By Michael Shanks
When I was six years old, I played the first soccer game of my life. I and two of my school playmates had joined a great recreational team called the Fireballs. My dad had been coaching the team, and our first game had arrived. Having indicated I wanted to be a forward because, as I articulated, "they get to score goals", I stepped on the field and proceeded in leading my team to a 6-3 victory by scoring six goals.
I have no recollection of that day or game, but luckily my dad had recorded my feat in his journal. I do know however, that I was destined for soccer, and soccer was destined for me. I knew it was true, and so did all the parents on the sidelines. When I began playing soccer, I was one of the most skilled, if not the most skilled player on the field. Hence, I began garnering respect through skill.
I am a naturally athletic person; there is no doubt about that. However, there were and are kids much more gifted than myself in terms of pure physical ability. In the States, almost every child’s first exposure to soccer is through a league, so theoretically all players are equally skilled when beginning. However, certain kids are able to pick up skills and abilities much faster than others. My belief is that my creative abilities that seemed to appear out of thin air were due to a certain mentality and creative ability.
My gift and love for the game of soccer arose in a developing mentality of creative freestyle. Before I even understood the concept, I had found my first creative outlet. Likewise, I had discovered my first true art form. My creative ability could never be expressed without an accompanying mentality of fearlessness and confidence. The ability to maintain this mentality of fearlessness has defined the way that I play, enjoy, and live the sport of soccer.
My parents never strongly pushed for high competition in sports. My mother had me practicing piano for an hour a day by the time I was seven, considering it much more important than, say, sports. From a recommendation from my friend from school, I tried out for the local prestigious premier soccer club, Eastside F.C. both of us were cut, and heartbroken.
Essentially, I was somewhat of a chubby kid, which apparently was not on the list of traits the coaches were looking for. However, I pressed on (and I thank the Lord that I did), and later that week I tried out for my town’s select team. I made the team, and was quickly established as the best player among my peers and the coach. Taking me from the forward position, my coach decided I could benefit the team most by touching the ball the most, playing center midfielder.
After having a year of select soccer under my belt, I was in much better shape. I tried out for Eastiside F.C. again, and to my utmost joy, made the team. Playing on that team, with my undying work ethic, I was again soon considered the most skilled player, continuing my career as a center-midfielder. I was made team captain. In two years time, I was referred by my coach to one of the best teams in Washington State, Emerald City F.C.
Playing for this team, I started off somewhat timid, which impaired my creative abilities by hindering my fearless nature. However, I continued to work hard, quickly rose to becoming a starter. By this time I had matured physically, and was tall and fast, so my coach placed me in defense. By my second year I was team captain. However, playing in the defense did not allow me the creative expression that I had grown up addicted to.
I literally began to dread going to practice. At the time, I didn’t make the metal connection of playing with less confidence to becoming a defender. I assumed that my streak of “rising to the top” had caught up with me. What I didn’t realize was that a simple change in mentality toward fearless confidence in my skill was all I needed.
Luckily, my High School coach kept me playing at center midfielder, which allowed me never to lose sight of my creative spark in the game. By my senior year, I was the third-leading scorer in the league, selected First team all-conference, and second team all-state.
Entering college, I joined the club soccer team, starting off as a defender. Winter Quarter 2006 I began practicing with the varsity team. Again, my creativity and joy gained through playing were greatly hindered because I did not play with confidence in my skills, which effectively made me worse against better opponents. This mindset had become fairly entrenched into the way I played soccer. Because I had encountered such a scenario before, I was able to realize exactly what needed to be done and focused on improving my confidence while playing with the varsity squad.
I first joined the club soccer team as a defender, but my coach has moved me up to forward at my request. I have realized that the joy I get from playing the game is directly proportional to the amount of creativity I am able to express. Winning means a lot to me, but taking a step back, the beautiful game is just a game. Having played all the positions, been trained as a referee, I consider myself a connoisseur of fine soccer. It is my art.
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