I woke up at 5:30 am on Saturday morning as usual. I shook my dad several times to wake him up. He hated waking up early, especially on the weekend, but he still did it. I ran downstairs and packed my two large bags: the one for soccer, which started at 6:30 am and the one for Italian School which was right after. On the way there, I looked around on the streets: there were only a few cars. The sun had just started rising so the clouds in front of it were an orange-yellow color. There was no honking or swerving, just driving. When I arrived at the field, my nervous coach shook my hand as usual. He didn’t know much about soccer but he still came to every practice and game and did his best. I looked around at the pitch: the enormous field was empty except for a few kids and parents in the stands. Our team was dead last, with no chance of getting anywhere close to a playoff position, but we all still showed up. The team we were playing was first and were mainly Mexican kids. The massacre started and couldn’t be stopped. We were all in the wrong positions and were not prepared. We were down 10-0 by the half. The second half went down the same road. After every goal, I would kick the ball back to the start and look up at the empty stands. Our parents could barely watch. I remember thinking what am I doing here? This is embarrassing. I need this to be over, this margin is too great. Why do we even play for this team if we suck so much? This process was exhausting. It went up to 21-0. We then went to shake hands. Everything was civil until one of the players from the other team called one of my players a “faggot and a pussy.” That wasn’t a good idea.
Half my team started a fist fight against not only the players of the other team, but also their coach. While this was happening, the other half of my team were shooting the ball on net, which looked much larger than it did during the game.
I wasn’t a fighter and I am not a hopeful person either so I didn’t feel like playing. I had been on that team for less than a year and didn’t know the players very well. I’ve played sports before but I had never seen something like this. I sat on the bench and just watched: on one side, small Mexican kids were getting thrown left and right, while on the other side, exhausted players were running around and practicing as if nothing happened. I wondered why I would come here every Saturday morning instead of sleeping in and watching cartoons. I wondered why they would be fighting after such a terrible loss: fighting physically on one side and fighting to get better on the other. It was at that moment that playing sports became clear in my eyes. That’s when I realized what a sport really is.
The players on my team were not fighting to get revenge from the other team for making them look like fools or to stay physically fit. They were fighting because they needed the drive to fight. Fighting on the soccer field on every Saturday morning was everything to them, but they were not able to this time because of our tactical situations. The two events after that took place to replace the drive to fight that they didn’t have during the game.
There are many reasons why sports are important in young people’s lives. Being part of a soccer team for young boys was essential to the players on my team. Firstly, Dr. Chiarappa, a psychologist at Santa Cabrini hospital, stated that: “when you perceive something as threatening or exciting, the hypothalamus in the brain signals to the adrenal glands that it’s
time to produce adrenaline and other stress hormones. You can get a rush from both types of situations and a strong emotional response can be achieved both while fighting and playing sports.” This means that the drive to fight did not only happen on the side where there was a fist fight (a bad thing), but also on the side where my team mates were shooting on net. (A good thing) This also proves that playing soccer, training, or trying to get better at any sport can imply the same emotions as physically fighting. One of the reasons why sports are important in people’s lives is that it is a way to forget about pain or anything negative. “Sports can be an outlet to relieve stress, and contribute to physical and mental well-being.” (She also stated) This means playing a sport can relieve someone of the stress or tensions they went through during the week. It was a way for the players on my team to play a sport and to clear their minds of everything except for the sole thought of fighting their hardest to win the game. I had not been affected by this because I hadn’t seen things like them yet. After that experience however I started to change: I played for 6 seasons with that team and we still hadn’t won many games, but my motivation to go play just kept getting greater. This made me try even harder to get better and get more playing time, even though I would still walk onto that pitch knowing there’s a high chance that we were going to lose. In addition to this, it has been proven that “playing sports improve self-confidence and motivation in young athletes.”(1) I saw this mainly on the teams who were doing well in the league: they came into the games confident and strong which was always scary for the opposing team. No matter who they were or what went on with them, they walked onto that pitch as if they owned the world. This is one example of the impact fighting can have on someone’s behavior and emotions.
Sports for the players on my team had an even deeper signification: they saw each other as a family. That team had been together for a while and everyone knew each other very well: almost like brothers. Playing together twice a week, every week, for many years with the same kids created a strong bond between them. It seemed that playing together was a family away from home where everyone cared about each other. This created an even larger drive to fight because they were not alone; they were fighting alongside each other. An example of this is with children who live in poverty. It was mentioned by Paul De Knob and Marc Theeboom that “Sports appear to be an appropriate way to attract many underprivileged youngsters.”(2) These underprivileged kids don’t have families that they can be close to because of their situations. Sports, like the players on my team, can be a family away from home for them. We also see this sense of unity with the captains of international sports teams around the world. Some examples are Mark Messier, Franz Beckenbauer and Steve Waugh who all remained at the same team for many years and grew an astonishing bond with not only the players, but also the fans. When someone feels a sense of attachment to someone, certain chemicals are released in the brain. Two of these chemicals are “oxytocin and vasopressin [which] are highly conserved neuropeptides that play a key role in social attachment and affiliation.”(3) These hormones are “associated with feelings of calm, comfort and security.” (As mentioned by Dr. Chiarappa)
A third reason why sports are important to young teens is that it is a way to be in control. Before 18 years old, most people are within complete control of their parents and of their teachers at school. They are told when to eat, what homework to do, what classes to take and sometimes what clothes to wear. Playing a sport relies solely on the players on the field and what’s going on in their heads. They are finally given the choice to do whatever they
please. They can listen to the advice given to them or not, they can shoot or pass, they can be prepared or not, they can ultimately decide the outcome of the game. This is one of the first times in someone’s life that they can be in complete control. A lot of the players on my team did not enjoy going to school or listening to what their parents wanted them to do. Most of them were the “bad kids” in the class and were always told they were wrong. Soccer was a way for them to finally be in control of their lives. THEY decided what was right or wrong and what to do in a situation. That’s why they loved it! The outcomes of the games did affect them a lot: they hated losing. Dr. Chiarappa clarified this by saying that “losing or failing to achieve one’s goals can result in feelings of frustration, unhappiness or even feelings of shame and guilt,” but I feel that this just made them stronger and gave them an even larger drive to fight. It gave them a reason to be in control: to finally win some games; and we did. Those games that we won felt amazing because of how much work we put into them. That’s another reason why being in control and having that drive to fight were essential in OUR lives.
Towards the end, I changed: I wasn’t the guy on the bench watching anymore. When there was a fight on the field or a loose ball, I was there, fighting for it. I was the guy that would tell my coach not to worry (he always was) and the guy to encourage the newcomers. I became them.
In conclusion, sports are extremely important in young people’s lives. It allows them to relieve negative feelings and it is a family away from home. It is also the first time where someone is in complete control. After a large number of years with that team, I switched to another team because of my living conditions and because a lot of the players had left. My new team faced off against that team and we were winning by a lot. After one goal, I remember picking up the goalie from my old team who looked completely discouraged, and I gave him a pat on the back.
1) “The Effects of Sports on Emotional Health.” Healthy Living. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2016. <http://healthyliving.azcentral.com/effects-sports-emotional-health-6567.html>.
2) Knop, P. De, P. Wylleman, M. Theeboom, K. De Martelaer, and J. Van Hoecke. “YOUTH AND ORGANIZED SPORT IN FLANDERS: Past and Future Developments.” International Review for the Sociology of Sport33.3 (1998): 299-304. Web.
3) “Result Filters.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2016. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20173685>.