A Volleyball Made Me the Most Improved Soccer Player
On the first day of soccer practice, the entire team regretted my presence — but no one regretted it more than me.
I never played soccer in my life before that day. I didn’t know how to dribble, pass, or kick the ball. Our coach pulled me aside, explained technique, and gave me drills. I continually missed the goal or shot with bad form, and after the first part of practice, the other players basically ignored me.
By the end of practice, I wished I hadn’t gone.
I spent the entire week before our first game hoping that I might get sick or something, but the morning of the game, I was healthy and terrified.
Standing against the cinderblock wall of the gym, watching the game, I mentally begged the coach not to put me in. My palms were sweaty, my stomach churned, and my heart raced. Every minute that ticked off the clock was a relief.
But the coach was a good coach, and he cared about letting all of his players play. So with a few minutes left on the clock, he put me in on defense. The other team scored a few goals past me.
It was a silent ride home.
The next day, my wise mother took matters into her own hands. She brought a volleyball into the house and handed it to me.
“You just need more practice. Use this.”
Confused, I waited for her to explain. Surely, she didn’t want me to be throwing a volleyball all over her house.
“Everywhere you go in the house, I want you to kick this like it’s a soccer ball. You just need to get more used to handling the ball.”
There would be no argument, so I put the ball on the ground and clumsily tried to dribble it into the kitchen. For the first few days, it was a frustrating task. I dribbled it everywhere I went in the house — to the bathroom, to the couch, even up and down the stairs. I spent most of my time fetching the ball from where I’d accidentally knocked it.
But, by the end of the first week, I was much more used to handling the ball. Not good, but used to it.
At the game that week, my coach put me in for a few minutes at the end. Though my improvement may have been imperceptible to everyone else, I wasn’t as afraid as I had been for the first game. Over the next weeks, I dribbled that ball all over the house. After my mom gained confidence in my increasing skills, she let my older brother and me play each other in the library of our house.
As the weeks continued, an obvious change began to occur: I started to improve.
My coach began to put me in earlier in the game, and let me play for longer periods of time. I stopped letting so many balls get past me into the goal, and players from opposing teams who had seen me play before were surprised when they couldn’t just slip around me like they used to.
But, perhaps the best part is that I started to love soccer.
I was no longer terrified of playing. Instead of hoping for the stomach flu or a twisted ankle, I looked forward to the games. I made friends with my teammates, talked to the coach, and no longer walked out of the gym in shame.
At the end of the season, for our awards ceremony, the coach ran through his list of awards. When he came to “Most Improved Player,” he looked at me.
“I haven’t seen very many people improve as much as you did in such a short amount of time.”
I turned red in embarrassment and accepted my award. Little did he know it was all because of a volleyball and a mother who was willing to risk a few broken items.
I got a few important lessons from playing soccer:
- don’t give up
- don’t let your embarrassment get the best of you
- don’t waste time worrying about something that you have influence over
But one lesson stuck out more than all the rest. It changed my mentality about growth and skills, and it has made me who I am.
If you practice consistently, you will improve.
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