My triumphant return to soccer

For four years, I’ve been lamenting that I can no longer play soccer (since some horrible girl blew my ACL). Snowboarding, cross country skiing, and long distance running were also eliminated from my activity schedule. And while I’ve clearly trained hard to stay active in many other ways, soccer nags at the back of my brain. Last spring, I wrote a post where I was considering rolling the dice and playing on a team again, only to have my knee completely act up after bending down the wrong way in my classroom. Not only was soccer officially off the table, but I was having trouble walking and returned to my surgeon with an attitude of “I probably need surgery and this time I’m going to rehab ever better!” The surgeon shook his head and said, “Less squats and less running.” (Such is the reason I haven’t been able to take on the prison 5k).

Soooooo, ok, be less active…and be less healthy. Or be more active…and be less healthy. WTF?!

But you know me: I’m a bit compulsive. Tell me not to do something, and surely I’ll find an angle. In August, when I started at my new school, I immediately noticed a group of teen boys who played soccer on the field with the most busted, flat soccer ball I have ever seen. The PE teachers shrugged their shoulders when I asked for a better ball, and everyday I wondered why the school couldn’t pony up $15 for a measly piece of equipment.

Instead, I went out, bought a new ball, and threw on my workout clothes at lunch. At first the boys were confused, but as soon as they saw me dribble the ball around a couple of them, they were even more enthusiastic to play. Whereas I could never get them to bring in the shitty ball they used to play with, now when the bell rang they literally hand-delivered my ball back to me. From that point on, I’ve played with them essentially every single day.

We started with a group of maybe 15 boys, and are now pushing 30; I’m considering breaking us into two groups. Everyday they ask me, “Did you bring your soccer clothes??” and on the rare occasion that I forget, they look legitimately sad (as do I). Since I’m more of an administrator than a classroom teacher – they don’t quite know what I do around the school, but when I come into their classroom to observe a lesson, they call me “Coach Deacon” or “Mrs. Soccer.” It seems I always find a nickname no matter where I go…

When I first decided to play, I thought it might be a once a week kind of thing – but once I realized how fun and skilled the boys are, I just kept playing. Instead of worrying about winning or losing (or fighting traffic to get to a game on the other side of town), we just play some really scrappy street ball. I’m pretty sure they are all swearing in Spanish, too, but that’s part of the fun.

For years I would have thought dressing down and playing soccer at lunch time would have been impossible – but frankly it takes me less than a couple minutes to change, and I usually beat the boys to the playground when the bell rings. Sometimes I take the couple minutes after lunch to change back into my dress and heels, and sometimes I’m too busy and finish the day in my Nikes. On the day before Halloween, I played in my full body skeleton suit (so aerodynamic!).

When do I eat lunch? The funny thing is that I’m usually not hungry because I’m busy playing – I grab a snack here and there, and that’s all I need. That afternoon exhaustion that normally comes with teaching is also totally gone because I went out and got some exercise. For a job that’s been riddled with stress, lunchtime soccer has been the ultimate solution.

I hear so many teachers (or even administrators) right now thinking there is no way they would ever have time for this, but I challenge that notion. I, too, would have once said that – but even the last couple years I made it a point to join PE with my students and it was always fun. You just can’t say that grappling with the copy machine is more beneficial than exercising with your students…if something is truly important, you make time.

And really, adolescent boys are wayyyyy more likely to respect to you in the hallways if they’ve seen you knock a header into the goal.

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