Sporting memories: Going to a training camp as an "unknown"
When I was in my youth I was considered one of the best soccer / football players in every region that I lived in. My family moved a lot so I had to go through some things that a lot of kids don't have to deal with such as no one actually knowing who I am and needing to make new friends, or become and introvert, in every new place we moved to.
Sports helped me socialize a lot because I genuinely enjoyed playing and because I didn't really know anyone it kept me humble. I had very few moments of sporting arrogance in my life and I think this is because of the fact that I wanted, like most kids, for the other kids to like me.
One year when my family abruptly moved to a completely new and unknown-to-use part of the United States, I found myself plopped into a new school system and neighborhood where I had to do something that is quite nerve-racking for a 13 year old: I had to walk the halls of a new school while not knowing a single person that was in those halls. This applied to the rest of my life as well. In my neighborhood I was an unknown and even though it really isn't that difficult for kids to meet other kids, I was still and outsider and they already had their social circles and I wasn't part of it.
My parents enrolled me in a soccer camp because at that point of my life I was already showing signs of greatness as far as the sport was concerned, and I'd like to think that they had hoped that I was going to make some pals as well.
The above image is NOT from the camp in question: I grew up in the 80's and we couldn't even conceive of the existence of a digital camera let alone the ability to take unlimited photos with impunity.
At the camp we were introduced to everyone and separated into groups for skill drills. I could see around me that a lot of the boys already knew one another and a few people came to talk to me but for the most part I could tell that there were social circles here. There was a group of the cool kids and also some of the outcasts and well, I gravitated towards the outcasts because I don't think this is just a thing that happens in films but the outcasts are a lot more accepting of "new members."
Prior to coming to this camp I had always been a relatively dominant player on any team I was assigned to but for some reason the "newness" of this entire thing rattled my nerves and I kept screwing up simple things such as passes and even shots on goal. I certainly did not look like a dominant player and this resulted in getting into my head even more. It was almost as if the poor performance initially became who I was, and I was having a really difficult time shaking this. I knew I was better than I was playing but for some psychological reason, I couldn't manage to tap the fire of my abilities that I knew I possessed.
I vividly recall a moment where the winning team of some drill - and I don't remember what the drill was - we lined up one by one to take shots at the other team who all had to line up with their backs to us and we would take shots at trying to hit them with the ball.
Thinking back, this was actually a very cruel and unusual punishment for the kids there. The people that were in the goal had the potential to get hit hard in the back of the head or just in their backs and this could have resulted in real injury. What can I say? It was a different time and we kind of through sensibility and sensitivity to the wayside in those days.
When it was my turn to take a shot at the boys that were all standing in goal waiting to get hit I did something that probably didn't score many points with the coaches and I would find out later had actually been a bit instrumental in me later getting put on the "B" team in that city's league: I intentionally missed all of the people in the goal and totally missed it altogether. I didn't reveal to the other kids that I had done this on purpose and to some of the other players on my "team" and to the coaches, it probably appeared as though I was so bad that I was incapable of hitting the goal from a penalty shot position. This wasn't true but I was so shy and new to the area that I didn't let them know that yes, I can hit a goal, but I just didn't want to hurt the boys that were standing in it.
There was no secret plan on my part to score points with the people in the goal with my empathy - I wasn't that clever. This was just the way that I was raised and when I look back on it I realize that my parents raised me well. To this day I see no joy in causing another person humiliation or pain and that day was evidence that my parents had instilled me with these morals at a young age.
I ended up doing some great stuff and impressing the coaches during this, I think it was week-long camp but you know what they say in that people always remember the bad stuff. I think word got spread among the soccer community that I wasn't very good and this would later come to bite them in the ass when I was placed on the high-school "B" team. After a few weeks on the B team I emerged as a truly gifted and powerful player that was dominating the league. I had mentioned some time ago in another blog that the coaches later wanted to promote me to the Varsity Team where I would be playing with the "better" athletes, some of which were several years ahead of me in school. However, I refused to be promoted. I still had a bit of a grudge against the coaches for ever ranking me as B-league in the first place and wanted no part of their system.
In retrospect this was probably a mistake but it did do a lot for my confidence as we easily cruised to victory in most of our games and it was quite routine for me to score at least 2 goals in every single one of them. I don't think that this lead to me actually getting better though.. . I think that it just boosted my confidence a bit.
This could have been a turning point in my soccer career where I actually stunted my own chances at growth but in the end it all worked out because my family ended up moving again to another part of the States just a year later.
It's funny to me that this one camp and in particular the embarrassing miss on goal that kind of solidified me as a below average player in the eyes of the coaches. They didn't know that I did it on purpose and I never did tell them. It wasn't until we moved away from this city that I started playing in top tier leagues again also.