucked. I was sitting on the bench, while the coach kept sending other players on and off the field. I knew I wasn’t the best player on the team, but it was at that moment I realized how bad I really sucked. I literally had nothing to contribute to my team. Girls so exhausted they couldn’t run anymore were better than me.
My friend Necia asked about my tears, and I told her it was just the wind, but she figured out what was wrong and actually confronted my coach. I was embarrassed, mortified, but I loved her for it. The coach put me in, and a few minutes later took me out. The beginning and end to my playing at that state championship.
But the pain of losing was nothing compared to the pain of realizing I sucked.
Two years previous, a form had come around school for anyone interested in soccer. I’d never played, but I was interested and I convinced my best friend to be interested as well. I showed up at practice, and… I loved it. I loved everything about it. I loved the kicking, the team, the sound of the ball hitting the net, and even the feeling of pushing my body so hard that I almost couldn’t walk afterward. I didn’t play soccer because I thought it would be easy or because it would make me cooler. I played it because I loved it.
But evidently I sucked. I mean, I must have known I sucked, but I didn’t know I sucked THAT BAD.
We came home from state, defeated, and the season was over.
I never told anyone about that day, not my parents, no one. I don’t think anyone else on my team, except Necia, noticed. But what did I do the next season when the forms came around to sign up for soccer?
I signed up.
Because I loved to play, and I wasn’t going to let the fact that I sucked stop me from doing what I really loved to do. As an adult looking back, I am proud of that teenager that realized she sucked at something, and wasn’t going to let it stop her from doing something she loved.
And you know what happened? I got better. I played every season (two a year) until I graduated high school. By the end, I was a team captain and one of the leading scorers on the team. Did I turn into Mia Hamm? No. Was that my goal? No. Are my memories from soccer some of the best I have from high school? Yes. Was it worth all that pain of knowing I was the worst, but keep going. You bet!
Now, I have to remind myself that on occasion there are things that I love that I really suck at. I mean really suck, like the coach-avoids-my-gaze-because-he-knows-he-will- never-put-me-in sucks. Can I cry that I suck at something I love and want to be really good at it? Yes. But that doesn’t mean I have to quit. I am convinced that it will get better, that I will get better, even if I never turn into Mia Hamm.
This post is brought to you by my best friend’s mom, Mrs. Briggs, who shuttled me to and from pretty much every single soccer practice and game until I was old enough to drive. You’ll probably never read this, but thank you. It meant so much to me.