Soccer in Sanya

A lot has happened in a little bit of time, so I’m going to make a couple posts before I have to return to the working world on Monday. My last post was about all our activities happening in our lives, but these will be a little bit more focused (I hope). This one is about my very first soccer tournament.

I never played sports when I was a kid. I tried out gymnastics, but never got serious about anything. I’m actually not that good at sports, but I’ve enjoyed watching them and I love physical activity. When my friend Lariska asked me to come play soccer with her four years ago, I was hesitant at first, because I had only played a few games in my life. She encouraged me and so I came out to play with the Shekou Women’s club. I went once a week (or as often as I could) and the women were all very supportive. They needed people to play, so were willing to help me develop my skills and encouraged me. I can’t say that I’ve improved very much over the 4 years I’ve been playing, I’m still very much a novice, but I did form some amazing bonds with the women I’ve played with. Some have come and gone, but there are a few girls who’ve been around since I started, and I couldn’t have asked for a more diverse and loving group to hang out and play soccer with.

So the opportunity arose to be a part of a team to go and play in a tournament in Sanya (China’s “Hawaii”), and I was unsure at first. Like I said, I’m still not that good. But I’m tall and I can run pretty well, so in that regard I can offer some help to my team. Donnie encouraged me to go, and bought plane tickets for me for my birthday, and I signed up to go with the team. I say team, but really we just play pick-up once a week and never really train as a team. A bunch of the women I started with 4 years ago were going, and I was excited to spend the time with them, albeit anxious about the actual playing.

We amped up our playing, twice a week in the few weeks preceding the tournament, and tried our best to work out positions that everyone felt comfortable with. It’s hard without a coach, but we managed. Soon enough, we were all heading out to the airport on our way to Sanya. I met up with Steph and Ashley, who live in my apartments and we traveled together by crowded metro to meet up with the rest of the team at the Shenzhen airport. Our flight was at 9pm and we were all anxious to get there and get to bed to be rested for the tournament the next day.

Our flight was easy, about 80 minutes, but it took a long time to finally get settled into our rooms for the night. I think I got to bed around 1am and we had to be up for breakfast at 7am. After a quick sleep, I was up and ready for the day. Unfortunately, there was no coffee to be had in the hotel breakfast buffet, so we wandered to find a shop with little success. We did discover that our hotel was super close to the beach, which was awesome news. All the teams were staying at the same hotel, so we boarded the bus and made our way to the fields for the day. The tournament was sponsored by a Turkish beer company, Efes, so there was plenty of beer and water at the field. The men’s teams started to drink while they played! The women’s team was more focused, and we warmed up and tried to calm our nerves before we started.

There were only 3 teams, so we would have to play each team twice, and then a possible championship game. That equal 5 thirty minute games! When we play weekly, we usually only do an hour and we’re playing on a much smaller field and at night! One team was from Shanghai, and they were the real deal, a team with sponsorship and everything. The other team was from Xiamen, they were hosting the tournament and were more like us, a group of women who liked to play when they could. We played Shanghai first, and lost a close game 0-1, but my confidence was up. We could hold our own. It took a little while to get our game play figured out, but we hit our stride when we played the Xiamen team. I think we beat them 6-1, with their goal coming from a bogus penalty shot (the ref was terrible).

We rested while Xiamen played Shanghai, and then had to face Shanghai again. This time we beat them 1-0, and that felt really, really good. Their players were a bit rough, and we suffered an injury (Amanda rolled her ankle), and our fatigue was setting in. There was a cool breeze, but the sun was hot and we had no snacks other than water, beer or Coke. Xiamen lost again, so instead of playing them again, we went straight to the championship game against Shanghai again. Our heads weren’t in it and we lost by 3 or 4 goals, but overall I was really pleased with our team. For never having played or trained together, we did pretty well in the scheme of things. We took second place, and it was time to hit the beach!

From the field, we went straight to a beach barbeque. The weekend had been all planned out with transportation and food, so it was easy. We jumped on the bus and then got off at the beach about a 10 minute walk from our hotel. The food was ready when we arrived, so we stuffed our faces with burgers and beer, then headed back to the hotel to get our swim stuff on. The beach was crowded, but fun. Some of the players did a sand soccer tournament and we gathered a crowd a couple of times. Laura and I went for a swim in the water, which was clear and cool and beautiful, but mostly we just relaxed, chatted and enjoyed the sun. It was glorious afternoon, and I was content to chill with these awesome ladies. I went back to the hotel before everybody else for a shower and a rest before dinner.

We all cleaned up and looked sharp as we headed out to dinner at a nice hotel a bit of a walk from ours. I could tell the vibe at dinner was building to a big night out, but I was tired of beer and just worn out in general (losing my voice too). I wasn’t the only one, and so most of us finished dinner and went back to the hotel. I went to bed, while a few others went to massages.

We were up early again the next day, and I met up with Steph, Chappy, Ashley and Laura for a walk to seek out coffee. We found Starbucks! It wasn’t open yet, so we sat and chatted while we waited. Four of us were going back to Shenzhen in the early afternoon, so after coffee we walked down and soaked up the early beach scene before heading back to the hotel to grab our stuff and head for the airport. It was an easy trip home, and we shared a cab back to our area of town before parting ways.

I enjoyed my time so much on this trip. It was in a beautiful place with amazing people. Some of us are departing this year, Chappy is going to NY, Amanda to GZ, and me to Italy. Steph just got back from Canada, and Laura and Ashley are staying around here too. The team will go on and grow and change, of that I’m sure. I’m not sure if I’ll play soccer again, and even if I do, I don’t think I’ll ever play with such an awesome group of people. They have become lifelong friends, and I know we’ll see each other again some day. Thank you for teaching me the game and what it means to be on a team, ladies. I will never forget you.

Much love, J


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