Coming Out of Retirement
Lately, I’ve been trying to be more intentional about doing things that make me happy. Less sitting around waiting for things to present themselves to me and more going out and hunting down fun opportunities myself. This manifested itself into me signing up for an adult soccer league.
I haven’t played soccer in years; dare I say decades? The last time I was part of any sort of organized game was my senior year of high school. And here I was, 17 years later, squinting down at various pairs of soccer cleats at a sporting goods store, confusedly pondering the price. (Were cleats always this expensive? $200 seems like an excessive amount for cleats!)
I signed up for the league with a friend of mine whose glory days were also a relic of the past. She had played in several adult leagues since then, and therefore was much more versed in the adult soccer world. “it’ll be fun!” she promised. I wasn’t so sure.
But something I was sure of was how much soccer meant to me when I was younger. I played throughout my elementary and high school years, eventually playing year-round on a club soccer team. We traveled all over the state and the country, bonding over grueling weekend tournaments and late-night team sleepovers. I was usually only one or two black girls on the team at any given season, and even so, I felt as though I belonged. I was judged by my play, my effort, and my skill. Any while I may have been struggling in the classroom, battling my way to a passing grade in a math class, when I was out on the field, I always felt worthy. Like I mattered. Like I was finally good at something.
Playing soccer helped me feel established as a person, a girl, an athlete, a black female in a non-black space, and so much more.
So, when giving thought to what would be something productive and challenging that I could include in my self-care, I landed on “the beautiful game.” But when it was time to stop thinking and start playing, I was terrified, nonetheless.
I was so nervous for my first game back, I could barely sleep the night before. "You're all so brave," the team captain said poignantly the next morning in a pregame team huddle. Oh God, I thought. This is not going to go well.
When the whistle was blown and the clock started, I ran to challenge an early pass from the other team and promptly fell on my butt. I snort-laughed, embarrassed, and got back up. For the entire first half, I ran around like a confused toddler, and contributed mostly bad passes and touches that drifted out of bounds.
By the second half, I got moved to defense and after a few minutes of chasing the other team down, my legs felt like cooked spaghetti. While waiting for an impending corner kick, I put my hands on my knees and tried to catch my breath. “We got a heavy breather back here!” my team captain yelled out to the sidelines, to signal for a sub. I got waved off the field and I collapsed on my back; arms and legs splayed out like a starfish. I was beyond exhausted. And I was beyond exhilarated.
I had played badly. But I had played. I was outside of my comfort zone, taking a risk, and doing something that I loved just because I wanted to. As a busy mom of two, that’s not a common occurrence.
I was sore for about two weeks after that first game. I finished the season about a month ago and my knee is still complaining when I ascend the stairs at a certain angle. But I wouldn’t change a thing. And I’m already looking forward to next season. Coming out of retirement was an amazing feeling.
Is there something you can come out of retirement for and enjoy? Swimming, drawing, singing; it can be anything. This might be a good theme for walking into 2022. It’s time to remember what makes us feel good about ourselves and go do that.