From Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul IV

Right Kick, Wrong Direction

You don’t get to choose how you’re going to die, or when. You can only decide how you’re going to live. Now.

Joan Baez

I was eleven years old. This was my first soccer game. As the tall, skinny kid stuck in the middle of the muddy field, with little knowledge of the rules and regulations of the game, I was nervous and apprehensive, but still excited. With kids running at me from all directions, I observed the skills that many of my teammates possessed. Their motions appeared to be so smooth and effortless, while their faces revealed their attachment to the game. I, on the other hand, lacked the dedication that many of the other kids had.

Little to my knowledge, this game turned out to be an intense one. My team was trailing behind the entire game, but toward the end, we tied it up. I watched as parents yelled and screamed, filled with excitement and emotion. Many of the parents, with their waving arms and beaming eyes, seemed more involved in the game than their children.

Suddenly, it was my turn to kick the ball. This was my chance to reveal that I was as good as everyone else. I brought my leg back and was ready to kick with all my strength. I gave a good, hard kick—one of my better—but unfortunately, I had kicked the ball in the wrong direction. Seeing the disappointed faces of the members of my team, I felt my face go from pale white to bright red; I wanted to run home, faster than I ever ran in a soccer practice.

Over the next few years, I continued to participate in a variety of sports, trying to find the one where I would be the center of attention for the right reasons. That never happened. As the firstborn son, my father could not wait to toss the baseball around the backyard with me. Each time he would throw the ball, I somehow managed to trip on a shoelace or stumble over a rock. My father continued to push me, and during my elementary-school years it seemed that I might become quite the athlete. I was able to fake an interest and avoid the action when playing. At the same time, my little brother was suddenly not so little and began to dominate the family athletic domain. His ability and genuine passion for sports made me wonder why I was so different.

I began to feel like an outsider, not only with my family, but also with the whole male race. All my friends could play sports, and they all knew of my less-than-perfect abilities. I did have many friends to help ease the path of growing up without indulging in sports, but there were still the many instances when I was not invited for a football game. It was frustrating to have this inability when agility appeared to be such a significant aspect of a young child’s life. Whenever I would be introduced to people, whether it be a kid in school or a friend of a parent, I was always asked if I played basketball—a natural question to a fourteen-year-old six-footer. When I responded “No,” everyone would tell me that I should. But I did not want to, and I was never able to figure out why it mattered so much.

As I became a teenager, I put an end to all my phoniness about sports. When my parents finally allowed me to stop participating in Little League and other sports teams, I was filled with mixed emotions. I was happy that I did not have to go through another baseball practice, standing in the outfield, hoping a ball would never be hit in my direction. But on the other hand, I was a “reject.” I did not go to basketball practice after school like everyone else. I felt alone.

Eventually, I realized that I was not a recluse, but that I enjoyed the company of other people, as well as taking part in activities. I recognized that I was not a social misfit, but a social butterfly. New friends helped me to discover my inherent sense of humor, along with my natural ardor to explore and appreciate the world around me. I began to focus on the other aspects of my life, the ones I enjoyed. In high school I identified my desire to become a leader, and I involved myself in different student organizations. I also pursued my interests in writing and film. I spent my time being productive, but more importantly, I felt good about myself and what I was doing.

My lack of ability for sports was something that separated me from many people, but also made me realize what in life I do enjoy. Now when faced with a challenge, I feel exactly like that little boy who stood, scared and uneasy, in that intimidating soccer field. The only difference is now that uneasiness is accompanied by a surge of confidence in my talent and capabilities.

Joseph Losardo

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