Oh no, I’m writing about soccer again, so those of you sick to death of reading about it can sign off now. I’ll wait. Go ahead. See you tomorrow……
It’s not exactly soccer, I want to write about. It’s the dark web of soccer, the hidden benefit, the unspoken hero of futbol. I’m specifically talking about the friendships that are made when big girls and little girls commit themselves to kicking a ball around a field with their feet, like they didn’t have hands.
This weekend was a reminder of this little-discussed phenomena, but I’ve been observing how this goes down for years. The real honest end of year soccer party happened Friday night. This is an off campus, wine drinking, dinner where the underclassmen roast the seniors. They do funny skits and write tear jerking letters to say goodbye.
This is my favorite end-of-year party, because it’s about one of the things that I understand. It’s not about offsides, or tackles, or set pieces, but instead about my part of the world–relationships.
The thing is, that while club soccer is based on performance among same-aged kids (and I should say, super strong relationships are made on this kind of team too, but that’s a whole other story), high school soccer is made up of a team of mixed-aged kids, so there is a big sister/little sister thing that happens, a role model deal, a mentor situation. And this, this is the real money shot of team sports, if you ask me. Especially for teenage girls.
Ally was one of two girls who made the varsity team her freshman year. This was exciting, but a little bit daunting, too. Lucky for her, a few exemplary senior girls took her by the hand and led her in all things, from soccer, to academics, to her social life. (I should say, we were lucky that Ally’s brother’s girlfriend happened to be one of these girls, who Ally knew well, which was pretty awesome, because this girl could be a role model for God.) At an impressionable moment in time, these girls were the girls Ally wanted to mimic. They were her blueprint for success, not just in soccer, but all things. The cuteness factor of these relationships was off the charts. The gushy way she spoke about these girls, dressed like them, and quoted them was adorable. And when they finished the season, and we had the traditional party to roast and toast the seniors, Ally cried so hard giving her speech, that she couldn’t speak.
Al was not a girl who played with dolls, or couldn’t wait to babysit. She didn’t have the kind of maternal side I had when I was young. So, I wondered if she would ever be a role model to a freshman when she became a senior. She didn’t have to, of course, but it interested me to see how she would react when she was the upperclassman.
When Ally was a junior, an unprecedented 12 freshman made varsity. And much to my surprise, Ally became a fun mother hen to many of them, one in particular. While I hadn’t thought she had it in her to be the “big sister,” right before my eyes, there she was setting an example, showing the freshman how to work hard on the field and off, while also having a good time. It was happening. Again.
Friday night it was Ally’s turn to hear from the girls who she had impacted. And as if on cue, four years after she was the girl standing up and reading from her phone, crying so hard she ultimately couldn’t speak, there were girls reading from their phones, crying so hard, they couldn’t speak.
You can tell me all you want about the benefits of physical activity from playing soccer, the way it makes you think strategically, keeping you nimble in your body and your mind. But if you ask me, I will tell you that high school soccer has the biggest impact on girls supporting and teaching other girls. I will tell you that the kind of relationships that are made are rock solid, and unforgettable. I will tell you that at a particularly vulnerable time, when the Kardashians are vying for the attention of every young girl, it’s these older, soccer-playing girls who can be the difference. I will tell you that to me, this is the goal of soccer. This is how soccer wins.