The most fun we'd ever had

IT was bound to happen. Years of standing on the sidelines watching our children play soccer in every imaginable kind of weather spawned an irresistible urge to join the fun. With the help of two friends who had played the year before on a women's team, a few of us decided to try our hand (or rather our feet) at the game. It must have been a good idea, for soon we had a group of women eager to try something new, to stretch themselves (in more ways than one), and to challenge the assumption that the passing years had made participation in a rigorous team sport somewhat crazy if not impossible. As the organizing and planning continued, we rode the wave of our eagerness in recruiting a sponsor, but we still needed a coach. With some hesitation, one woman volunteered her husband, a self-described soccer nut who counts time by the soccer seasons. He agreed and we were jubilant.

In our first official meeting with our new coach, he gave us a ``chalk talk'' to introduce us to some of the funda-mentals. We were patient, though a few of us were itching simply to get out and kick the ball around. There was business to be taken care of, however. A team name had to be chosen; team colors picked out. As we groped toward compromise on both issues, individual preferences finally gave way to what was perhaps our first glimmer of team spirit.

It took all of that spirit to go out to the field those first cold practices in January. At the beginning of each practice, the coach would enjoin us to stretch. We did, but we still became acutely aware of muscles that had been lying comfortably dormant and resisted arousal.

After we had displayed our various levels of ability, the coach brought in help. Showing 16 ``mature'' women the fundamentals of soccer was a real challenge. For many of us, entering the world of team sports was a new experience completely, so that even the concept of ``sprinting'' was an untried one. Each practice continued with a lot of hard work and a good deal of laughter, while both coaches maintained their attitude of cheerful determination. As head coach, Tom often told us that coaching us was no different than coaching 12-year-olds. We tried to take that as a compliment.

Two months later, the big night came -- our first real game. After two months of working with us, both coaches were still surprised at our helter-skelter play as the game began. They were especially chagrined when the very helpful referee asked if we had ever been shown how to kick the ball. Fortunately, we began to pick up steam as the game proceeded and we only lost 3-0.

The season proceeded through the rainy months of March and April. We learned a lot about playing in mud and rain. One especially memorable game, the rain poured, the mud oozed through our shoes, and kicks sent a spray of brown mud over any players close to the ball. We thought it was the most fun we'd ever had!

The coaches told us we were making progress in going to the ball, in trapping and passing. Each game found us celebrating the team and individual players for the effort being made. The first goal we scored was a time for noisy jubilation. What had begun as a giggle of expectancy had become a virtual war whoop of camaraderie, support, and enthusiasm.

It would be a treat to say that we compiled a distinguished win-loss record our first season out. The truth is that we didn't win a single game, at least not in the traditional sense. What we did win, though, was an enduring love for the game, an unqualified team spirit, and a knack for planting one foot and kicking the dirty laundry in the right directioin. And, of course, we know we can win next year.

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