Nearly a Year of Football
You know I love football (the kind I grew up calling soccer, not the kind where only like two people on the field touch the ball with their feet). I’m a Reign supporter (and have written in the past about how media fails to support women in football), a US Women’s National Team Supporter, and have just returned from the first of four trips I’ll be taking to France over the course of a month to watch six Women’s World Cup matches. And, as I shared in September, I’ve found a club to play with here in London. This post is a reflection on the last ten months.
Over the season (if my count is correct) I’ve played in about 20 matches. For a few weeks I was lucky enough to play on Saturdays and Sundays, which meant there were some weekends that were all football, all the time. Other than travel or being sick/injured, I’m at training every week, which this winter meant training in rain and snow. (I prefer snow, though it feels more dangerous). I also read a book on goal keeping, because it quickly became clear that even though I’ve been playing in goal since I was a kid, I didn’t have much of a strategy other than ‘stop the ball.’
The book helped me visualize a couple of things, and offered some good off-season strength exercises, but that’s not where the learning has happened. Those weeks of training drills and those 20 matches? That’s where I’ve been figuring things out and improving. I’ve grown in confidence and I feel more comfortable with my decision-making. I’ve got so much more to learn (including how to do a fucking goal kick that doesn’t end up at the chest of the opposition), but that’s what makes this so fun: there’s always more to learn.
Obviously I’ve been putting the work in, but I can also credit support I’ve gotten from our back line, the other keepers on the team, and the coach. One keeper is the team captain, and while she is good in goal, I think she’d prefer to be out on the pitch, somewhere mid-field. She knows about body positioning, and going to ground, and letting the defense know where she is. She warmed me up before matches, and shouted back to me after a goal or before a goal kick, telling me to just relax and keep going. I can’t begin to explain how helpful that has been.
The other new keeper on the team has been an awesome support as well, texting good wished before matches and sharing in frustration when a training has gone by where we haven’t had much time in goal. And the coach has helped me figure out how to fit in with the style of play the club promotes, was extremely patient when it was taking me forever to feel comfortable with going to ground when one-on-one against a striker, and is helping me figure out those damned goal kicks.
Last month the team held its end of year awards banquet. It was delightful to be in a room with so many amazing, talented, fun women. I don’t know all of them well, and in some ways I do still feel like the new girl … but on the other hand there were like 20 new girls this year, so I always felt like I had a place somewhere. I also was voted Most Improved, which, in my opinion, is one of the kindest bits of recognition out there. I worked hard this last year, and was surrounded by supportive teammates who had patience, who didn’t let any frustration they felt towards my performance impact our interactions, and who understood that I was always out there trying my best and working at getting better.
I’m excited for next year. I’m excited to get even more comfortable with my decision-making and my voice. I’m excited to get fitter (cross-training with football definitely helped my half-marathon time; in the off-season I’m going to spend more time on weights to increase my strength). I’m excited to welcome new members to the team and see what we can all do together. It’s fantastic to play with — and against — talented, tough, interesting women playing the sport they love.