"...it's a choice you make." This is the end of a conversation I had with a young soccer player recently. She told me she wanted to play professional soccer when she was older. And I told her what it takes.
Well, I told her one thing that I thought it took. And one decision I made without knowing I made it. And I guess it was something soccer taught me without knowing it for a long time... but now I see what I have learned.
I was young. So young I wasn't in control of what I wore or where I went or anything. But I had the choice to play a sport. I chose soccer. And from the minute I made that choice, I made another choice. Soccer was my life.
Now, honestly, people say that shit all the time. "Soccer is my life." It's your life because you have practice three times a week and games on the weekends and can't go on all the vacations you want because you have tournaments in the summer.
That's not your life.
When I say soccer is my life, I mean, I wake up and find the latest youtube soccer video. Every piece of food I take in is dependent on when my workouts, trainings or games are. I schedule my life around games in the afternoon for Champions League and then wake up early on the weekends to watch EPL. I kick anything that rolls. And even things that don't roll. I like Sting a little more than other artists because he likes soccer and sometimes kicks balls out at his concerts. I'd rather wear a jersey than anything in the world. Eh, I don't know. I'm consumed. And soccer really is my life. And it has always been like this.
I was different when I was younger. I have a picture at a party in 8th grade and I had my full uniform on, shinguards and everything. Darkness was the only thing that got me to go inside from kicking the ball around. My Christmas list was straight out of Eurosport. I wanted my birthday party to be an indoor soccer game. I watched black and white videos of World Cups for hours and hours. By the time I was 10 years old, I not only knew how to do the Zico and a Cruyff, but I could pick them out of a crowd if I had to.
I was immersed in the game. In the same way that H.G. Bissinger had to be immersed in Odessa, Texas to write Friday Night Lights. I was taken out of whatever normal life I was in and put into a new one. That's the only way you can truly understand something to the fullest. You have to become a part of it.
In order to do this, you have to miss out on some other parts of your life. It takes a big sacrifice to immerse yourself into something. But it also gives big rewards.
Here's what I've learned. I'm a soccer nerd. I've always been a soccer nerd. In a way that rolling a golf ball through my cats legs makes me giggle. But it's gotten me some where. And I'm not talking about playing professionally and having experiences with the USWNT. I know what it's like to be different. To not follow the crowd. My whole life I wasn't doing what everyone else was doing, and because I was so caught up in soccer, I didn't even notice it.
I guess what I'm trying to say is this. That choice you make to play soccer or to do something you think is fun is a small decision in the grand scheme of life. How far you take the commitment to that decision will determine what comes from it.
I made my commitment to soccer when I was 5 years old and I never looked back. I never doubted how I felt about it. I was in. And I was in deep. And 23 years later, I'm still there.
Bissinger moved his wife and kids to Odessa to live the life of a football-crazed town in Texas to write a book about it. That was the only way he would ever fully grasp what that lifestyle was like.
How far will you go to get to where you want to be?