Moms Need Friends: How Being a Soccer Mom Changed My Life

After reading the title of this post, you are probably NOT going to believe me, but my kids don't play soccer.  (Well, at least not currently, who knows what they will be up to next year...)  Nope, my kids don't play soccer:  I do.  I'm pushing 40, and I just started playing a game that is usually saved for the younger souls.  And you know what?  Soccer literally changed my life.  Here's why...

Last year, I was stuck in a funk.  Long-story short, it has been a rough five years for my husband and I.  Between weathering unemployment during the recession, having a family, building a new business from the ground up, and trying to balance a career and home life through it all I was tired.  I felt worthless.  (Now, don't go trying to get me a prescription for an antidepressant or anything.)  Life has it ups and its downs.  This was just a down time for me.  

I had  switched jobs to try to alleviate some of the stress we were under as a family, but it didn't change how I felt.  Wake up. Get kids up. Feed kids.  Make lunch for kids.  Bring kids to location of day.  Go to work.  Swear at myself for not eating breakfast and for not packing a lunch for me!  Find a bag of raisins in desk.  Eat raisins.  Work all day.  Rush to pick up toddler from sitter.  Speed home (pray that I don't get pulled over) just in time to pick older child up off of bus.  Get children inside.  Start homework.  Fix dinner.  Rush out the door to practice.  Swear that I will work out when I get home.  Get home from practice.  Feed kids snack.  Bathe kids.  Put kids to bed.  Fall asleep from exhaustion.  Rinse.  Repeat.  EVERY.  SINGLE.  DAY.  

No, "Mom, how was your day?"  "What type of projects are you working on?"  "When are you going to take a fun day?"  "When's the last time you and your besties had a drink together?" None of that.  I was literally a robot just trying to survive.  I had somehow become so accustomed to just getting by and surviving that I let myself believe that living like that was OK.  

I rationalized with myself that my husband and I couldn't go out, because there wasn't enough time or money for that type of luxury.  I couldn't afford a sitter, never mind pay for the dinner.  I couldn't buy myself new clothes.  If I needed something, I always figured out a reason why the boys needed something more than I did.  I was in such a huge rut.  

I felt fat, cranky, unattractive, poor, unintelligent, the list goes on and on.  You get the point.  And then something amazing happened.  My girlfriend approached me during a flag football practice and asked me to play indoor soccer on her team in a 18+ rec league through the YMCA.  Her words were, "I know you are an aggressive person, and I want to have an aggressive team.  I know you will be really good at this."  

Of course, I was taken aback, I mean, who wouldn't be?  My thoughts went all over the place.  Could I play soccer?  Could I leave my babies one night a week to go play a game?  Who would feed them and take them where they needed to go?  How could my family's life go on without me present to attend to them every minute?  How could I be so selfish?  I would be away at work all day long and then be away again at night.  No way.  I couldn't do it.  Period.

Then I came out of a haze of "can't do it" thinking, and I looked around.  Other moms were signing up to play.  They were excited to get away for the night.  They were happy.  They wanted to be a part of something that was just for them.  I was intrigued, but I couldn't muster up the courage until another girlfriend said to me, "Gretchen, this back and forth is ridiculous, you are going to play and your family will get over it.  You need to get out."  Boy was she right.  (Thank you, Mikki!)

And so it went, I signed up to be a part of a indoor soccer team comprised of something like 18 players on it.  That's right, 18 players.  The idea was to create a team with enough players on it that no one ever had to feel guilty about missing a game for their kids.  (Of course, only moms would think of this stipulation.)  We were, for the most part, all over 30, many over 40, moms who really could have cared less about soccer, but we all desperately wanted to get out of the house.  We wanted to be something more than mom for a night.

Immediately dubbed, "The Soccer Moms," we went to our first games and sucked rotten eggs.  I mean, in terms of soccer, we were awful.  BUT!  We consistently had the most fun of any other team out there.  You see, we played 90 percent of our games against 18 year olds, who ran circles around us.  That first season we learned how to play defense.  More importantly though, we remembered that we are more than plain old moms.  I, personally, woke up.

The first time I walked into the gym to play I felt energized, which was something I hadn't felt in a long time.  It was completely selfish and totally for me, and it felt great.  All of a sudden, I felt like the girl I had been in middle school.  I didn't give a shit about equity and playing fair; I wanted to win the game.  I played with 100 percent of my heart and soul.  Wait, a minute, we played with 100 percent of our hearts and souls.  

As an added bonus, it just so happened that many of our kids did not have football practice the night of our first game, so we brought them to be spectators (of course, because there was no where else for them to be!).  Our kids ranged in age from toddlers to high schoolers.  Most of the kids there that night were boys in elementary school.  

