Listen to the digital audio version of “Leader on the Field.”
The ball flew sideways from that first misplaced kick, going into the bushes instead of to the other child in miniature soccer cleats and oversized shin guards. That first day I played soccer until it was time to head home before telling everyone I knew about how it exhilarated me. A passion exploded from the first kick. I have been playing soccer ever since, and it has shaped me into a perseverant person.
It’s not all happy memories though. As I grew I got better and joined the highest level team in my age group at the St. Paul Blackhawks Soccer Club. An awkward 12-year-old, I had found a team where I belonged and was wanted. The team exceeded my expectations; they helped me learn the game and play harder, but the coach was the opposite. As the season passed his opinion of me lessened, and he constantly criticized the way I played. He kept badgering me to play better, try harder even though I put in more effort than a majority of the team.
That summer, after tryouts for the next year’s teams, the coach removed me – only me – off the team. I was betrayed, alone. The team I once felt at home with now ignored me and treated me like I was beneath them. In a minute, everything changed.
On that team, I played an outside wing position. A place full of constant movement between the defense and offense. After I was kicked off the team, my confidence and the quality of my performance playing that position diminished. The quality of my skills went down, and I was too distracted by the thought, “You aren’t doing well enough.” For the next three years, those thoughts plagued me. I never felt good enough and never fit in with that team again. But I kept working, no matter how badly I wanted to quit soccer, my parents and other coaches pushed me to keep playing.
In the four years since I was 12, I transitioned to a central defender position. I play right above the goalkeeper and am the last line of defense. The whole field is in my sight. I know what is going on at any moment and how to instruct my team. I am in control. I now have a new coach who supports and believes in me. He made me captain of my team, and I have regained my confidence to not only be a good player, but a great one. I have grown into a strong leader, talking on and off the field with my team, keeping their spirits and energy high. I have the confidence to do this, and I know exactly how to play my part on the field.
Soccer has been a constant throughout my life. It has connected me to my family and the rest of the world through its global popularity. It taught me how to work with others, lead and stay positive in light of negative outcomes. Even when I was left out of my team and felt alone and angry at myself, I continued to push through and kept playing. I worked incredibly hard to become a better player, leader and stronger person than I ever thought I could be back then. If I hadn’t been rejected when I was 12, I know I wouldn’t be the person I am now.
Rejection has taught me it is alright to make mistakes, fail but bounce back up ten times stronger. I have the confidence to stand up against verbal confrontation as I know it is only one person’s option of me. The whole world doesn’t think that I am not good enough, just one person. Through all of this soccer has been something I can depend on, training me to be ready for future leadership as well as opposition.