Coming to Race Consciousness
Soccer has been the best way for me to understand race differences. When I started, I played in a league where I was in the majority, and I finished my soccer career in a league where I was a minority. I learned a lot about race differences when interacting with my teammates, parents, coaches, and opponents. A lot of stereotypes I had were broken and many stereotypes they had when they met me were broken. Soccer was a great way for me to understand other’s differences as well as others to understand mine.
I started playing soccer with the American Youth Soccer Organization and was among the ethnic majority. I lived in the gold coast, attended Francis Parker, and only left those to places to go up to Montrose to play. After playing for 3 seasons I was the best on my team. When I was recruited to play for a club team, there were many more players who were from different ethnic backgrounds. I felt like the club was split with 50% white athletes and 50% athletes of color. This was an eye opening experience for me. Playing for that team was one of the first times I really understood that most people are not white. Not only did I learn a lot about their racial differences but we were able to have total trust and respect for each other from the first practice to even now.
After getting to know some of the Hispanic players on the team, I started to play with them in Hispanic leagues. Then I was the minority. I had never experienced this before. I was one of two or three white players in the entire league. It helped me understand what it is like to be a minority. The coach’s instructions to the team were in Spanish, and then he would translate for me individually. It was always kind of funny because the coach would speak to the whole team for a few minutes after the game in Spanish, and then says a couple of words to me. I always wondered if I missed anything because he obviously
talked to the other athletes more. I think it took longer to get to know the players in the Hispanic leagues team because I didn’t speak Spanish, and most of the coaches spoke little to no English. All of the players did speak English at school so we were able to talk on and off the field. I am glad I had the skills to be a starter for them because I gained a lot of respect from my teammates and opponents. If I was never good enough to play, it would have been difficult to play. In a work environment, people will gain respect for others when a wanted task is accomplished. I felt like it was easier for me to get to know the players because we respected each other from the first practice on.
Many of the parents talked with my father on the sidelines and tried to get to know our family better. After a season passed, my best friend’s parents told my dad about how he immigrated to the U.S. They said they crossed the Rio Grande with all of his belongings above his head. They admitted to us that they were illegal immigrants and that many of the other parents on the team were also illegal immigrants. His father said that his life-long goal was to come to the U.S., get citizenship, open a liquor store, and send his children to college. At this time he had already been in the U.S. for 10 years and still hadn’t gained citizenship. A soccer scholarship was the next best way for his children to be able to afford college. For me, soccer was just a fun activity to play on weekends. For the rest of the team, it was the thing that would help their futures the most. After learning and thinking about this, I felt like I needed to step up and push myself every time I played. I couldn’t imagine having my whole future tied up in my physical skills. The way the parents and players opened up to my family was unbelievable. I would never have told anyone about myself if I was in their shoes.
The Hispanic league coaching was different from AYSO. In this league, playing time wasn’t guaranteed. If I didn’t perform, I didn’t play. It was difficult to improve since I didn’t know the language would ask the coaches to explain the different skills that I needed to work on but they did not always have a clear answer. I learned the most from the players because the coach would talk to them and then | could look for the change they made. I would go out and practice that skill on my own.
While playing for this team, I learned about the way soccer is played everywhere else in the world. For example, running up the score was also accepted. In other countries in the world, not continuing to try your hardest is more of an insult than running up the score. In America, coaches will substitute players, change the team’s rules, etc. to make the outcome less overwhelming for the losing side. Learning about this gave me a better understanding of the sport and how it is played.
I learned so much on and off the field about the real world. Without soccer I would have been very ignorant. I have not talked to my teammates recently but I do know one of them has received a soccer scholarship for college. I am really glad I took advantage of the opportunities I was given because I could have easily denied any of the offers I received. I feel like I have grown to better understand race differences and soccer was the mode I used to achieve it. The best way for people to learn and understand cultural differences is to be immersed in it.