Sometimes I think I play with women, and I play against men.
Let me explain: I play in a weekly scrimmage in which I'm the only woman on the field. Last week I had fairly typical night for a female player in an all-male setting. That sort of game looks like this: My teammate has the ball, and there is plenty of space between us. I call for the ball. I'm open, probably because I am not being marked. This may be because I'm a girl. I would like to be seen as enough of a threat to be marked, but I am not above exploiting my invisibility to defenders. So I call for the ball again.
He now has two defenders on him. He looks around for someone to pass it to. I am still unmarked. I perhaps try to get in a better position to receive a pass, and call for the ball again. It is as if I am not only invisible, I am apparently mute as well. I call for the ball in Spanish, and in maybe even in French. I call for it again. He is still holding onto the ball and then he decides to, say, pass it back or attempt to cross it into a cluster of players.
This happens two, three, four times in a row. By which point I am fully demoralized. If at this point in the game the ball is passed to me, I am not expecting it. I either do a bad job controlling it, or get rid of it too quickly. I stop wanting the ball, so I am not fighting for it, and I drift out of the game entirely.
This is where I usually ask to play defense - which is a funny position for a girl my size in a guy's game. But by this point I am mad - at myself as much as my teammates.
Most of the game has been spent trying to make myself visible, to get in the game, and then digging myself out of the psychic hole that swallows you up as you wonder "Is it because I am a girl?" or "Am I that bad?"
So, once I am on the back line I play with the particular focus bestowed by rage. I think very cynically: "He's going to bring it up on the right, because I am here and he thinks he can get around me." And he probably can, since he's 15 years younger than me and has been playing a lot longer. But I can push him wide, and steer him to the next defender - containing him. That almost always works. Often, guys will call for the ball even when I am marking them. I love this. The more they do that, the more likely I am intercept the pass or force the turn-over. And when my foot is on the ball, they have nobody to blame but their own limited imagination.
I love the very particular frustration that those guys display when I get the ball away from them. I think I enjoy defending against guys for this reason. If I've spent the first half of the game being ignored, I play the second half like a castrating bitch. (This is more or less how I experience certain aspects of my professional life as well!)
When I play soccer with women, this stuff just doesn't happen. You either want the ball or you don't. A player who repeatedly doesn't pass the ball to an unmarked teammate who is calling loudly for the ball will catch shit from the entire team. And if I'm not getting the ball from a teammate, I just think she's an ass. I don't think she's sexist.
I became a much better player by playing with women. I got the ball a lot more often, and was expected to do more with it. (There is nothing quite so awful as that thing guys will do with girl-players - where they act like it's a miracle when you complete a pass. It takes the pleasure from the compliment if you realize that your basic competency has come as a surprise!)
Without the demoralization of playing with boys handy as a rationalization for limits in my ambition, I had to ask much deeper questions of myself. If I wasn't getting the ball, it was because I wasn't calling and fighting for the ball. It wasn't because the team didn't believe in me. It was because I didn't believe in myself.
The players I most admire play with an incredible confidence. The ball seems to find them. It's like they are fueled by a cocktail of desire and belief. Taking the field with women like this is just plain liberating.
And with that, I'll raise my glass to our new President and direct your attention to the video below, made by students at my home university - UC Riverside.
Yes We Did!