Cleats for Confidence

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How sports give sense of self-worth that no amount of make-up can

My cleats, shin guards, and jersey are the same as the rest of my team. The one major difference- a sports bra. My soccer team is all boys; the entire league is for that matter. Returning from summer vacation, I don’t feel relaxed. I’m a ball of nerves because it’s soccer season. It’s the start of seventh grade and I can’t wait to return to my team. We won regional championships the years before. My mom delivers terrible news, cushioned by the “good” news. She forgot to register me on time for my league; I couldn’t play with my team, but there is a spot on the all-boys league.

Playing sports as a child changed my life and helps me today to be a productive part of a team, remain confident, push myself, and take a win or loss gracefully. The valuable lessons learned from my year on an all-boys soccer team are outlined below. However, speaking with my friends these lessons also incorporate other sports- rowing, tennis, track, etc.

Stepping outside comfort zones physically

I was ready to quit and find another sport. My mother pushed me and said it would be a rewarding challenge. As a 12-year-old girl, this type of positive encouragement was lost on me. I was dragged to my first practice. After a scrimmage I realized boys’ soccer, although played differently, was still soccer. I was very far out of my comfort zone and while no one was mean to my face, I knew boys looked at me differently and probably resented having me on their team. Rather than give up when faced with this challenge, I played harder and ran faster. I stopped listening to what the other teams said, and the negative thoughts in my head. At the end of the season, I had a new confidence about me. I had played with boys, found my way as an individual into the team, and made some great plays. To this day, I count it as one of the bravest things I’ve ever done.

Working well with others

Working with a team and coaches taught me to meet goals and how to bounce back from a loss. In life (school and work) you will have to work with teams to complete a task. There will be interpersonal challenges, but playing on a team taught me how to work with people to accomplish a goal and to be part of a team, not just an individual. It allowed me to work well with others to solve a problem, or win a game.

A lesson in winning and losing

When one player was having a rough day, we would all pitch in to check on her, make sure she was okay. If she missed the final shot, no one would give her a hard time- just the opposite, we were there for her, telling her what a great shot it was and how next time she would make it and we were proud. If we won a game, we were taught to be humble- shake the losing teams’ hands with dignity. After a brief celebration for hard work, it’s back to the drawing board and how we can do better next time. I am now practiced in promoting others’ strengths, not calling out weaknesses.

Loyalty to a team

Loyalty to my team is engrained in me. I take that with me to work, tennis games, and group projects. If one person missed a goal and we lost the game, they were never to blame. In fact, no one was to blame, the team as a whole was just to practice harder and go over any mistakes made. Steadfast determination and a will to be better kept us all going and aiming for something better. Knowing that my team needed me always motivated me and on the days I was dog tired and didn’t want to move, I still made it there. That sense of responsibility has stayed with me. Being part of team takes you outside of yourself and makes you see the bigger picture.

Relieve Stress through Sports

If I had a bad day at school- got a poor grade on a test, a friend was mean, a boy ignored me- I knew I had soccer. The second I got on the field, my stress dissipated. Like all forms of exercise, endorphins were released and I was one happy girl. Coming home with cleats clogged with dirt, grass stains on my jersey, possibly blood, I felt accomplished. During practice and games, I was in the zone, completely focused and in the present moment. All my worries were gone, which was a big deal for a teenager with some serious angst.

Idolize Strong, Athletic Women

“True champions aren’t always the ones that win, but those with the most guts.” – Mia Hamm

I have watched World Cups, Olympics and national soccer games for years now. Mia Hamm was my idol growing up; she was a local North Carolina star before going to the big time. Her determination, seamless team work and grit made me want to be like her. She darted up and down the field like a graceful warrior. We need role models like this who aren’t afraid to play rough and stay humble. Playing for the Women’s National Soccer Team for 17 years, she brought in not only World Cup titles, but also Olympic Gold. She built one of the biggest fan bases of any American athlete. There are women from all sports to admire. They are brave, take risks and defy gender boundaries.

As you can see, sports can give a sense of self-worth that no amount of makeup can. What might seem like a recreational activity, in all actuality, is much more. Sports provide an invaluable life class of sorts that aids in personal development, values, leadership and self-esteem of an individual.

-Annie C.



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