Do I Really Have to Play Soccer?

by Andrew Hong, age 12
Do I Really Have to Play Soccer? Andrew is a 7th grader with a thirst for fantasy books and stories. He relocated from California but lives in northern New Jersey currently. His addiction to reading has made him quite the nerd.

“It was three weeks ago and my team was on the field, in the middle of our first soccer game. Except for me. And my attention.
I was thinking, honestly, I wish I could be sleeping instead of sitting here in this stuffy uniform with all of these shin guards and stuff—
Wham! Someone from the other team ran straight into me, sending my skinny body soaring through the air and landing on the grassy earth with a thud.”

“Do I really have to play soccer?” I asked Dad. 

Dad started, “No—”

I couldn’t hear the rest of his words because of Mom’s shouting.

“Yes, absolutely,” Mom cut in. “It’s necessary for your health. You haven’t done anything athletic in years! You’re even having trouble picking up your laptop! If you don’t play soccer, what else are you going to do?”

I thought, sleeping, or reading, or doing anything else rather than play a sport! I still vividly remember baseball, and then said, “I’ll figure it out later. Anything is better than soccer! Remember my first game?”

Thoughts of the game flooded my mind…

It was three weeks ago and my team was on the field, in the middle of our first soccer game. Except for me. And my attention.

I was thinking, honestly, I wish I could be sleeping instead of sitting here in this stuffy uniform with all of these shin guards and stuff—

Wham! Someone from the other team ran straight into me, sending my skinny body soaring through the air and landing on the grassy earth with a thud. Looking back in retrospect, I think I might have flown eight or nine feet through the air.

Well, now I know why I need the shin guards, I realized. I can’t believe I’m playing soccer. Maybe if I fail, my parents will think I’m too bad at soccer to keep playing.

I heard the piercing shrill of a whistle being blown.

“Are you okay, son?” the referee asked.

I looked at the ref and slowly realized that he actually wanted me to answer.

“Yup, I’m all right,” I quickly muttered.

I gathered my dignity and stood up, painstakingly slowly. The ref looked around, then blew the whistle right in my ear, giving me more injury than the guy who plowed through me, and the game resumed. The splitting headache and hearing loss didn’t help things either.

Within a minute, I had the same guy who had floored me earlier bearing down on me with the ball at his feet.

He was coming closer. Time seemed to stop. I was so close I could see his bloodshot eyes, counting the viens. What did George Washington or whoever say? Something about the whites of his eyes. Unfortunately, there were no whites in his eyes to look at.

I had to make a decision. I could feel the flabby muscles in my body tense up and…

No way in heck was I standing in the way of that guy! I dove out of the way and the guy went on to score easily on the goal.

I heard a voice say, “Everyone makes mistakes. I’m sure you’ll improve.”

I was snapped out of the past, back into the middle of the conversation.

Dad commented, “I don’t know. He seemed pretty bad—” Mom cut him off with a glare sharper than daggers.

Dad revised his life goals and stammered, “Oh, you can definitely improve.”

I glumly said, “I don’t think there can be much improvement in that area.”

Mom suggested, “Failure is necessary for improvement. You’ve just got to grit it out.” Inwardly, I rolled my eyes. How many times has my mom said this? A hundred? Two hundred? No, at least a thousand times. Grit, failure is good, success, yada yada yada…boring!

I asked, “Uh huh, sure I can. Just like football and basketball and baseball and lacrosse and—”

Mom sternly informed me, “You only had to quit because you got injured. You were on the cup of improvement. I know it!”

Dad said, “On the bright side, you get along well with the other players on the team.”

The memories of the practice after the game seeped into my consciousness…

I stepped out onto the field, where my team was awaiting the instructor for criticism. The team was sitting around in a circle, just sitting and chatting. I inwardly cringed, ready for the upcoming constant bombardment of complaints and angry comments. What I was met with surprised me.

I stepped out onto the field. The entire team simultaneously stood up. This in itself was weird, but wait! It gets weirder! Instead of being bombarded with negative comments, all of my teammates actually crowded around me, giving me encouragement like “You’ll get ‘em next time!” or “Nice try!”

I was so confused. Instead of acting like, I don’t know, rational people, they were being super nice for no reason! I was just standing there confused until the coach blew his whistle in everyone’s ear and I faded back into reality…

I say, “Not really. They were just being nice because I had failed. They won’t be so nice next time.”

Mom says, “I believe that with just a little more time, you can improve!”

Dad glances at Mom with a skeptical expression and I roll my eyes.

I say, “Sure, Mom. I can definitely improve, especially after the Incident.” I exaggerate the last few words and Mom sighs.

The Incident’s memories revived themselves in my mind…

It was the next soccer game and everyone had encouraged me to do better next time. The game was in full play and I really wasn’t paying much attention. To me, everyone was just running around, chasing a ball on the other side of the field—

“Hey! They’re about to score! What are you doing!” the coach screamed at the team.

I blinked and realized the other team was bearing down on me, reminiscent of the last game. They had somehow gotten halfway across the field!

As I scrambled into position, a teammate to my right yelled, “Here’s your change Dillan! We believe in you!”

I thought, just don’t screw it up. Anything but that.

I sprinted towards the ball, hoping I wouldn’t trip over it.

There was someone dribbling the ball towards the goal and apparently I was doing a good job because he stopped and started to move in a weird, squiggly way after seeing me. Having learned from soccer practice, I moved along with him in the exact same way. I was putting up a great fight and then I saw an opening.

I saw the ball.

I kicked the ball.

And guess where it went? Into my own goal. Whoops.

A stern voice pulled me back into reality.

Mom conceded, “Alright, I admit that was bad, but failure is a way to improve from mistakes. Failure leads to improvement, which leads to success!”

I looked over Mom’s shoulder to see Dad, sitting there, with a spaced look in his eyes. I said, “I really don’t think I can improve. I mean, I scored in my own goal! Right, Dad?” I stress to Dad.

Dad snapped his head up and said, “Yeah! Yeah! Whatever he said!”

Mom sighed and glared at Dad, but then, grudgingly, said the words that I had been straining to hear for weeks, “You don’t have to play soccer anymore.”

Inwardly, I cheered. Finally! I won an argument with my mom! She just says, “Because I told you so,” I thought. I wonder what else I can quit next? Maybe gym class? Extra math? Or… how about piano lessons!

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