What it's really like playing soccer as a woman
Walking to my local soccer fields at the start of the AYSO season was always my favorite moment growing up. I would get to meet everyone I’d be playing with, get my uniform, and help name my team. Best of all, I would finally be able to play soccer again. From the ages of five to now, as a 17-year-old, I have played soccer. I have been a part of AYSO and three different travel teams. I have played with my school, both middle and high, and been among the top scorers as well as team captain.
And yet, I was chosen last during a game of pick-up soccer. Not because I wasn’t good friends with any of them, not because I was mean or underprepared, and certainly not because I was the worst player. Nope, I was chosen last because I was a girl.
The story goes as such: my friend and I (who play together on a travel team) met our friends to play pick-up soccer. Pick-up is essentially an unofficial soccer game, where you go to the fields with a bunch of friends and start to play against another group of friends. As more and more players showed up to our game, the scowl on our team’s faces grew; two spots on their team were being taken by girls, instead of the “elite” boys that just showed up.
Then I heard a yell from my half of the field.
“We get another player, since two of us are girls and we need another boy.” I turned to look at the boy, my friend, who had just segregated me into a position of weakness. Two girls are just as strong as two boys, I wanted to shout back. But he was my friend. I let it slide. Another boy joined our team.
Having dealt with these situations all my life, I eventually learned to not even try to play with boys unless they’re being forced to play with girls. I recently was invited to a game of pick-up, and though it was a beautiful day and I had nothing else to do, I declined. There is a certain amount of dignity that I refuse to lose when it comes to soccer, and if I’m going to be chosen last, ignored, or completely overlooked, then it’s no use playing anyways.
Coed games are something that all of my female teammates dread. We have met some incredibly talented boys, but playing with them is useless. The boys we play with don’t pass to us or look at us when we call. Even when they need someone to pass to, they’ll try and shake the other player before giving us the ball. When I go to practice knowing my coach will make us play with the boys, it’s hard to get excited. This used to happen every Tuesday and Thursday — that is, until my coach left after four years of working with us.
He recently left our team to focus more on the boy’s team and cultivate their talent. I wouldn’t be upset about this if he had been working with the boys longer than he had been working with us, but the sad truth is that he met our teams at the same time. It may even be true that he met them after he met us.
He never bothered to learn our names. He always made us play with the boys, despite our complaining. He gave us the same drills and the same advice every practice. He barely showed up to any of our games because the boys would be playing at the same time. It would be one thing if we were losing our games. But we were winning most of them. We were nearly undefeated (nearly, due to the first three games of our season). Why else would he have left us, if not for our talent? Oh yes, because we’re girls. Automatically, we’re not worth the time.
I said it’s hard going to practice when you know you’re going to be overlooked on the field. But it’s harder to go when you know your mentor doesn’t care about you, no matter how good you are.
When I saw the U.S. Women’s National Team’s new campaign, donned “Equal Play, Equal Pay,” I was frustrated to see that these small problems I face every time I play never get better. Frankly, the women’s team is so much better than the men’s team (just look at the stats!) but they still get paid less. If the best of the best can’t even receive equality, then there’s no way I should expect it going onto the field. So for now, I will pride myself as a girl player, and maybe one day, I will be considered an equal player amongst my male peers.
August Graves is a high school senior in New York City. In her free time, she writes, plays soccer, tries to play with her cat, memorizes all the words to Hamilton, and binge watches food shows like Chopped and Master Chef Junior. She will be attending college in LA next fall, and is so ready to begin her post-high school journey. Find her on Instagram and Snapchat: augustmarion.