I still get anxious before a soccer game. At the age of 23, after almost 14 years of soccer, I am excited and even a little nervous before playing. Unfortunately, as I get older my opportunities for playing soccer diminish.
Although going to practice and playing in games is one of my favorite recreational activities, other responsibilities often conflict with soccer schedules. I am disappointed when games and practices are missed or tournaments and out-of-town games can't be fit in because of other commitments.
When I do play, though, I try as hard as I did years ago. Although I am not playing at as high a level as before, it is still invigorating to play a competitive game.
I first signed up for soccer at age 9. I wanted to play baseball along with my younger brother John, but I quickly learned, back then, girls were not allowed in junior baseball leagues in North Babylon, N.Y.
As an alternative, my father, Harry Kennedy, assured me soccer, which I had never played before, was the best game around. He had played it in Scotland as a boy, but when he moved to New York as a teenager, he was distressed to find it was very not yet popular in this country. I started playing at a time when the sport began to flourish in the United States. From my first practice, my addiction grew.
A few years after my first experience with soccer, the club I played for formed a mothers' team to play in an annual tournament. My brothers and sisters laughed at how absurd it would be for my mother, Mary Kennedy, to play even one game, especially as goalkeeper. Surely a 36-year-old mother of six was too old to play. But that tournament was no joke and our laughter was quickly silenced.
Today, the only humor in it is that there are women of that age and older who are in better physical condition than myself and who can beat me on the soccer field. Even with my experience of playing in high school, on select teams and on an NCAA Division I team at George Mason University, I find it difficult to keep up with some of the women in the Arlington Women's Soccer Association.
Although it has been four years since I have taken my soccer training seriously, it is important for me to do my best. I find it gets more difficult each year to stay in shape and maintain a level of skill and ball control.
Time restrictions also become more difficult to overcome, but since it is an important activity to me, time is usually made. I find myself rushing to games from appointments or work. On the rare occasion that I can make practices, it is usually for only part of it. These restrictions show in my playing.
During a game, it becomes frustrating when I make a bad play or don't run as fast as I used to. After those games, I vow to start running and practicing each week, but these days -- unlike my high school and college playing days -- when I do have the time to work out, I find I would rather relax than kick a soccer ball.
Yet, soccer is one commitment I really want to stick with. It gives me the opportunity to get a lot of exercise in a short period without getting bored. It is a healthy outlet for frustrations built up during the week and it is one thing I do for myself.
What I enjoy about soccer most is it is now strictly for fun. I can satisfy my competitive nature by trying to play my best and improve with each game, yet not worry about being better than anyone else. For years, I struggled through intense tryouts for my select, high school and college teams. There always was pressure in games and practices to excel above the rest to get onto a better team. Now it is a relief to know I just have to satisfy my own expectations and not worry about sitting on the bench.
On most adult recreation teams, everyone plays. Some teams are better than others, but even on the best teams, the average or mediocre player gets equal time.
Losing also takes on a different perspective. It's no fun to lose a close game,, but now, the disappointment only lasts a short time. I used to dwell on every tough loss and the mistakes that could have helped my team win. The feeling would often last for days.
One of the best parts of adult soccer is that every game is started on a clean slate. Memories of mistakes and poor past performances do not seem to linger in the minds of teammates, but when the whistle blows and the ball is kicked off, it still is strictly business. Everyone is out to have fun, but we're also trying to win.
Kathleen Kennedy is member of The Washington Post Weekly staff and a contributing writer to sports.