Soccer is just about the only sport kids play around here. It is also the only one with it’s own Greek name. All the other sports (basketball, football, baseball, hockey, tennis, and volleyball) are called by their English name. Most people don’t even know hockey or baseball. Some kids do play a little basketball, but soccer is definitely the dominant sport. Kids play it all the time; I’ve even seen a few of my friends kicking around an empty soda can when there was no ball available. And it’s not only the children–all of the men can play soccer well too. My teacher, Mr. Kosta, who doesn’t look like he would like to play sports, is a great goal keeper. Many of the older men sit around in cafenios late at night, playing cards and watching soccer. My school has a courtyard in the back where kids can play soccer, so at almost every recess we play. And, most evenings kids go up there to play it even more. They never get tired of it.
One day in October my friend Kosmas asked me if I wanted to go with him to AOM. AOM is the soccer team on our part of the island. Zach and I are on the “little kid’s team” with boys around 8 years old up to my age. We have practice every Saturday at 5pm for two hours (and on Wednesdays when we don’t have school). It is not as organized as things are in America, but it still is fun. The coach has us run three laps around the field at the beginning of practices (most times). Then we do some stretches and some drills and usually play a scrimmage at the end of practice.
This past Saturday we had our first and only game with Diagora, the team from the Raches area. It wasn’t even scheduled; our coach just called up the coach from Raches the week before an asked him if he wanted to have a game the following Saturday. The game ended in a tie, 6-6. Zach and I both played very well, but neither of us scored. It was a fun experience and I hope we got to play again.
Soccer was never really a sport I liked too much, but since coming here I think it is much more fun. It is also much easier to play whenever you want, because the kids have so much more freedom. If a kid in America wanted to play soccer (or any sport) with some friends, first he would have to find a place to play. If that place happened to be his backyard, he’d have to ask permission if he could have a group of friends over. Next, he’d have to call those friends who, in turn, would have to ask their parents if they could go to his house. The parents would have to drive them to the friend’s house and pick them up at a set time to take them back. Here, the kids tell their moms that they are going to the school and on the way call some friends to tell them to come as well. Then, they return when they want or when their moms call them. Easy. The only problem is that most kids don’t have a good ball to play with!
Here, soccer is a game that people of all ages enjoy. When we come back to America, I’ll miss going to AOM every Saturday evening and playing soccer with friends whenever I want. But when I come back here other times, soccer will still be here, and I will still have my friends to play it with.
***Extra note from Jackie: AOM is a free soccer club. No fees, no uniforms, no frills….no bringing snack to practices or games….nothing but playing. Thank you to the father, Vasili, who gives up his time every week and volunteers to coach!