Education begins at a younger age than you might think, and it doesn’t always come from school. My dad would throw me baseballs to hit with a little plastic bat when I was just a few years old. Around the time when I was starting kindergarten, he took me to a small soccer event for toddlers organized by Fairmount soccer. I had seemed to enjoy the sport of soccer, so my dad put me on a team with Fairmount soccer. This is where I learned how to play soccer for the first time. My first practice I walked onto the field in my brand new cleats and shin guards, and terrified about playing on a team for the first time. With the entire team standing around in a huddle, my coach asked me, “What position do you like to play?” I wasn’t really sure what he meant, so I just stood there nervously for a few seconds he asked “Do you like offense? Defense? Goalie?” Still not entirely sure I just responded with “Goalie?” So he put me at goalie in a small game. Because it was my first time playing and I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing, the other players just kicked the ball into the goal while I just watched it confused. The coach realized I had never played before, so he put me at defense because it was the easiest position to learn. He gave me a quick explanation of what to do and or the rest of the practice I had fun stopping the offense and kicking the ball back up to the field. Going to games and practices quickly became things I looked forward to during the day.
Fairmount soccer specialized in teaching soccer to little kids who were just playing soccer or a sport for the first time, and it was the place where I learned not only how to play soccer but about supporting and encouraging other people. This is something that I have found is incredibly important in life, and it’s also something that you need to learn from experience. Nobody ever told me to encourage my teammates, but I started because my coach would congratulate me when I stopped the other team from scoring, or took the ball from someone. After a while of this, I started doing the same thing for my other teammates. The other thing I learned at Fairmount soccer was sportsmanship. I lost games, and I won games. When I won games, I didn’t make fun of the other team, because I knew what it was like to lose. This has ultimately made me a much more respectful and empathetic person, which I feel are important qualities in a person. I think that losing games is overall more important than winning games. Sure, winning games gives you a good sense of self achievement, and I higher standing in the league, but that’s it. Losing games is a learning experience. Whenever you lose a game, or mess up anything in general, you think about what went wrong to make that happen, and that always makes you think about what you specifically went wrong, which is the most important part of getting better at something; learning from your mistakes. That logic has since carried over to academics; such as thinking about why I got a low grade on a project, and what can I do to get a better grade on similar projects or tests.
After a few more years with Fairmount, it had come to the time when they no longer had teams for my age group, and I joined Palumbo soccer. Fairmount had taught me the basics of the game of the game of soccer, and about sportsmanship. Palumbo soccer taught me the other part of soccer; the mental game of soccer. Not about how to pass, dribble or shoot, but when to pass, dribble, or shoot and why. I learned all about positioning and various other strategic maneuvers, and games became less about which team had the best players that could dribble the ball around the defence and score, and more about which team was the best at playing with each other. Playing with this team I acquired more of a team mentality. Through playing as a team, I got much better at working as part of a group, a skill that has been immensely helpful in my life, and will doubtlessly be helpful for the rest of my life.
While playing soccer with Fairmount, my dad also put me into a baseball league. Baseball was the sport I had originally played with my dad when I was a kid. It was really fun for me, I could walk to the practices and games, and I played with all the other kids in my neighborhood. For the first few weeks of one season, I remember having a lot of trouble hitting the ball. I was always striking out during games, even though during practices I would be getting extra help from the coaches on my swing. The 5th game of that season, I went up to bat in a really close game. There were two outs and the bases were loaded when I went up to bat, and I was worried I would strike out again and miss the opportunity to score a run. When the pitch came I swung as hard as I could, and the ball hit the very top of the fence. I ran around the bases and I got a double, driving in two runs.
After that I stopped striking out and I started hitting again, and even got to bat first in a few games. This game was one of the key events in my life that taught me never to give up, and about the importance of perseverance. If everyone just gave up after messing up once, the world would be set back hundreds, if not thousands of years. For example, Thomas Edison had over 1000 failed designs for the light bulb, but through perseverance and hard work, he finally succeeded.
Eventually I moved up to a higher league in the 21st ward, which was fun, but it was never as fun as the first few years in my neighborhood league. I never fully understood why I liked my neighborhood league more. Maybe it was because it wasn’t as serious as the 21st ward, which was where I first started seriously playing baseball. It also may have been because I was as good as the kids in my neighborhood, and in the 21st ward kids had been brought up playing only baseball, and were at a much higher skill level than me. At first, there were some things I was good at. I was one of the faster kids on my team and could steal bases. I could draw a lot of walks, and I could also occasionally bunt for a hit because of my speed. But as I got older, and the other kids started being able to throw faster, I couldn’t do these things as often, and I had a year where I only got 3 hits, and the rest of my times on base were from walks or errors. As seasons went on, the skill difference between me and the other players increased and increased until I eventually quit.
Quitting baseball was a very difficult choice for me, because on one hand, baseball was the sport I grew up with, and many of my fondest memories were of my dad and I playing baseball together when I was little. Baseball was and still is huge in my dad’s life. He has had a passion for the game since he was a kid. He collected baseball cards, and he now has almost 30 seasons of complete sets of baseball cards. He would travel to Montreal to see his favorite team, the Expos play, and he has hundreds of scorecards filled out of games he’s been to, some from the late 1980’s. I was worried my dad would be sad if I quit baseball, because it meant so much to him. On the other hand I wasn’t enjoying playing. Quitting baseball almost felt like I was giving up a part of myself, but I’m happy did because there’s no reason to play a sport if you don’t enjoy it anymore. This logic is some of the same things adults have said to kids over and over again about getting jobs. “Get a job doing something you like, because overall you’ll be more happy enjoying your job, than getting paid more and not enjoying your job.” I feel like this means more to me than many others, because I can relate to that. The best reason to continue or stop doing something is whether or not you enjoy it.
For a long time, sports have been an important part of my life. Sports have taught me lessons that I don’t know where else I could have learned them. It helps to learn life lessons at a young age like I did, because when you are you younger these things have a much more profound effect on you, because you’re developing more rapidly. I think that it’s incredibly important to put young children in these types of environments, because the purpose of parenting isn’t to make your children happy, but to prepare them for the rest of their lives. I feel much more prepared for when I leave my parents and when I go to college because of what I’ve done with sports in my life. Learning these immensely important life lessons through sports isn’t the only useful thing I’ve gotten out of sports, but it’s given me an outlet. If I’m feeling stressed out, or frustrated, or generally sad, I can just kick around a soccer ball and I feel myself forgetting about my troubles. Many people don’t have something like that, and they just hold their emotions inside of them, which can only end poorly. Overall, playing sports hasn’t just been something fun that I enjoy doing, but it’s prepared me for the rest of my life.