I got cocky. After playing in our sweet pick-up outdoor soccer game for two seasons I decided I could move up to an indoor soccer team. Winter had finally arrived (or what has passed for winter this year) and I liked the idea of a new challenge. Friends on two separate teams mentioned that they needed a new player, and once again I replied, “Why not?”
Turns out, the stretch from the family soccer field to the indoor rink is a quite large, and no matter how pretty my new soccer shoes were, they couldn’t quite make the leap.
There is one venue for indoor soccer in our area, at the Three County Fairgrounds equestrian center. In the late fall they remove every sign of the horses and construct two playing fields and a practice area. The surface is an insufficient layer of Astroturf over concrete. For years, I’ve been watching my kids play on these fields. (Actually, Ted did a few soccer clinics here before we gave up on the concept of him and team sports altogether.) Chuck has played indoor soccer consistently for years and I’ve always been a fan. The games are fun to watch because they’re fast, and the kids are quite deft at playing the ball off the wall and taking advantage of the speed on the low-friction turf. Plus, the social scene is worth the visit. On any given winter Saturday, half of the Pioneer Valley parents make their way through the building.
My first trial game was with a co-ed team on a Friday night in December. At 10:00. As I asked on Facebook that night at 8:30: “Was I high when I agreed to play soccer at 10:00 p.m.?” I pepped up enough to get there, though I may have been just as effective in my sleep. At game time, I learned that “co-ed” means two women and four men per team. Those nice, intellectual/nerdy post-40 men who seem so gentle get really aggressive on the soccer field. I stayed on defense, but feared for my life.
Two nights later, I tried a team in the all-women Sunday night league. I felt more comfortable, it was more relaxed and the lack of a referee made it feel more convivial. I had one friend on the team (my son’s former soccer coach), so I didn’t feel completely out of my element. (That is, until she took a bad fall during my second game, hurt her knee, and abandoned me.) The game was fun, if nerve-racking, and I decided to commit.
In this case, committing was not only writing a check to the league, but finally investing in soccer shoes and shin guards. I had been wearing Chuck’s shoes, which were a particularly sweet shade of orange but didn’t quite fit. This led to the best moment in my indoor soccer career: while trying on shoes at Dick’s, I impressed the heck out of a 20-something guy when he learned that I was playing indoor soccer. My work was done.
I played each week, from mid-January until a few weeks ago, only missing a game to go to an Oscar party (I have my priorities). While I have risen to the level of “OK” in outdoor soccer, I’m only up to “Suck” in indoor. I had very little ability to control the ball—or even catch up to it—because it moves so much faster on the Astroturf. I also never got used to the speed with which another player could kick the ball off the wall, flash by me, and pick it up on the other side.
The women I played with and against were uniformly impressive, ranging from “clearly played on the high school team” to “clearly played on the college team.” They were fast, agile, smart, and generally fearless. With me, they were remarkably patient and encouraging. At the start I was worried about my endurance, but that turned out to be the easy part. Basically, I was a warm body that could keep running. A good game was one where my effective moves out-numbered my dorky ones. I worried about getting badly hurt, but I wasn’t really aggressive enough for that to happen. I was actually delighted when I discovered that I could take a hit or fall and it wouldn’t be all that bad. (Note to rookies: you can get hit in the thigh with a ball and it will hurt for a week. But you’ll feel awfully hardcore.)
This story does not end with me in traction, nor does it end, Bad News Bears style, with my development into a star player. It ended prosaically with plantar fasciitis. Running on concrete floors, no matter how cool the shoes, caused my downfall. After a few weeks of limping, I had to give it up. However, when I returned to outdoor soccer last week I discovered that I had become a better player: more aggressive, less fearful, and a little more knowledgeable about what the heck to do with the ball. With a little practice, I may just work my way up to “Capable” or “Adequate.”