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I am a mere five years old, and sitting in Raymond James Stadium’s stands, which are packed shoulder-to-shoulder. All around me rowdy fans hum to the tune of Zombie Nation’s “Whoa Oh Oh”. I can’t help but let their contagious energy infect me. Above me, the white lights illuminate the verdant field below, outfitted with two soccer goals and alabaster boundary lines. Carlos Valderrama’s enormous curly, blonde mane makes him stand from the other players on the home team, the Tampa Bay Mutiny, as they play against another Major League Soccer squad. The players appear to be doll-sized from where I’m watching, the ball they are kicking even smaller. After a few minutes of back-and-forth play, Valderrama gains possession of the ball on the twelve-yard line, recoils his leg, and strikes the ball, sending it sailing into the back of the net. The crowd goes wild, cheering uncontrollably, and for a fleeting moment I wish that I could be like them- those doll-sized men on the soccer field. Although eleven years have passed since my first encounter with the sport of soccer, I can still hear it, see it, and feel it like I am five years old and sitting in those crowded stands again. Soccer provides my family with a common bond, teaches me the most imperative lessons, and gives me the best memories. Just like Anna Quindlen loves reading “more than any other activity on earth”, soccer has been one of the most influential and important activities in my life, and I love it.
With a sister and uncle who play soccer, and a dad who has few memories that don’t involve the sport and who went on to play at Wright State University on a full-ride scholarship, soccer is a sport that all of the members of my family (even the ones that don’t play) are well-acquainted with. Soccer connects my family- from competing against each other in annual family Christmas Eve tournaments to taking bets on World Cup match outcomes, to breaking vases while kicking around in the house. Even though our personalities (and many of our interests) are different, our shared affinity for soccer acts as a common ground that gives us something we can all agree on doing. While it isn’t the only reason we are so close, soccer is a crucial thread in the web of our family that owns its defined place. Soccer is important to me because it brings my family close together, but I also love it because it teaches me the most important lessons.
How will someone who has never been a part of a team be able to work successfully with one? How will someone who has never faced adversity learn to overcome it? Lessons learned through soccer have many real-world applications, which is another reason why it is integral to my life. On a soccer team, you are responsible for the mistakes of your teammates, you are able to take part their successes, and they can expect the same from you. You pick up your teammates when they are down, and they reciprocate the gesture. Most importantly, each member of a team has a specific job to carry out to their best potential, and if they do, the whole team will be able to perform at their best. All of these things are true for a workplace team as well- you are involved in the achievements and failures of you co-workers, you should help them out (and they should do the same for you), and each colleague must produce the highest quality work possible so the whole unit can perform at its peak. These principles of teamwork that soccer has taught me not only allow me to be successful in teams I work with for school projects and assignments, but will also enable me to be a valuable employee, and better person, in the future. Additionally, soccer has taught me to persevere and never give up. From quieting the negative voices in my head telling me I’m not good enough to make the cut to drowning out the negative comments of a coach that almost made me give up, being a part of the world of soccer has showed me that no matter what obstacles appear to be in your way, it is possible to achieve great things if only you believe. In fact, if I had instead listened to those voices in my head or those words of the coach, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today. I’ve learned from soccer that you can get where you want to be by having the right mindset. These values, principles, and mental outlooks are such that are impossible to acquire by any other means than firsthand. Soccer has enabled me to garner theses skills, which is part of the reason why I love it. But the ability to learn these essential future qualities isn’t the only thing that makes me love soccer- the memories it gives me do, too.
“One day your life will flash before your eyes. Make sure it’s worth watching,” Gerard Way once correctly declared, and thanks to soccer, mine will be. From my little kickers team to soccer summer camps at colleges, so many memories about soccer from so many different times are engrained into the convolutions of my brain that I can already play a soccer memory marathon in my head. In fact, I can still recall the time I was the fifth kicker in a penalty kick shoot-out that would determine the winner of the regional tournament. I had to make it, or we lost, as the other team had already put away all five of their kicks. I had to make it to keep our team in the game. I suppose I should have been nervous, but I really didn’t feel anything, and before I knew it, the ball was in the corner of the net, the goalie sprawled out near the opposite post having guessed the wrong way. I still get chills when I think about those few short seconds of my life- that instant in time when the heaviness of the world seemingly lifted off my shoulders, that ephemeral moment when I was victorious. My other memories carry the same weight. They are a gateway to the past that give me the chance to relive the most glorious moments of my soccer life and the ability to feel every emotion that was coursing through me at that time again. One day, memories will be all I have left, and I love soccer for giving me the most amazing ones.
Whenever I hear some oblivious person utter that soccer simply consists of “kicking a ball” it is all I can do not throw my head back and laugh, for, as I have learned, ignorance can be far from bliss. For almost as long as I can remember, soccer has been an important and prominent part of my life. It provides my family with a common bond, teaches me the most vital lessons, and gives me the most treasured memories. As my dad likes to say, “Soccer isn't just a game, it’s a lifestyle,” - and one that I choose to live because I love it.




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