The Field as a Happy Place

For many, sports are just about having fun. And that can be really important.

(Illustration by Sophia Di Iorio)

I overthink things. A lot.

I worry about problems that don’t even exist yet. I replay old memories in my head and think about what I should’ve done differently. Often, I never say what I want to say to the person I want to say it to because I get too caught up in the words and how they will sound coming from my mouth.

Let me back up a bit. My mom used to tell me to think of my happy place whenever I got too nervous or stressed out. For her, her happy place was the beach, standing where the water meets the land, toes squinching the sand as ocean waves gently crash into her legs, spraying them with a cool mist.

“Mhmm, that’s great, Ma,” I used to mindlessly murmur, shooting her a skeptical look, followed by a cheeky smile because I’m cute like that.

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These days, I’ve been thinking more and more about my place. Green grass, white paint. Me sprinting down the soccer field, gliding past opponents like Andres Iniesta. Timing my slide tackles to perfection like Carles Puyol. Bending the ball into the top right corner like David Beckham. Sliding on my knees in celebration like Brandi Chastain. This was my happy place. The place where I felt surest of myself.

I should probably take the time now to tell you how my journey in soccer began. It’s actually thanks to my mom — of course — that I started playing the beautiful game in the first place. When I was five years old and driving her up the wall with my antics, my mom enrolled me in intramural soccer with the rest of the neighborhood kids. She had no idea how important soccer would become to me — or how much money I would make her spend on jerseys over the years.

While my mom got me started in the sport, my dad was the one who would take me to all my soccer games and cheer me on from one of those foldable lawn chairs that every parent seemed to own. I remember when it was just me and him, zooming down the highway with the windows down, listening to all his favorite rock bands from his youth. Some of my strongest memories are from those days, when he would quiz me on artists based on the sounds of the guitar within the first 20 seconds of the song. Needless to say, I was very bad at that game and if you know me, you’d know that most of my listening these days consists of pop music. But still, whenever songs like “More Than a Feeling” and “Sweet Child O’ Mine” start playing, I am always transported back to those drives to and from soccer games.

Anyway, those days were kind of short-lived — or at least it felt that way. After my parents split up around the time I was in middle school, my dad stopped taking me to my soccer games. By this time, my little brother was also playing soccer and my mom had her hands full as the sole caregiver in our house so she was never really able to stay and watch my games. But there I was, running down the sideline like my life depended on it, feeling free and clearheaded.

Things always change, no matter how much I don’t want them to, but the one constant in my life has been the soccer field. I was never the best player on the field, but that didn’t matter. I rarely had people at my games, but that didn’t matter. As long as I was on that field, nothing else mattered.

Some of the first friends I made at NYU were on the soccer fields of Pier 40, the sun shining down on us. My first semester of college is filled with memories of me running with the boys every Friday, kicking a– and taking names. Just kidding — kind of.

I guess I’m writing all this to say that soccer has always given me an outlet that nothing else could ever offer. When life gets to be too much, there’s no better place for me to play until I’m too exhausted to think. I guess this is kind of like a love letter to the beautiful game. I am nothing if not a hopeful romantic, after all. And I know that wherever life takes me, I will be sure to find another field, and nothing else will matter. Just the green grass, a ball and me. Ready to run again.

The Sports Girl is a weekly sports column that will feature a girl’s take on sports. Yes, a girl. Yes, on sports. 

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Sept. 23, 2019, print edition. Email Bela Kirpalani at [email protected]

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