I know that I talk a lot about soccer, and to most the sport is just a hobby, just a pastime for weekends and Friday nights. Soccer is something very different to me. It’s an understatement to say that I love soccer. It is a way of life for me. I breathe it, eat it, sleep it, dream it, feel it every waking day. I have, what they call in other countries, “the passion”. It’s something much more than a love or dedication for the sport. It’s part of your soul.
This is what makes my soccer story somewhat sad. I was born in the wrong country and the wrong gender. Not only does this country not care about soccer, but even the way our young players are developed does not feed “the passion”. And even with women’s soccer it’s worse, because being the best player in the world is not priority, no, it’s being the fastest player, the strongest player, the player that the Division I coach will take so that you can get a scholarship to do something else with your life.
My younger sister started playing a year before I did. She was always more into sports than I was. I was a chubby, out of shape kid at 10 years old. Even at that age I had low self esteem. I didn’t think I was good at much except school. I wasn’t great at P.E., I was slow, not really athletic at all. But when my sister started playing, I fell in love with soccer immediately. I would go to every practice and game she had and just watch. Even though I was just a spectator, I would listen to everything the coach said, and I’d remember. Every practice, I’d secretly wish the coach would ask me if I wanted to come play, and I started playing with the ball at home with my dad and my sister.
The next year, I joined the league and played on my first team. I remember how hard it was trying to get in shape. I was the fattest and slowest kid on my team, so of course, they put me at goalkeeper. I actually wasn’t that bad. I’m a natural hard worker, and I worked my butt off to get as good as I could at that position and to improve my fitness. Even though I hated running, I loved soccer, and ever drop of sweat was worth it.
Flash forward two years later and I made the All Star team for the first time as a goalkeeper. By then I was itching to play the field. I wanted to score goals, I wanted to dribble and try new moves. I knew that a big obstacle for me was my speed and conditioning, so I started running extra at school and at home to get in better shape. By this time, I was 13 years old, and I had started to get creative with my footwork. I was the only girl in the league who would do scissors and step overs, because no coach taught me those moves. I learned them from watching on TV.
I tried out for my first club team at 14 years old, during the summer before my freshman year of high school. I remember how fast the girls were, and how good they were at shooting and long balls, but I was right there with them on ball control. Speed and conditioning were a factor again, but I made the team. The coach called my dad and told him he had never seen a girl work so hard at tryouts. I was relentless. It was what I needed to tip the scale.
Once I made my club team, I got serious. I started training 2 hours a day on top of team practice. I would run 3 miles, spend 30 minutes juggling, 30 minutes on footwork and skill, and then 30 minutes on either passing, sprints, or traps. I would watch soccer 4-6 hours a day during my summer break on whatever channel I could find it. I would even pop in a blank VHS tape to record highlights so that I could practice cool moves that I saw. I was the only one on my team who knew who Del Piero, Totti, Shevchecnko, and Van Nistelrooy were. I watched soccer from every country, saw different flavors of play. I wanted to be like them. I wanted the ball to become a part of me. I wanted to play every day, all day. I couldn’t get enough.
My freshman of high school year I made the Junior varsity team and we went undefeated in league play. I was at the top on assists and was voted Best Midfield player. My sophomore year was when my soccer world started to crumble….
My sophomore year I made the varsity team, but I was introduced to the reality of the politics game. During preseason, I earned a starting position as an outside back, and I continued to work hard to improve and prove myself as a player. At this point, I had lost 30 lbs since my freshman year and was much better conditioned. At our first league game, coach didn’t start me. In fact, he sat me the ENTIRE game. I was dumbfounded. I hadn’t played bad last game, and I had shown up to every practice, so I had no idea why I didn’t get to play. The next game, the same thing happened. So I asked the coach if there was something I needed to improve on, and why I wasn’t getting playing time. He said there was nothing I needed to work on, that I would get playing time in the next game, not to worry. So the next game he puts me in about 30 minutes into the first half as an outside wing. I get the ball and I’m nervous. I make a bad pass. shit. Five minutes later he pulls me out and sits me the rest of the game. This was the year that my confidence dive-bombed. Anytime I got on the field, I was a nervous wreck. I was so afraid of making mistakes that I made more mistakes. I didn’t try anything new. As soon as I got the ball, I wanted to get rid of it. It got to the point that I would hope I didn’t get the ball.
My Junior year was a little better. I had played with a low income Mexican club team over the summer, and it helped me get some of my confidence and flavor of play back. In high school, we had a new, much better coach, and I earned a starting position as center midfielder and I was in the best shape of my young athletic career. I made First Team All League that year and the following year.
In the summer before my Senior year of high school, I tried out for a club in Temecula that had an A and a B team. I expected to make the B team, since the A team was an incredibly fast, talented, and competitive group. They had been a premier team for years, many of the girls had been playing on top level clubs teams since they were 10 years old (which was when I was just learning how to play). They were a first place, tournament-winning, National Cup-playing team with an English coach. To my surprise, I was called up to the A team. I remember being incredibly nervous before my first practice, thinking they had made some mistake. My dad kept reassuring me that I belonged there, that I deserved to be there. Practice was intense; it was very serious, fast-paced, no laughs, rarely any smiles or jokes, which was much different than my Mexican league team. I stayed quiet and worked. The coach seemed alright, intense but not that bad, until my first game. We were in a tournament in Irvine and I came on as a sub as a right wing. I was doing ok for the first ten minutes, until I made my first mistake. My coach SCREAMED at me. I had never had someone scream at me like that before. Then another mistake. Another scream. I stayed quiet and continued to work. I still didn’t really mesh with the team since I was new, and I could hear and feel their frustration. Finally coach pulled me out. I was alone at that tournament, so I had no one to console me. I just sat in silence at the half time talk and prayed that I didn’t fuck up in the second half. Surprisingly, I did ok the second half. Not great, but I did my job. Then coach came up to me after the game and apologized for screaming at me, saying that he had forgotten that it was my first game with an already established team. I said it was ok, of course, because I’m not one to blame people for my lack of greatness. When people yell at me it just reaffirms what my evil mind is already telling myself: that I’m worthless.
