I have always enjoyed the sport more than football or baseball because of the fluid nature of the game. There is a reason why the game of soccer, which other countries call football, is by far the most popular sport on the planet. There are no time-outs during which players stand around talking. No huddles! No standing on the field waiting for something to happen. The players spend the entire 90 minutes of play dashing up and down; competing every minute of the time. I especially appreciate that level of enthusiastic and even fierce competition because I am a natural-born competitor.
It has been a mystery to all the other nations of the world why soccer never enjoyed as much popularity in America as everywhere else, and why we don’t call it by the right name. Even though soccer on a professional level is not as huge as the big three sports, it is wildly popular at every other level. Thirty percent of Americans have played soccer. Last year, 3,020,633 joined a U.S. Youth Soccer team. That popularity is beginning to be felt at the professional level. The 2010 World Cup attracted 3.35 million viewers, which was a 64% increase over the 2006 World Cup. Over 24 million Americans viewed the final between Spain and the Netherlands. A recent survey revealed that respondents in the 12-24 age bracket found soccer to be more popular than either baseball or basketball.
I played recreational soccer until I was ten years old, at which point I began playing competitively on traveling teams associated with the Castro Valley Soccer League and joined the Castro Valley High School team. However, when it came time for college, I was feeling burned out. I had been engaged in year-around competitions with one team or another, and it had gotten too demanding. I decided to take a break for a couple years, rest my body, and get on a healthier level both physically and emotionally. I enrolled in a Liberal Arts program at Cal State East Bay in order to prepare myself for getting teaching credentials. Even though I wasn’t playing fulltime anymore, I joined teams in various outdoor and indoor leagues. My passion for the game gradually began to come back, and I started to channel my energy and enthusiasm for the sport into coaching. I took a coaching position at Hayward’s Caesar Chavez Middle School where I taught for seven years. Coaching became an outlet for my competitive nature; it allowed me to connect with the game. I coached varsity at the girl’s program at Tennyson High in Hayward for five years. Then for a year at Hayward High.
Four years ago, things began to move to a different level, in a couple of ways, when I met Erin Hartmann. The two of us were teammates on a co-ed indoor soccer league in San Ramon. Both of us were dating other people at the time, so our friendship was initially warm but platonic. We hung out with other soccer players and had team meals together after games. We both moved out of the relationships we were in. Three years ago I was helping her move to another apartment. As we were hauling boxes and furniture together, she and I started talking for the first time about more than soccer. We began hanging out together.
Erin is a soccer coach at the Walnut Creek Soccer Club. She referred me to Tom Ginocchio, the club’s director of coaching, who interviewed me and then offered me a job. Coaching at Walnut Creek really did take me to the next level; I became even more passionate about the game and enjoyed watching the kids come into the program as newbies and then develop into skilled players.
Winning is always the goal in any excellent sports activity. The winning attitude encourages a good “work rate,” which means that we are always completely engaged in game play. We decide that we are going to outplay the 11 people lined up against us. We work harder than the other team. The goal of winning drives us to develop our Personal Best, because we don’t intend simply to play our best game; we intend to win.
A winning attitude raises the bar both for us and for our opponents. It makes the game better by providing both the basis and the incentive for a positive self-directed action plan that has the power of transforming imagination into goals, dreams into reality, and fantasy into fact. But the real point isn’t to get a trophy to put on some shelf, but to give the players opportunities to grow their skills and then come together with the genuine team-play syncretism required to compete at the highest level. Vince Lombardi said it best when he pointed out that while winning isn’t everything, wanting to win is.
I enjoy the tactical part of the game and pass on to my players the need to play with both passion and intelligence. They should learn as much as they can about the game they are playing. The game of soccer provides a good prototype for practicing life skills. A soccer field is a training ground for learning to get along with people from different ethnic, cultural, and religious backgrounds. The game also provides multiple opportunities for learning to deal with stress and for learning how to respond when things fail to go as expected. A soccer game provides continual opportunities to practice the art of recovering from mistakes and for managing situations when things get out of control.
Erin and I have been dating three years. Being in a relationship with another soccer coach has its advantages. My passion for soccer, which was the downfall of past relationships, has become the core of my relationship with Erin.
Soon I will complete my requirements for my Special Education — Moderate to Severe teaching credentials and will look for a job in that field. I initially entered Special Education six years ago because it was the only area with job openings at the time. However, during my first year I discovered a real love for the work. The children in the Special Needs community blindsided me. Never in a million years could I have imagined the awesome world that the disabled inhabit. They tend to react to the world and to the people in their lives without hiding behind the affectations and role-playing that the rest of us employ to protect ourselves from each other. I love their smiles. I enjoy watching the fire they have to learn. They work hard at their lessons. They enjoy helping each other.
Just as with the members of my soccer teams, I enjoy watching the change and growth that takes place. I’ve learned that when one of these children finally grasps something — a solution to a problem they had been struggling with or a book that they hadn’t believed they could understand — a look of comprehension will come into their eyes like a brilliant dawning after a night of darkness and storm. I’ve come to watch for this because that look of surprised comprehension has become one of the beautiful things in the world.
I enjoy coaching soccer but don’t want to do that all the time. I feel more balanced and sane with a day job that is completely different from the soccer activities that will continue to occupy my evenings and weekends. Keeping the two parts of my life separate enables me to enjoy both more.