Beautiful Game: Sixteen Girls and the Soccer Season That Changed Everything by Jonathan Littman
Once nobody noticed Santa Rosa's Thunder. They were a ragtag team of girls who wanted to play soccer, and no one took them seriously. Their male coach expected little from his "ladies, " and their mediocre performance convinced them he was right.
Then a kind of miracle happened. Emiria Salzmann, Thunder's new coach, a top player herself, knew what it took to windiscipline, relentless drills, thigh-burning sprints, and an inspired passing game. The girls hated it, but their coach never let up. Tough and determined, she showed them what it felt like to be winnersand they loved it. As the momentum grew with a string of victories, the girls thrived on the competition, believing they had the right stuff to become champions.
They were right! With spirits soaring, Thunder won its league on the last day of the season and headed for the state cup, emerging not just as powerful athletes but as strong, confident, emotionally healthy human beingschampions in the game of soccer, and in the game of life.
Jonathan Littman is the author of three previous books, including The Fugitive Game and The Watchman, and his articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times Magazine, Forbes, the San Francisco Chronicle, and other publications. A former college soccer player (on Berkeley's nationally ranked NCAA playoff sqaud), he is the father of two young daughters. He lives in the Bay Area.
Read an Excerpt
Chapter One Tryouts
Elbows out and ready, the girl with the piercing eyes and apple cheeks figured she had an edge, maybe two. Jessica Marshall could play goalkeeper as well as field positions, and unlike the others, she actually knew the coach, and thus knew her elbows would count. But looking out at the sea of ponytails bobbing up and down on the vast grassy field, Jessica could also do the math. Out of the forty thirteen- and-fourteen-year-old talented girls at the tryouts, over half wouldn't last the week.
The air was crisp that April afternoon. Though a freeway way bustled just a couple of hundred yards to the east, the only sound on the field was the swish of the grass underfoot, the lulling patter of the balls swinging between the players, and the symphony of breaths that rose like a tide. If this was a stadium, its walls reflected the community in which it stood. To the north loomed a destroyer sized aluminum-sided warehouse, fronted by a fence bearing the names of local sponsors who had put up a few hundred bucks to plug their businesses: Downey Tire Center, Terchlund Law Offices, Round Table Pizza, and the local paper, the Press Democrat. Weeds choked the vast empty acreage beyond the fields, and to the west end, facing the freeway, towering eucalpytus trees promised some afternoon shade. The only amenities were a tiny blue wooden snack bar and a Porta Potti. Belluzzo Fields, they called it, the center of youth soccer in the Northern Californian city of Santa Rosa.
It was a city defined in great part by what it was not. Santa Rosa was not the prosperous and refined city of San Francisco, which lay more than fiftymiles to the south. Nor was it the languorous wine country of Napa, just thirty miles to the east over the hills. Santa Rosa was an old town by western standards that was enjoying a little boom.
You could find the past in the Sonoma County Fairgrounds just a couple miles up the road from Belluzzo, where they still held Mexican dances and competitions for cows, horses, sheep, and goats. But the future was everywhere. High-tech companies had migrated north to Santa Rosa, and the town had largely shed its agricultural roots as it quickly mushroomed to nearly 150,000 people. Traffic often choked the two-lane freeway that linked Santa Rosa with the San Francisco Bay area to the south and Oregon to the north. Many parents zigzagged home from practice on side streets, fed up with the congestion. Developments were springing up all over. New homes were crowding the once rural Highway 12, which ran east to Sonoma and Napa, or west to the bucolic old town of Sebastopol, famous for its apples.
Coach Salzmann barely said hello, and certainly didn't smile. All they knew about Salzmann, they'd read in the brief letter alerting them to the tryouts for the Eclipse under-fourteen girls' team, one of over twenty squads sponsored by the Santa Rosa United Youth Soccer club. They'd been asked to bring the usual, "shin guards, cleats, water, a ball," but they hadn't quite known what Salzmann meant by "whatever else it takes for you to play your best." The letter had trumpeted the typical sports platitudes, goals Salzmann considered essential: "Dedication, Work Ethic, Discipline, Attitude, Competition, and Fun."
Jessica's deep-set eyes made the dishwater blond look as if she were squinting, questioning the world. A mouthful of braces made her self-conscious about smiling. Fun wasn't a word Jessica would use to describe the ordeal. The letter outlined how they would be put through skill work, testing their dribbling, passing, shooting, juggling, and fitness, and finally matching them up in scrimmages. This was a test, not only of their "technical performance," but also of their commitment. Salzmann made clear that effort would count plenty, suggesting they arrive fifteen minutes early to jog and warm up before practice started.
"I won't have any favorites," Coach Salzmann told the girls sitting on the grass on the first day of the three-day tryouts. "Just because someone was on last year's team doesn't mean they'll make it this year."
Lateness wouldn't be permitted. Interruptions were not taken lightly. Players engaged in giggling and chatting at their own risk. Coach Salzmann wasn't merely looking for the best players. Salzmann wanted the most coachable players, girls who, whether or not they realized it yet, were hungry for hard training.
None of this was any surprise to Jessica. She'd watched Salzmann crank three goals in a college game, get crumpled by a defender, and continue playing as if it were nothing more than a scratch. Jessica had played for Salzmann at a summer camp, and won a measure of respect by beating her share of boys. But Jessica also knew Salzmann's reputation for toughness was deserved. Talent wasn't enough in Salzmann's eyes.
Three months before, back in rainy January, Jessica had begun her own preparation. Her father, a pastor at Santa Rosa Christian Church, awakened her before dawn for the short drive to the local junior college. There, for an hour before the start of school, Jessica ran wind sprints and the stadium bleachers until her thighs burned. Behind the speed work was an old coach, an old dig. For Jessica had tried out for the elite Eclipse Class I team the previous year, and thought she'd shown well enough to make it again, just as she had two years running. Then she got the call. She was at home watching TV with her more gifted teammate and friend Shannon, a tall, chocolate-skinned girl with the olive-shaped eyes of a doe.
"I'm sorry, you didn't make the team," said the Eclipse coach, abruptly hanging up before Jessica could mumble a reply.
Beautiful Game: Sixteen Girls and the Soccer Season That Changed Everything 3.8 out of 5based on
More than 1 year ago
This book has documented an inspiring story. As the soccer team struggles through all the set backs, the players and the coach both grew tastically and emontionally. I would have given this book 5 stars if I have not read the two chapters. (But don't miss the last page.) The story itself is 5 stars for sure. Sometimes, the 16 players can be confusing. But it's not hard to remember them with their faces on the book's cover. I would personally recommend this book to any coach in any sport. Male or Female. (But for male readers, beware of the purple cover. Reading a purple book in public will draw some attention.) From my own 3yr of coaching exp, it's hard to draw the fine line when to be tough or just a friend. This book gives me a baseline on when to be tough as a coach.
More than 1 year ago
Littman's story of the 16 club soccer players from Santa Rosa is an excellent read for anyone with competitive soccer players. The book details the ups and downs of club soccer as the girls develop both on and off the field.
More than 1 year ago
This book sucks
More than 1 year ago
THIS IS THE BEST BOOK IN THE WORLD! It is inspiring and not only teaches you about soccer, but life in general. Littman is a genius!
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