It Didn’t Take David Beckham to Get Me to Like Soccer … Just a Bunch of 11-Year-Old Girls

CometsA LITTLE over a year ago, as I walked R. to the car following soccer practice, she said to me, “Sorry about this, Dad, but I think my sport is soccer, not softball.”

It was beyond sweet for R. to consider her baseball-loving father’s feelings in making this declaration. Of course, I told her that it was fine and that all I wanted was for her to be happy playing. If that happiness came from playing soccer, so be it.

My problem was that I knew little about the game beyond the soul-crushing boredom caused by six hours of play resulting in a 0-0 tie. I played organized baseball as a kid and more games of pickup football, basketball, and street hockey than I can remember. As an adult I got into tennis and even golf. Soccer? That was one of them furner sports.

R. played several years of intramural soccer; her sister started last fall. And she showed a nifty affinity for it. In fact, she began self-identifying as a soccer player. So when the coach of the township travel team team in her age group called last summer to say she was putting together a second team and was wondering if R. would be interested, we signed her up.

Anticipating an autumn of endless drives to faraway middle schools, of mornings spent huddled under an umbrella trying to ward off chilly rain with lukewarm coffee, I prepared for the worst. And I couldn’t have been more wrong.

R.’s coaches were uniformly excellent, as both teachers and people, and her game improved noticeably. The girls were all sweethearts, and good players, too. And their parents, fellow weekend travelers, were fun to hang out with on the sideline and join in frantic cheering.

Watching competitive games marked by passion, dedication, and, yes, toughness helped me understand what so much of the world sees in the sport. I fell in love with the Comets, with their personalities and their grit and their talent. And if I didn’t quite fall for soccer, I’m certainly in pretty deep like.

The Comets’ season ended yesterday. I’m already looking forward to the spring league. | DL

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