I spent my entire childhood playing soccer—from backyard shenanigans to rec leagues to my high school team. I played one season of coed intramural my freshman year of college, but between my full class load and part-time job, my busy schedule forced me to hang up my cleats and retire.
But as soon as I graduated and started working a regular 9-5, my nights freed up… and I found myself missing my old playing days. I missed the feeling I got setting up the perfect give-and-go and the rush of adrenaline after netting a goal. I also found myself starting to develop a bit of a “dad bod” from sitting at my cubicle for eight hours day. The gym was an option, but, if I’m being totally honest, running on the treadmill as your only exercise gets boring—fast. So I asked my friends if they wanted to play on an indoor soccer team.
They did, so I kicked the dust off my cleats and came out of retirement. And it’s taught me a lot—much more than refining my foot skills with the ball. Playing soccer again has helped me hone some life skills, too:
1. How to Lead
Creating a team was our decision—no one was making us play, and we had no obligation but to play for fun. Except no one was taking the initiative to actually find a league for us to start playing.
So I stepped up. I’m usually more of a follower than a leader, but I wanted to play, and if I didn’t make a move, then who would? Because it was my idea to create a team in the first place, I let the responsibility fall on me to organize. I took the lead for finding a league, registering our team, collecting everyone’s dues, ordering (some pretty sweet lookin’) jerseys and scheduling practices.
In my playing days, there was always a coach, but this time we didn’t have an adult telling us what to do. What did I do? I took on the role and forced myself to exhibit some leadership skills that I never used back in little league soccer.
But I also learned when to draw the line. For example, all players are required to have an ID card provided by the venue, and after our first game, a teammate asked if I could to hold on to everyone’s for them. I said no. I didn’t mind stepping up as team leader, but I wasn’t going to be team Mom, too.
2. How to Be Accountable
After a couple of sprints during our first practice, I realized just how out of shape I was. I already knew I wasn’t in the same playing shape as 17-year-old me, but I needed to get fitfast if I wanted to keep up. It really hit me when one of my teammates, Frank, called me out in the middle of a scrimmage for standing around too much. “Move, Jesus!”
I didn’t want to let my team down in a real game, so I started hitting the gym almost every day. I can now run continuously for a full hour—something I haven’t been able to do since high school. Even though it’s only a beer league, belonging to a team again meant I had a responsibility to them to be healthy so we could be competitive.
3. How to Motivate
Our first game didn’t go well. We lost 4-0, and were it not for our goalie it easily could have been 10-0. Leaving the venue, I noticed a few of our players had already made a mad dash for their cars—they were frustrated. I couldn’t blame them; losing is never fun, especially when you’re a competitive person. But for my teammates left in the parking lot with their heads down, I felt the need to say something encouraging.
We had been outplayed, but I reminded our team that it was our first game—and a lot of them had never even played indoor soccer before. At halftime, we were only down 1-0; we just tired out and lost focus in the second half. But we could have beat them. I told them, sure, we had a lot of things to work on, but we couldn’t beat ourselves up over our first game. I’m not sure how much of an effect my postgame speech had, but, much like I’d stepped up as team leader, someone had to saysomething.
Maybe soccer isn’t your thing. Maybe it’s basketball, or maybe it’s not even sports at all, but no matter your interests, being a part of a team and having people who you depend on and who depend on you will help you develop valuable life skills—I know. What group or team can you start or join?