In a million years, I could never have guessed what would happen next.  They cheered for us!  Honestly, it was a surreal moment for me, because here are these kids that we have spent so much time cheering for, and they became OUR fans.  During the game, they were glued to their seats and the chanted things like, "Go, Mom!" "Hey Micah, your Mom is a good goalie!" "I didn't know moms could play soccer!"  

It was such a close game that at one point, the kids all rallied together and chanted, "Soccer Moms!  Soccer Moms!  Soccer Moms!"  Surprisingly, our kids probably have never seen us this way.  They have seen the woman on the sidelines holding the water bottle.  They knew the women who served the group, while the family was outside playing a game during a picnic.  For most of us, our children have never seen mom, the goalie or mom, the midfielder.  (For so many reasons, this is a shame.  But, that's another discussion for another day.)  

Needless to say, there was no denying that we were all a part of something bigger than we knew at the moment.  I got home after that first game and crawled into a hot tub.  I could barely move.  I had bruises all over my legs and had jammed two of my fingers (to this day, my wedding ring still does not fit on my finger).  

Even though, I could barely walk the next day, I could not get over how much fun it was to play soccer.  It was one choice, one tiny, seemingly insignificant, choice:  play soccer or don't.   But, this choice has helped me to personally accomplish so much.  Don't get me wrong, it wasn't just me, it was because of this wonderful group of women, who I can now call my friends.  When you play on a team with people, you begin to support each other, to direct each other, and to comfort each other.  This is exactly what happened.  

After the first season was over, we found that more women wanted to play too.  They saw the fun that we had and expressed an interest in playing in the next season.  So, my friend, the one who told me to cut the crap and just play, began to recruit moms for an over-30 league.  And you know what?  She did it!  Not only did she do it, but she recruited enough players for 6 teams!  

So, this spring, our team started its second season as indoor soccer players.  We lost a few players and gained a few.  This season, we could only have a team of 12 players (league rules), but it worked for us.  It was still understood, that sometimes there are commitments outside of soccer. So, if we missed a game, it was no big deal.  The truth is, we all tried like heck to be at every game.

Quite honestly, at this point, I love soccer.  And I love to do something so completely selfish, as to have friends.  I love being able to be me again and to feel happy within my skin.  I recently read an article in Working Mother magazine, called "Circle of Friends Why working moms need their gal pals—maybe more than ever before—and how to keep them close," by Adina Kalish.  I was surprised to read that women who have a tight circle of friends are healthier than those who try to go it alone.  Yes, you read that right:  healthier!  

Upon reflection, it make sense.  Women get it.  When we can stop competing with each other and start playing together, great things happen.  I can't tell you the number of times I've told my husband about something that was bothering me, and he stared at me blankly and said, "So?" or something even dumber, like, "Here's how you fix it."  My girlfriends, on the other hand, don't say dumb shit, they...HUG or they cry right along with you.  (...And some times they drink, whatever works, right?)  

No seriously, of course I need my husband and his support, but I, like so many other women out there, I need friends too.  I need for people to see me in a role other than wife and mother.  I some times need people to see Gretchen.  This is what soccer did for me:  soccer gave me the permission to be Gretchen again.  Once I felt inside like I was a teenager again, I gave myself the permission to dream again.  I let my mind wander and think about what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I remembered that there were countless possibilities.  I don't have to be just a mother and a wife, but I can be more.

Since I started playing soccer, I started listening to my inner voice.  I have thought deeply about the impact that I can have on this world.  Consequently, I have written a book and created a podcast about success in education.  (Ten Ways To Stop Classroom Disruptions and The Art of Good Teaching Podcast)  I also quit my job to focus on the things that matter in my life.  I am allowing myself to try something out without the certainty that it is going to work, because life's too short not to try.  You can't win at something if you aren't even in the game.

So, here's the morale of the story; my inspirational message to you...  If you are in a rut, find a group of women and go do something totally out of the ordinary together.  It doesn't have to be soccer, but it could be if you want the chance to kick a ball in someone's face.  (BTW, it's OK if you want to kick a ball really, really hard.  Lord knows, you need to do that sometimes...)  

The point is step out of the mom role for an hour a week.  Trust me, your family is going to survive!  In fact, it will probably make you a better mom, because you won't want to kick a ball in your husband's face.  (Mine's going to kill me when he reads this! LOL!)  If you can't think of a way to connect with others, come on over to https://www.facebook.com/MammaWorks and vent your stresses there.  We'll help you find a way to get involved in something just for you!

#soccermomsrule #striveforgreatness #YOLO