After the apology, I thought things would get better, but they got worse. One day at practice we were doing some small sided scrimmaging. I took a bad first touch. Coach ripped into me. I got nervous. Second bad touch. Another scream. “What the bloody hell are you doing? Can’t you bring the ball to your feet?!” It got to the point where he was yelling at me every time I touched the ball. I was shaking, heavy breaths heaving up and down in my chest as I could feel a panic attack coming. After the last scream I walked immediately off the field to my soccer bag while the scrimmage was still going on, picked it up and started walking to my car. All I was thinking to myself was “I’m not good enough for this team. I don’t belong here. Why did he pick me up for this team if I suck so bad?” Coach stopped practice to come get me. He apologized again. I told him I wasn’t good enough to be on the team. I told him that I was trying my best but no matter what I do I keep messing up. I’m just not as good as the others. He said that I was good enough, and asked me to come back to practice. So I did. But from that moment on, I was crushed.
At the end of the season, our manager was collecting videos, grades, and another paperwork to help us get scholarships to colleges. When he asked me for mine, I declined. I had made it up in my mind that if I couldn’t get through this team, what made me think any college would want me? Many of the girls went on to get scholarships at Division I schools. I had decided that my soccer career was over before I had even given it a chance. I had forgotten how soccer used to be fun.
After a year off, I couldn’t stay away. I would have dreams about playing. So I contacted the coach at a local community college to try out. I made the team and was even chosen as captain my second year. When it came time to transfer, I asked for help. I didn’t know what the first step was or how to contact schools, so I asked my coach. I wanted to play Division I. She didn’t think I could. I asked her to help me get good enough so that I could. She stopped responding to my emails. Again I gave up. I figured my chance had passed, and that I still wasn’t good enough, and maybe I never would be.
Four years passed. The dreams never stopped. They actually became nightmares. I would be on my way to a game in my dream and as soon as I’d get there, I’d wake up and remember that it was all over. I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to play. I started looking for adult leagues and I finally found one in Temecula and started playing. The next year I found one in Riverside, which was closer, and within a few months I was playing on three different teams. I was loving it. But of course, I wanted more. I started practicing to get better and faster, because it was never enough for me. I always want to be better, I want to be the best I can possibly be. Then in 2012 I discovered the WPSL league and I made a secret dream and goal to try out for a team. In 2013 I announced that dream, and I grew more and more serious about it as it seemed more and more attainable. Then I started to think, “what if I can go pro?” Oh what a wonderful thing that would be! A dream come true is an understatement. In 2014 I continued to practice, getting better and better and seeing my dream look less and less like a fantasy and more like something I just might be able to achieve. In 2015 I trained hard. Every day. Dedicated. And at the end of the year I tried out for my first semipro team, LA Villa. Although I made the So Cal Premier team, which is not the WPSL team, it was a HUGE accomplishment for me. I had come so far, and it was the most competitive team and league I had ever played for in my entire life. I ended 2015 on a high, as I started believing that I could do something great with my soccer career.
In 2016 I took a huge blow to my confidence. I tried out for two professional teams: Seattle Reign and Portland Thorns and realized how much work I still need to do to be a contender. Then I was cut from the WPSL roster at LA Villa, and it brought me back to my senior year in high school playing club. I emailed the coach 3 times for feedback, for advice, and for suggestions to make me a better player, and never received a response. But that’s ok. It’s no one’s responsibility but mine to get better. No one owes me anything, and I blame no one for my failures. I still practice with the team, even though I haven’t been for the past few weeks because I can’t afford the gas for the 110 mile round trip twice a week. Practice is intense, and yes there’s yelling. Sometimes by coaches, sometimes by teammates. I started to find myself falling into old habits of getting nervous and afraid of making mistakes because of the yelling and intensity. But after hearing a few other coaches speak, and coming to terms with the fact that I am who I am and I play the way I play, I’m learning not to take these things personal. They are caught in the same system of American soccer. They want fast young players that do as their told, that receive and play the ball fast, that take very few risks in order to make no mistakes. To me, that is a bland, boring, and stressful way to play.
I may not be good enough to play pro or semipro but that is not as important as me trying to become the best I can be. I play my best when I am having fun, when I have the freedom to be creative, when I’m not afraid to make mistakes. Maybe if I had that confidence as teen, I would be going to the Olympics right now, unafraid and ready to show the world what I can do. You can teach speed, strategy, and skills, but you cannot teach passion.
We need to recognize passion and feed it with love for the game and creativity, instead of smashing it into a mold to fit a certain college soccer standard.
I know I am not perfect. I know that I struggle with many things. But I am a good player. I work hard. I am coachable. I am smart. I am relentless. I am good enough.
I promise myself that no matter what any coach, player, or spectator says, that I will not forget this. This is my game. My love. My passion.