On this episode, Scott begins a special summer series on his adventures in a 6-match summer league. If you prefer to read what happens, scroll down below the Soundcloud insert to find the full manuscript.
It was a moment of weakness; that's really all I can say to describe it. I was with two friends and each of our wives. One friend declared that he was going to play soccer in this local summer league. The other friend said he has never played soccer before but that he was interested in joining, too.
What about Scott, they asked? My wife thought it would be a great idea. She could get the kids to come and watch and cheer for me. They would love to do that. Plus, maybe you could turn it into some content for the podcast.
In my moment of weakness, I agreed to do it. I joined a team of 25 dudes for a 6-match summer league. I didn't know anyone except my two friends.
The captain said that we should meet for practice on Wednesday nights at a local park. On the night of the first practice, I knew that my two friends wouldn't be joining me, so I was nervous. As I went to leave, rain started to fall. Three of my children wanted to come to my practice, and they were very disappointed when I told them I wasn't going due to the rain. How much of that decision was rain and how much was fear...it's hard to say.
Unfortunately for me, the rain stopped right after it started. The guys were definitely still going to meet for practice. Reluctantly, I decided to go.
I didn't know anyone, but our team name was going to be something with "misfits" in it. So as I approached the field and saw some guys kicking around a ball, I declared that I was looking for some misfits. A few guys laughed. I was now on the team.
The first guy to introduce himself to me was Kenny. He asked me about when I last played soccer. Oh, it's been a really long time since I've played, I said. Oh yeah, when was the last time, he asked. A long time ago, I said.
If that seems like it would have been awkward, it was. I didn't want to tell him that the last time I'd played organized soccer was at the age of 7. I grew up in a farming community in Minnesota. There was a recreational league one summer that allowed kids between five and seven to play. It was mostly a way for parents to have a night off each week when school was out.
I was pretty good in that little league. The highlight was during the season-ending party when the kids played against their parents. I scored a goal. It was only recently that I've come to realize that they might have let me score.
I didn't want to tell Kenny any of this. Our awkward conversation ended, and I went to join the boys already practicing. We started out scrimmaging so that we could all get a feel for who belongs where. One of my first touches was a soft backpass to a teammate that went to one of my opponents instead. It led to a goal. So that's how that happens, I thought to myself.
A little later, I made a run toward the far post that a teammate saw. He sent in a cross. All I had to do was guide it into the goal with my right foot. I did, sort of. I kicked the ball with my right foot into my left knee. My left knee deflected it into the net. It was a piece of accidental beauty.
For every decent touch, I had 2-3 horrible ones. I had a couple of swings and misses. A couple of times I was delivered a pass that got by me and went out of bounds. It was rough overall but a lot of fun.
Our second practice was this past Wednesday. It was more of the same. I had another backpass that led to a breakaway for the opposition. I really need to work on that. I have absolutely no skills around the goal right now. This fact is very sad because I've noticed that I have a knack for the mental part of the game. It turns out that watching the Premier League for years has helped me recognize where to make runs. The problem is that I have no skill with the ball when I get it. Occasionally, I can send a nice pass forward to a streaking teammate, but that's about it.
There's one other thing I'm terrible at: talking to my teammates on the field. This team I'm on is mostly made up of former soccer players who are out of school and are just looking for a way to keep playing. Most of them played center forward, which is a different problem that we will have to solve before our first match.
My point, though, is that they have all played before and they know how to talk to their teammates on the pitch. The first time someone behind me said "drop" while I had the ball, I had no idea what they were trying to communicate. I know now that he was letting me know I could drop the ball back to him if I got into trouble, but it took me a while to get there.
There was this one time on defense where an opponent was coming forward with the ball and another opposing player was starting to make a forward run. "You've got runner. I've got ball," my teammate said to me. After starting to move toward the ball, I realized what he said. By then, it was too late. The pass went to the runner. I don't remember if it led to a goal. Probably it did.
When practice ended and we were walking to our cars, I found myself walking with the team captain, Clyde. I was hoping for this moment because I had decided that I needed to take a risk. I told him that I would be happy to play a position that nobody else wanted, like left back. Might be a good idea anyway, I said, since I've never played soccer before. Really, he asked. I had no idea, he said. You have such nice passes. I appreciate that, I said. I made some lame joke about everyone else being a center forward and the conversation ended.
I immediately regretted saying that. This is just a recreational league, but I didn't exactly inspire confidence in my captain. Only time will tell me if my confession was a mistake.