Youth Soccer: Part I
Before I get to some of the more meaningful posts (at least to me) it is helpful to know the back story.
I told you in my first entry about my very first team, the mighty Green Hornets of Gunston Youth Soccer in Virginia. It was a recreational league. Like, the most basic of basic you can get with soccer. Most of us were little ragamuffin kids who had never seen a soccer ball before, but our parents signed us up because they saw a flyer in a bagel shop, and they didn’t realize they were giving up their right to a free weekend morning for the next 15 years of their life (or at least, my parents didn’t).
So we did it. We bought the tiniest shingaurds in the world, and off I went to my first practice. I wish I could say I remembered it, but I don’t. I do remember the park it was at though, so we will call that a win. I also remember my teammates, a few of them at least. I went to school with a girl named Lydia (her dad was the coach – God bless the men/women that coach 5-year olds!!). Lydia was a straight-A student, an incredible gymnast, and for all intensive purposes, she was a perfect child. But I was better than Lydia at football. I knew that at 5-years old, and I liked it. I wonder if Lydia will see this blog post – she is a friend on Facebook, I think.
It makes me chuckle to picture this tiny human on a football pitch finding her first true love. I had no idea at the time what this sport would become to me, and I’m sure my parents would have never considered the possibilities and imagine where it would bring me.
One of my favorite stories from the Green Hornets was when a father of one of my teammates told my parents “I wish my son Patrick was half the man that Jessie was on the field.” That kills me. At 5-years-old, I already had that competitive instinct and mentality that is still very much alive in me today. Okay, enough tooting my own horn (this is not very Swedish of me to be bragging, but hey! I’m an American!). My point is, I outgrew the Green Hornets pretty quickly.
Guess which one I am? I'll give you a hint. The one who is out for blood! PS: Poor Patrick is second from the left.
I jumped around a few different clubs in my youth. To be honest, I think I sort of had a bad reputation for not sticking with a club for more than a few seasons, but my dad had me on a fast track to be the best player I could, and looking back, I am playing at 30-years-old, so while it was maybe tough at the time, it has paid off.
As soon as things became too comfortable for me, off we went to a more competitive level. Here is a very brief synopsis of my moves from ages 7-18: SYC Sting II, pulled up to SYC Sting, BRYC Galaxy, pulled up to BRYC Aurora, Chantilly Milan, BRYC Electra, back to Aurora. And then in college my first two years, Milan got back together for a sort of reunion tour and a go at state cup, which ended up being in the National Finals (arguably the best group of girls ever), and then one with a totally random club, PWSI Cardinals, because I was still young enough to play another year. WOW that was a mouthful. And this doesn’t even include the ODP (aka Olympic Development – lol to that name) high school and semi-pro teams I was on…. That is a lot of teams! Anyway, onto the important ones.
I will never ever forget my tryout for the best youth team I played for… Chantilly Milan. Back when I was playing youth soccer, there weren’t as many “super clubs” the way there are now. Milan was just this random group of kids that was incredibly successful. I was in 8th grade, and I had just been at my friend Natasha’s house dyeing my hair (yeah, I know, cool). My dad picked me up without notice (no cell phones unless you were super important then), and said “we’re going to a tryout for Milan.” I’m pretty sure I cried, at least on the inside. I was terrified. In my head, this team was way out of my league. They won state cup every single year. They were practically unbeaten (although if we rewind time one year, my then team, Braddock Road Aurora was the first team to ever beat them in a Memorial Day tournament… proud times). And yet, here we were, taking me from my beloved Aurora to go try for Milan.
I don’t blame my dad for one second for taking me off Aurora. Things had gotten incredibly cliquey, and as a middle school girl, it just was a bad environment for me, a still very tomboyish, not quite hitting puberty, not sure how to be girly, type. I wish I could show you some of the pictures from these days. Imagine half the team in skirts and tank tops and glittery eye shadow, and the other half in jean shorts halfway to their knees, old soccer tournament tee-shirts and low ponytails. The divide was very very VERY clear, and I was not on the cool side. Fortunately, I became friends, good friends, with many of those girls later down the road (shout-out mostly to Lindsay Bowers, what up GIRL!!), but at the time, that team was a hell for me.
Just as a quick aside, if you are one of my younger readers, or if you are a parent/coach looking for some living proof… middle school was tough for me, as I’m sure it is tough for many of you. Are bangs cool? Did my orthodontist really make me wear a palate expander that not only gave me a gap in my two front teeth but ALSO a lisp?! My parents didn’t let me shop at Abercrombie because it’s outrageous for a 10-year-old to have a $40 tee-shirt. Life was HARD!!! But keep your head up and just be you, because it gets SO MUCH BETTER and one day you’ll be thankful that you were just a little weirdo amongst kids you thought were cool.
Because guess what? We are all little weirdos underneath all that glittery eye shadow.
And I promise you that one day you will find your tribe of people that love you just the way you are, and those are the people that matter. You guys know who you are.
Anyway, off my soapbox, and back to soccer. We pulled up to the field where Milan practiced and I felt like my stomach dropped. It was the beginning of summer, it was hot, and this coach (shout out to Coach Gar) liked to yell. I remember if you touched the ball with your hands you had to do ten pushups… even if it was inadvertently. This coach was tough as hell! His face got really red when he yelled at us. I can say this now because I adore Coach Gar and I was a bridesmaid in his daughter’s wedding, so that pretty much shows the impact the Smer family had on me. While I was very timid upon my arrival, I remember that the longer time went on in the training, the less intimidated I felt. Or so I thought. The last thing we did was a shooting drill. I think you got like 10-15 balls that you had to turn and shoot with. Coach Gar made me go first. I was absolutely banking on hiding somewhere in the middle of the pack, but he knew what he was doing. Scared, shaking, and sure I was going to screw up, I went for it. I can’t remember how I did, but I do know I made the team. Against my own self-talk, I was officially on Milan, the best team in the country. This was a pretty proud moment for me, and I think it was the first time I realized that I actually had the potential to be someone in the sport. Things started to fall into place around this time.
That’s enough for today, but it’s just scratching the surface. We still have all of high school to cover. I will get to that next week.
In Swedish news, we are still chugging away through preseason. We’ve got the last round of the Svenska Cupen next weekend, and it will be nice to have a home game. Our training match this weekend was streamed online, so that was pretty cool. We lost to Hammarby, once again a team in the top league here. Frustrating, but we showed some good glimpses against a tough team. But I want to start winning – I mean who doesn’t – but I am really ready. So next week should be a really good opportunity for us.
Keep checking in!
Peace, love and football.
Welcome to Reds Abroad!
Thanks for stopping by! My name is Jessie, and I'll be the main contributor to this blog for the next nine months. While my day job is working for LFC International Academy as our Director of Marketing, I also play professional soccer abroad. For the next nine months, I will be documenting my journey with my new team, IK Uppsala in Sweden, so join along to see just how it goes!
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