EXCLUSIVE: Why Soccer Matters
Written by fifteen year old Kali Villarosa, who writes about why she’s inspired by the players and excited at the attention paid to her favorite sport.
It mattered but it didn’t. I wish the United States had beaten Japan in the Women’s World Cup finals. But the bigger win was that millions of people tuned into one of the most-watched women’s athletic events in history and brought attention to a sport so important to girls like me.
The World Cup tournament was held in Germany this year, and the United States played Japan in the final in front of a sold-out crowd of thousands of fans. ESPN televised the matches and tens of millions more watched the very exciting final, including soldiers in Afghanistan and even President Obama with his family in the White House. In New York, fans flocked to Times Square to cheer for the US. team on giant video screens. And, when Abby Wambach scored her header in overtime, my family and I could hear cheers up and down 5th Avenue near my house in Brooklyn. It’s amazing to see how far Women’s soccer has come. Just a few years ago, nobody even acknowledged the women in the sport, and they were often forced to play on small unimportant fields. Now fans from all over the world look up to these women as role models, and that is truly what they are.
I started playing soccer a few years after Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Brandi Chastain, Briana Scurry and the other members of the 1999 soccer Dream Team won their famous World Cup victory. (I watched with my mom but don’t remember much from the game since I was only 3.) My first season was a nightmare. The little field that the five-year-olds played on seemed humongous to me. I was completely overwhelmed by girls charging at me, so as the ball rolled by, I stood in the middle of the field and cried. Saturdays meant being dragged to the games and crying. Each weekend was filled with constant pleading to not have to play, but somehow I always ended up on that same field. Finally my mom let me stop playing, and I ended up missing out on the trophy that all the kids got at the end of the season in AYSO, our “everybody plays, everybody wins” community league. I still regret that.
A few years later, I realized that everyone I knew was playing in AYSO, so I decided to give it another try. But this time I had a goal; I wanted to get good. I worked very hard that season and slowly, it paid off. I got stronger and faster and more skilled in my favorite position, right midfield, and I was soon one of the top scoring girls on the team. That’s when I began to love the game, and season after season I returned to play.
Eventually I was asked to join a more competitive team called the Patriots, one of the best teams in Brooklyn. We travel outside of the city every week to play different teams, enter tournaments and play indoors against boys during the winter. The whole team is not just a team, but a family. We have practice two times a week, and it takes a lot of commitment. I love every moment of it, and the competitive spirit and the need to work together has helped improve my skills and understanding of the game.
Playing on my team has changed my life. I have always been a relatively shy person but soccer takes emotions, tactics and most of all, confidence. I have learned lots of new things and am always looking to improve. I like taking help from others and don’t mind criticism. And as my skills have grown, I have become more sure of myself. There is no way you can play soccer without getting in other peoples faces, so I’m not afraid on the field like I used to be when I was a little girl. In fact, I am quite competitive.
I have been inspired to take my own game to the next level by watching the Women’s World Cup. After each game, I want to get out there and score a goal like Marta from Brazil or Abby Wambach or Homare Sawa from Japan. I know I’m not gong to be professional soccer player when I grow up, but soccer will help me with whatever I end up doing, and I hope to play my whole life. And, I am already planning my 19th birthday: A trip to the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada.
This post was originally published by the Women’s Media Center.
Photo from Bradley Dean via flickr