My first and last season as a soccer player was when I was 4 years old. Joe Blanchard was our head coach, and while I never missed a practice or a game, I can’t tell you if we had a winning season or not. It was my first experience as an athlete and a competitor, and I was obsessed with my special soccer shoes, my shin guards, and my knee-high socks. Games were especially exciting because we all got to wear matching uniforms, and enjoying the creative snacks the moms lovingly prepared after the game brought the experience to a perfect culmination. I only managed to penetrate the hive around the ball and land a small kick twice all season long, but running around the field with my other 4-year-old buddies made soccer something I anticipated week after week, even if I made little difference in the outcome of the game.
Fast forward 15 years, and the camp where I was working as a counselor one summer was short staffed in the land sports department and needed a second person at soccer during one activity block. While I played many other sports growing up, I had not touched a soccer ball since age 4 and thus found it highly ironic to suddenly be the “assistant soccer coach” for that one-hour period every day. It quickly became a role reversal because these 8- to 12-year-old girls knew what they were doing, and I, obviously, did not. I joined the campers in the fundamental drills — I was terrible at juggling, but the girls gave me tips — as well as in scrimmages, and I enjoyed every minute. Scrimmages actually worked out well since I made up for deficiency in skill by being physically bigger, stronger, and faster, which leveled the figurative playing field. Except that they were still better.
The first time I scored a goal, my campers cheered and congratulated me like I had won an Olympic gold medal. It was a high moment. I intentionally did not look to the sidelines to see what my friend and co-counselor thought of this, but I could imagine her eye roll. My takeaway from that session at camp was that I had clearly missed out by not continuing to play soccer growing up.
While that was the pinnacle of my career on the field, Columbians don’t have to travel far to watch some of the best in this sport. The USC women’s soccer team is off to a strong start this year under the dynamic coaching duo of Shelley and Jamie Smith, who have crafted an intimate family culture within the team. Enjoy our feature on this impressive team on page 80, and if you ever played, make sure to dust off your cleats this fall for a backyard family game — it will be worth it!