Soccer — the Perfect Sport

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Last Saturday The Wife, our two granddaughters and I spent the entire day at a soccer tournament. The tournament wasn’t at the fields just up the street, but almost a two-hour drive down Highway 75 South.

During a break after the first game and over refreshments, the girls asked me if I’d played soccer when I was a kid. I thought long and hard before answering their question as I remembered my high school tryout for that team so long ago.

There were lots of reasons our dad made us four boys play sports year-round. One of the most important was to keep us out of trouble.

He believed after spending hours in the wrestling room, on the football field or running track we’d be so tired, there would no energy left to get into trouble. And his plan worked. Throughout high school, the only time any of us got into trouble was between sport seasons.

Run, Rick, run. When the football season ended, Dad made us all tryout for the soccer team. Walking out of the locker room that very first day and down onto the field, I knew it wasn’t for me.

It was November, and we were outside dressed only in shorts and a tank top. I was so cold my goose bumps had goose bumps. I really didn’t like being cold. The only way to stay warm was to run, and the coach made us run the entire practice. As much as I didn’t like being cold, I didn’t like running even more.

What made it even worst was what the coach said at the end, “Took it easy on you boys today. Tomorrow we start conditioning.” Soccer was the only sport I quit on the very first day … unless you count basketball.

Shoot, Rick, shoot. Back in high school, the game of basketball made absolutely no sense to me. Run down the court, shoot the ball into the basket, then repeat. Except you can’t actually run with the ball, you have to dribble it. This was one of many things I learned about the game of basketball my first day on the court.

A week after my failed attempt at soccer, I tried out for the basketball team — dressed in the same shorts and tank top. After running up and down the court for half an hour, Coach Reeves lined us up on the foul line and told us to shoot the basketball into the hoop.

The first ten kids made a basket with no problem, then it was my turn. I dribbled the ball just like everyone else. I bent my knees and took aim like everyone else. I shot the ball upwards and towards the goal like everyone else.

But unlike everyone else, the ball didn’t go through the hoop. The ball didn’t rebound off the backboard and into the hoop either. Nope, my mighty toss had the ball rocketing clean over the backboard, smashing an exit sign, and sending it crashing to the gym floor in about a bazillion pieces.

The tryout abruptly ended. My first and only basketball shot was fifty years ago. I still hear the laughter to this day. Failing at two sport tryouts in less than a week, Dad was more than mad at me. Failing was unacceptable in our house. I had to find something else to do to redeem myself. But what? Welcome to a happy mistake.

Wrestle, Rick, Wrestle! Taking a different path out of the school the next day so as not to walk near the gym (didn’t want to hear all that laughter again), I passed an open classroom door. What I saw that afternoon changed everything.

A bunch of kids in that room were throwing each other to the floor, rolling around and sitting on top of each other — just like my three brothers and I did all the time!

The sign on the door read “Wrestling Room.” I was already good at wrestling. A voice from inside floated out the door, “Come on in.” It was the coach inviting me into the nice warm room I’d spend the next five years in.

A week later I convinced Twin Brother Mark and Big Brother James to join me. Eventually, James went on to be a state champion three times, Mark was a region champion twice, and I went undefeated my junior and senior year and won a state championship.

Back in high school, kicking a soccer ball with frozen feet wasn’t for me. Running up and down a basketball court trying to make a basket, and then getting laughed at, wasn’t for me either. But throwing my brothers around on a wrestling mat came naturally and was something I really enjoyed, and remembering this gave me my answer.

“Yes,” I replied to the girls. “Tried out for soccer and decided to wrestle instead. My brothers and I loved wrestling. We were really good at it. Not every sport is for every person, but there is a person for every sport.”

The girls looked confused, then I added, “Do y’all love soccer?” Their resounding yeses reverberated around the car until I held up a hand laughing, “Okay, okay. That’s all that matters. Now who wants pizza?” I listened to another round of yeses.

Thinking back to that warm wrestling room where I spent five years tossing and being tossed around by my brothers, a smile slowly grew across my face. No, soccer wasn’t for me, but it is for our girls.

They’re outside together, running around and making memories that will last a lifetime. And that makes soccer the perfect sport for them. And now I got lots of warm clothes and a heavy blanket to wrap up in while watching them.

[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001.]