Soccer Practice

Yesterday I had my first soccer practice with a few members of a team that plays in a recreational division. I wrote to them through a bulletin board on a website after I searched Google for adult soccer in Seattle. They said they didn’t mind a beginner, and invited me to yesterday’s practice. We met at a grass soccer field in a park. One other beginner was there, along with three experienced players, one of whom is also a coach. He brought lots of balls, small colored plastic cones, and mesh vests.
Our first drill was to stand on four corners (marked with cones) and pass the ball around the square while the fifth person played defense, chasing the ball between us and trying to gain control of it. Next we only covered three corners of the square, so that each offensive player had to move from corner to corner to receive passes.
Then the coach set up the cones to form a corridor. One offensive player would try to dribble the ball out of the corridor on the right (which represented moving it toward the center of the field and the goal). A defender would try to force the dribbler to move left and out of bounds or go all the way to the end of the corridor and out of bounds.
Next we practiced throw-ins—throwing the ball in from the sideline after the opposing team kicks the ball out of bounds. We learned to run to the line for throwing momentum, drag the rear foot at the final step, and throw the ball two-handed from overhead toward a teammate’s feet. The foot-dragging is to comply with the rule that both feet have to be on the ground when the ball is thrown.
Then we played two on two, using a miniature field marked by the cones. We were coached to stay “goalside” of an offensive player and, when playing offense, to run to open space in hopes of receiving a pass. The coach explained how teammates call to each other to announce their availability and position, as well as to tell each other where to move. It was hard to think while running after the ball at top speed and constantly changing direction. The hardest part was switching so often between offensive play and defensive.
Finally, we all positioned ourselves in front of an actual goal and practiced different ways of kicking the ball into it: stopping and controlling the ball and then kicking, running to the stationary ball and kicking on first touch, and running to meet the rolling ball and kicking it on first touch. I had trouble mastering the knee-over-the-ball kick, in which you dig under the ball with a pointed toe (but without skimming the ground) and follow through with the ankle locked in that position. It was a lot of fun to practice the kick with both the right and left foot, especially when running to meet and kick the rolling ball. I like to try to do things ambidextrously as much as possible.
I was surprised that it was very hard to kick the ball into the goal from any respectable distance—let alone if someone was playing goalkeeper. Because the goal is huge, the ball is bouncy, and my legs are strong, I thought that sheer kicking power would come easily. Today my hips and thighs are pleasantly sore, as well as the tops of my ankles, from kicking with the foot locked in pointed-toe position.
Aerobically, I was pleased to find that I didn’t get tired during our drills even though they involved lots of running. I should be in great shape aerobically from all the jumping rope and other, even harder boxing-class drills. But because each activity makes different demands, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep up when it came to all-out running in the grass after the ball. I was up to the challenge, though, and sometime it will be interesting to see how I hold up in an actual game. I won’t be able to play games for several months because they play on Monday nights, which will conflict with my fall class schedule.
It was such a privilege to be introduced to soccer by such a nice, positive, relaxed group. I hope I can practice with them some more and eventually play in their games… I think. I’ll probably be quite nervous at going into a game, afraid I’ll look stupid, or someone will get mad at me, and so on, all those unpleasant gym-class memories replaying. (Begone!) I’ll have to try to focus on the fact that this is a new situation, 100 percent different from gym class. I will have learned the rules and concepts governing the game, unlike in gym class; everyone has been unfailingly nice, as with this summer’s volleyball experience and unlike in gym class; and most important, I’m now an adult with my own perspective to guide me.