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January 20, 2017

I woke up one day in my early 30s and, for some reason, felt that I really needed to branch out a little, to stop being so predictable, to try new things. One of the new things that somehow found its way onto my list was playing soccer. At this point, I can’t remember how or why, but my best guess is that I was trying to trick myself into exercising more, and even though I knew very little about soccer, I did know that it involves running. Or maybe it was because the majority of my humiliation was happening indoors back then, and I wanted to balance that out.

I’m not going to tell you to join or not join a soccer team. That seems like pretty specific, fairly random advice. But I will tell you that if you’re considering the sport without knowing anything about it, there are a few things you should be aware of I mentioned in the intro that I didn’t know why I decided to play soccer, but I think it’s important to point out that I wasn’t just setting up some wacky sitcom type of joke. I was exercising the part of my brain that adults teach you to control when you’re a toddler. “Honey, why did you draw pictures of our family on the wall? And why are they on fire? Oh, you just wanted to draw? OK, here’s the correct way to do that — here’s some paper. Drawings of family members engulfed in flames always go on paper, not the wall.”The same thing happened with soccer, only nobody was there to say, “That’s great! Here’s what soccer is, and here’s how to play it.” All I knew was that it was something new, it sounded like fun, and dropping everything to go to grad school or joining the Peace Corps seemed a bit too extreme. Maybe it was a sign I was finally maturing, but I realized that there are smaller, less shattering things I could do to make life more interesting. Things like trying online dating, performing stand-up comedy, and attempting to make homemade gummy bears seemed relatively easy. OK, so it wasn’t necessarily a sign I was maturing.

Understand, I’m not ignorant about sports. I am an excellent casual spectator, with a solid general knowledge of rules and basic strategies for many mainstream sports that you can watch on TV in the U.S. — especially if there’s a liberal amount of drinking and gambling involved. I was also a bit of an athlete in my youth, boasting the largest butt on the track team and several other accolades. But that was long ago. I had never played soccer for real, and I barely knew the rules, let alone how to play it well. I was pretty solid on the idea of “kick the ball and make it go in that direction,” but that was about it.My general approach to life is that I’ll agree to almost anything anyone asks me to do, provided it will be several weeks before I actually have to do it. The typical way this manifests itself is that someone will ask me to do something like attend an antique brick expo, or take a two-week seminar on sustainable bricklaying, or anything brick-related, really. I do not want to do that at all, but it doesn’t sound so bad if it’s not for another month, and saying yes feels good, so … sure?

As idiotic as I know this is, I realized I could use it to force myself to try new things if I just reversed the flow — rather than wait to be asked to do something terrible, I volunteered myself for something terrible. I joined a soccer team.This is where the story actually does turn into a wacky sitcom.

After I signed up, the person in charge asked me some questions, which I assumed were pretty straightforward based on the casual way in which he asked. But note that no one bothered to ask whether I’d ever actually played. I just want that to be clear. I never lied, really.

This conversation, my first serious conversation about soccer, was among the first signs that I was perhaps making a mistake, and it was my first real chance to back out. But the idiot inside me didn’t read it that way. It felt more like a deepening of the challenge, which in turn strengthened my resolve to press on.So the organizer (coach? captain? There’s probably a sporty word I should be using here) asked me right up front, “What position do you play?” At the very least, it was a chance for me to come clean about my level of experience. I knew that the correct response to this question was, “Well, I’m fairly new to the game, so I don’t really know. Are there some drills or something we could run that would help us decide where I should play?”

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