How to Coach Soccer Without Being Good at It

This is my soccer team. Or rather, this was my soccer team. Friday was my last big soccer game with the international students at Kaplan Aspect, the English language school where I've been working the past two years. In this photo, we represent the following countries: Russia, Spain, Germany, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Peru, Korea, Brazil, Kazakhstan, France, Switzerland, South Africa, and the U.S. It was a beautiful day at Golden Gate Park, and for once we had the whole field to ourselves.

I started a soccer club at Kaplan about a year ago, when our Activities and Student Services Manager asked me if I could help her out by leading weekly and monthly activities. The group has alternately shrunk and expanded as each subsequent group of students has come and gone; first I had a wave of serious players who wanted to help me rent out Balboa Park, then there were the chill Japanese guys with the fanciest footwork I'd ever seen, and even, when I was the lucky, the occasional girl. For months all we had was a single soccer ball, and then when my friend Itaru left for Japan, he gave me another one. Eventually I bought a pump, and my colleague surprised me for Christmas with a set of bright orange cones.

We've wandered around different parts of the Park--usually Hippie Hill, near Haight St., or behind the baseball field at 7th and Lincoln. Sometimes I could convince them to ride the 5 bus out to Marx Meadows, which added ten minutes to our public transit journey, but afforded us longer, sunnier fields. Once we got kicked off the Polo fields, and once we had to settle for a small patch of land between bramble bushes.

The most amazing thing about soccer is that no matter who came, and how they identified with the sport, once we started the game, everyone relaxed. Those who claimed to be "too good" for our squirrel-studded fields and chastised me for playing without shin guards eventually forgot their complaints and focused on the game. Those who had never played before, and insisted that they had only come to take photos, eventually found themselves gravitating from the sidelines to the field. This last game I felt especially proud because I had finally gotten a Korean girl to play, and she was fantastic.

There are few things more universal than sports, and, at the risk of sounding cheesy, there are few things more gratifying than knowing you've somehow managed to bring an entire community of English-language-learners together. Huzzah.