That time I took a chance and ended up at the championships

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Thank you all so much for your support! Thank you to my amazing friends SoSmith, Bj and Sims for showing up – it meant so much to me, much more than I expected.

We didn’t win the championship. I thought I was over it, I’ve given so many pep talks to the people who fought so hard for us to win and carried us all on their backs, but writing this proclamation into the atmosphere really drives it home.

I finally understand why sportsmen cry at the end of a championship/final that they’ve lost (no, I didn’t cry). Prior to this game, I’d always thought, there’s always next time. However, with the game staring me in the face, my only thoughts were: now is the time, this is the only championship that is a given, we’ve made it here, this is the one – our team may not be together next season and the journey to the championship is long and hard, making it a second time isn’t guaranteed. To echo a very pervasive SFF sentiment: on any given Sundayshow up, lace up, line up, ball out and watch magic happen.

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The journey to this championship changed me in so many ways – big and small and being part of SFF continues to teach me critical lessons on leadership, organizational behavior, culture, emotional intelligence and group think.

I have a confession.

A lifetime of watching almost every football movie from The Little Rascals to The Replacements and my absolute fave, Remember the Titans, coupled with watching football TV shows like Friday Night Lights, and even documentaries about the sport, must mean that I appreciate, and may even share, just a little bit of the furor that some sections of American culture have over this sport, and what is more, that I value the wisdom that can be gained from it. However, not even this love for the game in popular culture, or the fact that my cousins played all through high school and college, made me interested in watching games beyond oogling tight rear ends and watching the Super Bowl, as much for the game as for the adverts, halftime show and food. Until 4 months ago, I had never even attempted to catch a football – yeah, never participated in a game of catch.

You see, I was the type of little girl that didn’t run around too much, didn’t play too rough, didn’t fall down and get injured. But the confidence and settled-ness of my 30s are opening me up to trying new things, spurring me to push past imaginary boundaries of comfort zones towards purposely creating a full life that I am proud to live. So, when my friend sent out an open call for new players, my response was not “why”, which is the question that I have received the most when I tell people about this new past time, but “why NOT”? Since joining, I have been in awe of what I have discovered. I know for certain that I made the absolute right decision and I feel very privileged to be part of this league.

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I’ve had a ball and these are the things and learnings that I will cherish the most about this season:

People’s responses – the incredulity on people’s faces when they discover this new hobby is always amusing to me. A friend said, “I’d pay money to watch you play”; one brother said, “who would have thought that you’d be playing contact sport instead of me” and then further into the season he went, “I really like how into flagfootball you are”, after several injuries, the other brother said, “why don’t you play something else, like soccer, this is dangerous”.

I’ll miss that – I think I’m so square and predictable to the people who know me, it’s not often that I get to shock them so.

My coach(es) – I had the best head coach imaginable, and although my sample size is 1, as I have mentioned, I’ve watched so many sports movies. And have surmised that the essence of a coach is to make players believe (and deliver) what they didn’t know they had inside of them by teaching them technique, helping them find their heart (as in fortitude) and not letting them quit. Which probably means that coaches don’t stop believing irrespective of the score line. My coach had all of that, but what I really valued about him is that he rose above pettiness – he never got ruffled by other people’s emotions, was always calm and clear headed, never vindictive. Most teams have other unofficial coaches, i.e. really good players who help rookies out, and one such person, finally taught me to catch the ball, I like how he would always say: “Akwugo, don’t be afraid of the ball” or “you’ve got to keep your eyes open to make the catch”.

My teammates – I’ve always worked in team-oriented environments. However, I’ve only just realized that I knew nothing about how teams actually work and I would wager that most people don’t. It is little wonder that Netflix is popular for considering itself a sports team, rather than the emotional jargon of family that most other companies use. I always thought it was ok for me to be exceptional at what I needed to do, ensure everyone had a voice and was contributing, and drive the work along, even if that meant doing much more. Playing football, I realized that teams work when there is a clear definition of roles, everyone shows up (before, during and after the games) to do perform their roles to the best of their abilities and there is trust, respect and communication between players. On the turf, at practice, every single time, I gave everything I had to the people who lined up with me, and who came out to also give everything they had.

We had a bunch of crazies on our team and the most fun! I’ll really cherish these memories.

The love of the game – So, I’m still a novice at this, so listen to my waxing with a pinch of salt. Football is a game of strategy and I guess that can be said about any sport. But, I think that in ways that isn’t present in other sports, football relies a lot on analyzing your opponents’ plays, and preempting/predicting their next move. In that way, I think more than any other sport that I have watched, football relies on game theory. And that’s sexy af.

As a defender, my main job is not to buy the sell that the offense is trying to sell me, not to react too quickly and to watch the ball. With not falling for the sell, I often thought how this would be valuable lesson for everyone on how not to blindly trust.

These are only a few things that I learned and/or loved about playing football this season. I’ll have to make it a two part post in order to cover the other points, or just write about the points individually. I hope my experience convinces you to go out and try a sport, and if it does, I hope you will consider SFF (if you are in Lagos).

I’d love to hear what you love most about playing your favorite sport.