A journey with no end in sight

I am going to apologise to everyone now if you ever get sick of me talking about soccer (and sports in general, but it will mostly be soccer). Honestly though, I talk about it all the time because I have no life it really does make me super happy (most of the time). But as Delta sings, “…everything you love can hurt”, and there has most definitely been times when soccer has made me feel not so fantastic and I’m going to share with you some of these moments.

I play recreational soccer at a local club at the coast and have been doing so for the last 5 years. For the first 3 years, I was playing at the Churches competition, a competition that is even more recreational than what I currently play in (it was literally for mothers to keep fit and people who’ve hardly ever played to learn the game). I was happy with it at the beginning because I hadn’t played soccer in about 6/7 years at that stage so I was really just getting back into things, getting match fit again and getting my feel for the ball back. However, after the first year or so, it became increasingly frustrating for me to play on the team because (sorry, don’t mean to sound so cocky but I don’t know how to put it another way) I was a step above everyone else on my team in terms of my football knowledge. In the middle of the second season, we had a coaching change and little did I know at the time that this change would set me on an alternate path I had not previously foreseen. The new coach was much more proper in his coaching methods and it really gave me a taste of how I used to train when I played more competitively as a child/teenager. This coaching change, and competing at the State Titles (the “best of the best” in Churches comp in SEQ), eventually led me to the decision that I wanted to get back into more competitive soccer. So after 3 seasons at Churches, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to try playing in Federation, a league that is much more competitive. It was not an easy decision though because I had seen the Federation comp when I was playing in Churches and I thought “no way in hell can I get back to competing at that level again after so many years”. The game at that level was so much faster, the girls seemed so much stronger, and the games were longer than what I had been playing at that time (even though it was only longer by 10 minutes, 10 minutes is a long time if you’ve just been sprinting on/off for the past 80 minutes). Being the introvert that I am (I know, hard to believe), it was also going to be difficult trying to fit into a completely new team again. Nonetheless, I thought I had more to gain by changing to play for Buderim (Budo).

For those of you who are unfamiliar with how teams are formed, here is a quick explanation. If there is enough turn out, the coaches will hold a trial at the beginning of the season to determine which division you can play in based on your skills. The higher the division number, the better the players/team. Before my first season at Federation began, I was not really aiming to be in the first division. I knew the competition for a spot would be really tough and I was hoping to just be able to play within the first two divisions. But I was relishing in finally being able to play with people who knew how to play soccer; and I guess a mixture of adrenaline and hard work somehow got me a spot in the first division team at the end of the trial period. I was both excited and nervous for the season, because after all, there were people on my team who had previously played in the W-League (the highest level of domestic league in Australia where games get broadcasted on TV), in the American college system (which is super competitive and a pathway into professional soccer over there), and in England! It had been over 10 years since I last trained and played at such a competitive level so it was most certainly a season of immense learning (and failing). I had to adjust mentally and physically. I had put a bit of pressure on myself to not be the weakest link on the team. I had to learn a lot of new football lingo I had not previously come across; a new system of play that I had never played in in my life; and adjust to the level of intensity and speed at both training and games. I tried to work really hard at every training session and give my best in every game. By the end of the season, I had played in every field position (the coaches joked about putting me as goalkeeper next because that was the only position missing from my repertoire). Alas, my old body were not used to all the work I was putting it through and I ended up with a really sore hip flexor which took me out of our semi-final match after 15 minutes. Even though we lost, I was pretty devastated that I couldn’t be on the field to fight with the rest of the team. All in all though, season one in Federation was a success and I was really happy that I was able to learn so much over the season. For me, it almost felt like I was playing proper football for the first time in my life that season with the way I learnt how to play. I guess the icing on the cake was when I was awarded the Coach’s Player at season’s end.

