My Soccer Cleat Story

I really enjoy shoes. They are super fun. I have a lot of them spewing out of my closet. A lot can be learned about a person just by their shoes. In my ceramics class at the high school where I teach, I had my students bring in a shoe they wore during a memorable experience and share the story along with it. Stories upon stories have been shared and we’ve been sculpting these shoes out of clay. Shoes have the privilege and honor of walking with us through life. The steps we choose to take in our shoes can make a huge difference in where we end up. Sometimes God calls us to do some radical things in our shoes. Meaningful or insignificant, serious or funny, shoes have stories to tell. We all have stories to tell. This is one of mine:

My Soccer Cleat Story

Soccer is the first sport I ever played as a youngster. In 3rd grade, a friend of mine at school invited me to tryout for the Wheaton Wings Soccer Club Team. I really wasn’t any good in park district soccer, but I thought it would be fun, my friends were doing it, and my parents said I could! Miraculously, I made the team.

Traveling soccer was the gateway sport for me as an athlete. I grew to truly love the game. I respected my coach a lot. He taught us how to really play. He trained us hard. We never had a day off. Even in the pouring rain, we’d be practicing slide tackles in the mud on a slip and slide. We would run suicides for days. He turned us into tough competitors and he was not afraid to get in our face or put us in our place. For as much as I hated him at times, little did I know that he would eventually go on to play an extremely significant role in my life as an athlete, and even in my professional career as a teacher and a coach.

Up until 5th grade, I had played a variety of positions on the field, but playing left midfield was my jam because I was a southpaw and I could run. Halfway through the season in the days of U-11, my coach asked me if I wanted to start playing goalkeeper. I was flattered at first because he said that a keeper had to be athletic and have good hands, and he thought I had what it took. I had a pretty decent punt too. He said that I’d be splitting the game with another girl, so I’d still get to play in the field for half as well. I accepted the challenge. As time went on, I spent more and more time in goal, and less time playing midfield. I began to despise my position as goalie because my foot skills and field play were starting to digress. I was a step behind and a touch too late when I did get to play in the field, and it started to show. When it came time for tryouts again in the spring, my confidence as a field player was not high. I will never forget the night my dad got the call home from my coach. I could tell by the tone of his responses that it was not good news. I was bawling even before he hung up the phone. I knew the outcome. Basically the coach had told my dad that if I wanted to commit to playing goalie full time for their team, then I could stay up, otherwise, if I wanted an opportunity to play in the field, then they didn’t have room for me on the team. I didn’t want to keep playing goalie, but I also didn’t want to get moved down to the B-team. I was crushed. So much of my identity was wrapped up in being a soccer player by then, and now I was being told that I wasn’t good enough to be on the elite team. I was heartbroken. I was pissed. I felt left out. It was at that point I had made up my mind. I would never, ever let myself get cut from another team, ever again. That painful feeling deep within me and that bitter taste I had in my mouth, was something I never wanted to experience again, and it ignited the true competitor in me to prove my coach wrong.

With time, I was able to come to terms with my new role on a new team. I was going to get to play midfield again. I was going to be one of the stronger players on the team. I was going to get to play the whole game. I was going to learn how to lead. Also, now that the level of play was going to be significantly lower, I’d have the chance to gain some of my confidence back and take some more risks. And anytime I caught wind of my old coach coming to our game or practice, it was lights out, game on. I always wanted to play as if he was watching.

When I joined the B-team, they were in the D-Division. It was not pretty soccer, and my new coach kept calling me, “Co-lleen O’Brien! A nice Irish Catholic name!” haha k.. not quite. Each season, though, we would pick up a few more solid players who helped make our team stronger, and by the end of my 8th grade U-14 season, we had moved all the way up to the Premiere Division. To top it off, that spring we got to scrimmage my old team, the A-team, and we beat them. It was kind of really awesome.. for me at least.

During my freshman season of playing at the high school in 2000, I was finally reunited with a lot of my old teammates from the U-11 Wheaton Wings days. It was fun to get to play together again. The tough thing at this stage was that I played 3 sports. I had to make a decision of where I wanted to narrow my focus, and in which sport I saw myself going the farthest. I chose tennis and basketball. For some reason, I just didn’t see myself playing college soccer. Little did I know, I’d be eating my words later.