When I was a young girl, sports trends seemed to be a guiding post for my athletic interests.
For a time, my next-door neighbor was a gymnastics coach, and when she babysat on Saturday nights, I would beg her to spot me through back walkovers and handstands.
When the 1996 Olympics came around, I was riveted by the women’s all-around team — or the “Magnificent Seven” as the gold medalists came to be known.
Driven by their success, I endeavored to become a gymnast. But after about three years at the sport, I succumbed to the sad truth that I just was not that good. My wrists were weak, my form was sloppy and my discipline was lacking.
As my love of gymnastics faded, soccer was emerging as the “it” sport in the United States.
No doubt the USA’s 1999 Women’s World Cup team shoot-out victory over China was an influence, but stars like Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain were a major inspiration to me and my classmates.
I begged my mom to let me try soccer, and after driving three-times per week into a nearby city for competitive gymnastics team practice, she welcomed a sport that was cheaper, closer to home and required fewer sequined scrunchies and leotards.
I kept with soccer for five years. At first I played on county recreation teams and eventually moved to more elite, travel-based club teams.
At soccer, I still wasn’t the best — but my mom ensured that I attended practice with regularity, and she cheered me on from the sidelines most Saturday mornings.
As a forward, I was known for sheer aggression and fearlessness. I charged at the tallest of girls, the most intimidating goalies and never stopped chasing the ball. But that doesn’t mean that I was always effective at winning it or even scoring goals.
Eventually, my interest in soccer gave way to creative arts. As I entered high school, I shoved physical activity to the back burner and became involved with the drama club and learned darkroom photography.
Since I figured sports were designed to teach us perseverance, humility and teamwork, I assumed I still was getting all of those lessons through other channels. But what I didn’t know then was that sports weren’t supposed to be a childhood diversion — they were laying a foundation for my physical shape and fitness level for the rest of my life.
It took me years to learn this lesson and even longer to apply it. Fortunately, my interest in soccer returned while I was at the University of Florida.
Hesitantly, I joined a six-a-side indoor soccer league. The first team I joined was a misfit collection of students and university employees with varying degrees of experience. Many of us had not played in years; some had not ever played, and most had no experience with indoor leagues.
After that season, I played intermittently on teams of varying skill. It always made me nervous to play. I wanted the experience, but I constantly wondered whether my teammates were annoyed with my shortcomings.
Last fall, I picked my hobby back up with a Savannah Soccer co-ed team.
As I packed my shin guards and cleats for my first game, those same nerves and self-doubt returned.
“What if I miss the ball every time it comes my way and my teammates decide they can’t rely on me?”
I knew I was among the weakest players on the team, but I still enjoyed those Sunday-evening games. Even when I missed good passes or whiffed the ball on goal attempts, I knew I was doing something for my own betterment. And in the instances I made worthwhile plays, I was inundated with pride and excitement — feelings similar to when I was a young gymnast flipping through the air.
That feeling drew me back to the league this season. Since most of our team members returned, we’re in a better rhythm and are learning how to work together.
The self-doubt still rears its ugly head often, and it’s coupled with some goofy field slips and trips. But my most recent game was probably the best one I’ve played since my middle-school glory days.
I scored one goal for two points (in this league, as with many co-ed ones, women’s goals count for two points) and another goal that did not contribute to the score due to a technicality.
I also stopped the ball several times and missed few passes — accomplishments that may seem small but are huge considering the rough season I had last year.
We may not have won that game, but looking back on my role gives me pride.
I’m glad I overcame my fear and trepidation, because connecting with one of my childhood activities adds variety to my fitness regimen, offers a chance to socialize and gives me an excuse to be outdoors in this glorious weather.
As Wayne Gretzky famously said, “You only miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”