Pre-season for season two in Federation began a few month after. There had been a lot of players movement in the off-season and a lot of really good players (even better than the season before) had decided to come play at Budo. It was an exciting prospect for me to be able to play and train with such great players again. I was already envisioning how much I could improve as a player and increase my football knowledge playing with these women. Life, of course, had a lesson to teach me. A few weeks into the new year (still pre-season), the coaches made an announcement of the teams. There had been no trials as such this pre-season so I was a little shocked that they were already making the selections. I was more shocked by the end of the announcement because contrary to my expectations, I was not selected into the first team. Despite the fact that my team (the “development squad”) would also be competing in the first division competition, it was not where I had wanted to play in. I was deeply disappointed in the decision; angry at myself for not turning up to training for two weeks (because I was too tired from work commitments); questioning whether the whole last season was just a fluke; whilst still holding onto the slightest hope that perhaps there would still be room to slide in and out of the teams during the remainder of the pre-season. Not going to lie, I lost a whole night’s sleep over this and was so upset and angry that I couldn’t focus at work and had to vent my frustrations in writing (all in a short essay of 1,637 words). The following few weeks at training was a concoction of sulking and training in angst. I was on a mission to prove myself to the coaches that they had made the wrong choice, even after the coaches explained to me their reasoning. By the time pre-season games rolled around, I was still trying to make my case, as well as not wanting to lose to show that our team was better than the so-called “first team”. It worked, to some extent. I would once again risk sounding like a pompous, arrogant ass by saying that I had a very large hand in leading our team to an undefeated pre-season. What I didn’t foresee though, was the impact these pre-season games would have on my perspective. Not sure whether it was a distinct moment or over the course of time, but by the end of pre-season, I found myself to be profoundly proud of the team and for being a part of it. This feeling has intensified so much over the course of our season (and we’re only not even 2 months in!) that now, whenever I think about training and playing with the team, it brings a big grin to my face. It hasn’t been all smooth sailing (we’ve suffered a few losses and played a few not so great games) but I am absolutely loving it. I love playing with these young girls (when I say young, I mean half the team is younger than my sister, and you guys know that my sister is literally younger than me by a decade; the rest is under 20, bar myself and the keeper). I’ve not only fully accepted my role as a veteran to guide the girls, but also changed my perspective that this is an excellent opportunity to play against harder competition and being put in difficult situations where I can learn to problem solve on the field, situations where I likely would not have faced had I been selected in the other team. To this day, I still think I am capable of competing for a spot in that first team but I no longer have the desire to compete for a spot because I absolutely love our squad. We have a cup competition against other SEQ teams starting this upcoming weekend and I honestly have never been this excited to play a game. The game will be extremely challenging but I am looking forward to facing and learning from these challenges with the rest of the team!

My footballing journey has been a big roller coaster ride and I hope that there is still a long way to go in this journey! I am so thankful to my past self for stepping out of my comfort zone that 1.5 years ago; and I am even more thankful to the universe for throwing me a curve ball at the beginning of this season and letting me stumble upon one of life’s greatest lessons – expectations of the future can often lead to missed opportunities in the present!

To close this out, I would like to share a motto I recently read from an athlete (Tiffany Weimer, professional soccer player for Boston Breakers) which I thought was so fitting for where I am right now.

Never satisfied. Always grateful. 

⚽

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11 thoughts on “A journey with no end in sight

  1. I’m so happy for you! I’m so happy that you decided to play for Federation and I’m immensely proud that you’re doing so well!!

    What is the peak age for playing professionally? Do you find you get super tired faster compared to your current squad?

    Everything happens for the best. I’m glad you’ve found happiness in focusing on the curve balls of the present rather than expectations of the future. I’m going to work on my blog posts now 😅 Thank you for sharing!

    Like

    • Thanks! I have to say it most definitely is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I didn’t foresee how much this was going to impact me at the time.

      Actually, professionals peak between 26-30, so this really should be the prime age. But I’m clearly not a professional, so I only do a fraction of a professional’s training. I’m actually probably one of the fitter ones on my squad, it’s just that I have to work harder to recover afterwards.

      Looking forward to your posts!

      Like

      • Have you ever thought to play professionally? I’ve asked you before but your answer wasn’t all that clear to me back then. Did you decide against it because it’s an unstable lifestyle/profession or because you just didn’t ever want to play professionally even though you live and breathe soccer?

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      • Never! Well, never seriously when I was a teen. I didn’t have the same passion then. I liked it, I was decent at it, it was jokingly suggested by my grandfather; but it wasn’t a traditional path for a Chinese, and I didn’t even know that it was possible for females to be pro soccer players. Plus at the time, I never had enough drive or passion to train nor understand the game to my full potential, so it was never really on the table.

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  2. This is a very inspiring post that gave me all those great warm, fuzzy feelings.
    You shouldn’t apologise for writing/talking about soccer a lot. It’s a brilliant thing to be so passionate and excited by something – and even better to pursue it in some way 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hmm, I posted about a week ago but somehow it hasn’t appeared. That’s alright- I shall repost!
    I agree with all of the above – So happy to see that you have found a passion outside of work! Our lives can be somewhat consumed by work if we don’t find something else that ignites that inner flame… we would blindly follow the week day ritual of wake up, go to work, come home and make dinner, watch tv (or not), sleep!
    Maybe one day you could even turn this into a full time endeavour (hehehe…)
    Keep it up! Proud of you 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, it can get super mundane if life only revolves around work! I still lose track of my days and weeks with work sometimes.

      I’m actually hoping to, but also really enjoying the journey of learning and improving.

      Like

  4. You’re sure you’re an introvert Rui? haha!
    I guess life had in store for you even better things than what you thought you were capable of!

    I honestly think mentoring and guiding people is more fulfilling than competing in a job. I guess everyone has their own preferences and natural ambitions, but it sounds like you’re finding it an inspiring role too which is great to hear!

    Like

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