Fanning the flames

How soccer has changed over the course of my career


Stuti Upadhyay

It’s the first day of school and I’m asked to share a fun fact about myself. I’m at a family party and someone asks me what my hobbies are. I’m in Chinese class and I’m supposed to deliver a speech on a talent. No matter what the circumstance, when a situation like this arises, the thing that instantly pops to mind is soccer.

I’ve been playing soccer for nine years.

My second AYSO team, named the Lavender Lasers.


It started when I moved schools in second grade, and my parents wanted me to get involved in extracurricular activities. I had always been a fast runner, and I don’t remember if I chose soccer or my parents chose it for me, but I found myself participating in an American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) soccer team.

Those first couple seasons went by really quickly. I remember our ugly orange uniforms. I remember coming up with silly team names. I remember our half time game snacks: cuties, rice krispies and Capri Sun, graciously provided by our parents. I also, in all honesty, remember being pretty bad.

I didn’t know much about the sport. I wasn’t the best on the team, but I loved every practice. This love kindled a little flame inside me. I would come straight from competitive swim practice to soccer practice, totaling four hours of exercise before I got home.

Gradually, as I kept playing, the sport started coming more naturally. I learned how to lean to one side and cut to the other. I learned how to anticipate where the ball would go before it go to its destination. I learned how to use my body to steal the ball from other players.

I became the top scorer on my team – the player who played every minute of every game, the player who other teams were told to watch for, the player who loved the sport more than anyone else. The little flame became a fire.

The first competitive team I joined: De Anza Force.


I enjoyed this celebrity status for a few more seasons before I decided it was time to challenge myself. In sixth grade, I tried out and joined De Anza Force, a competitive team (albeit one of their lower ranks). There, my coach was more intense, the competition was harder and the environment was totally different than the playful days of AYSO.

Still, I was enjoying myself. Some of my best friends were on that team, and we would hang out at Kennedy after school – eating, laughing, doing homework and blasting “Tonight Tonight” by Hot Chelle Rae on repeat until it was time to walk to practice.

After becoming a captain of my club team and playing on the eighth grade team as a seventh grader, I dropped swimming, a sport I had been doing since I was three, just to focus on soccer.

I started practicing on my own time and began dreaming that one day I too could play professionally. Soccer started becoming a central part of my identify, and the fire consumed every part of my life.

As my soccer career progressed, I switched teams to Sunnyvale Alliance in eighth grade, and then once more in ninth grade, joining West Valley Vision, the club I play for today.

My current soccer club: West Valley Vision.

Over the years, I have dedicated thousands of hours of my life to soccer and have made countless friends. I still go to practice three times a week and play several games or tournaments on the weekend.

But something has changed.

I don’t know when it happened. I don’t know why it happened. I don’t know how it happened.

All I know, is that somewhere down the road, my love affair with soccer diminished.

It hurts to write this, because in a weird way, writing it is admitting something I don’t want to believe. Somewhere along the line, rain and wind have withered and beaten down the fire –  soccer just doesn’t matter to me as much.

I don’t remember the last time I looked forward to practice. Each time I get a TeamSnap notification, I pray it’s a cancellation. I’ve even wished for a small injury or sickness so I don’t have to play for a little while. It’s come to a point where I would rather sit on the bench than be on the field.

I used to drop everything just to have a ball at my feet, willing to spend hours at the park alone, practicing with pine cones and trees as my defenders and goal. But now, I hate to even tell people I play soccer, using the joke that I play ping-pong as a way to avert the incoming conversation about my atrophying soccer career.

And as hard as it is to say, I don’t think I will ever love the game as much as I did when I was younger. I was always a very emotional player, my performance on the field was tied to my confidence off it. But when I moved to Vision and started playing with people significantly better than me, I started losing that confidence. It was a vicious cycle; the more self-conscious I got about my skills, the worse I played – slowly diminishing the flame.

I told myself it was just a slump, after a few games I would be back to normal. But a few games turned to weeks, which turned to months, which turned to seasons.

Eventually, I just got tired of letting down my coach, my teammates, my parents and, most importantly, letting down myself. I spent every minute of every practice and game hoping I wouldn’t mess up, and it was exhausting. I couldn’t stop comparing myself to that little girl who had fallen in love with soccer so many years ago; why couldn’t I be as passionate and talented as I once was?

Soccer has introduced me to some of my closest friends.

Eventually, I began to ask: why even play?

No matter how much my dedication has faltered, I still find myself signing up season after season. It took me a long time to realize that although the spark is gone, I now appreciate the other aspects of soccer more than ever.

There is no place like the soccer field to take my mind of stress from school, friends and other activities. Soccer forces me to run and exercise, and as paradoxical as it sounds, the miles and sprints we run have energized me and kept me going on my toughest days. What’s more, my team has become my family away from my family. And although they have totally different backgrounds and perspectives from me, my teammates understand me like no one else in this world.

So, even though I no longer actually love the sport, I love what it brings to my life. I keep telling myself, ‘I’ll quit next season, it’s just a waste of money and time’. But I know said season will never arrive.

Soccer captured a part of me when I was eight years old. And although that fire has been extinguished to a few sparks, it will never truly disappear.