Soccer takes hold at UNL

By Patrick Radigan, NewsNetNebraska

A number of players have experience playing with soccer, but there are many who are new to the game. “It’s an exciting combination,” said sophomore Nolan Wheeler. Photo: Pat Radigan, NewsNetNebraska

In most countries around the world soccer is referred to as the beautiful game.

For many students at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, it’s an unknown beauty. But that doesn’t keep them from trying their hand – or foot.

With a lot of fields available and intramural soccer exploding in popularity, many newcomers to the soccer world have found a passion for it. There may be as many good moments as bad, but students new to the game have found their place alongside more experienced counterparts. They’ve come to love the beautiful game.

“It’s really cool to see all the best players in the world on TV and the kids who’ve played before here and try to emulate that,” said sophomore Nolan Wheeler.

Wheeler plays on an intramural squad with his fraternity, Theta Xi. Like most teams, the team has a few players with experience. But most are new to the game.

“It’s an interesting mix to say the least,” said sophomore Joe Toscano. “It’s fun to see how everyone interacts during the games.”

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Toscano said he thinks a lot of people are drawn to soccer because the basics are pretty straightforward. It’s a game, he added, where hard work and effort can make up for a lack of talent.

Sophomore teammate Chad Brown, who played soccer before college, said peer pressure is also drawing converts. According to Brown, people start playing because their friends sign them up, but that they learn to enjoy the game once they get involved.

Players compete in intramural action at the Mabel Lee fields. The leagues are divided into A, B and C and have both mens and women’s. Photo: Pat Radigan, NewsNetNebraska

“I think a lot of the newcomers get into it because of their friends,” Brown said. “They tell them they need a player and give them some tips. It really helps them develop a love for the game.”

Outside of the benefits of competition, associate professor of sociology L. Janelle Dance said taking up a new sport like soccer has social benefits. Although it isn’t her area of expertise, Dance brings unique insight into the sociology of sports because she competed at the national level in Taekwondo. Sports such as soccer and Taekwondo can bring people together because they’re not mainstream.

“A sport like soccer isn’t one of the mainstream sports, and that’s a reason for bonding,” Dance said. “It helps in creating these friendships because you have friends that are interested in a sport that matters to you, but that isn’t necessarily in the mainstream.”

Another social benefit of sport, Dance said, is the fact it helps cut down cultural and racial barriers. According to Dance, playing alongside someone in a sport can help see past superficial details of someone’s personality.

“If I start to play with you in a sport, and we both love the sport, I can see you as a sports person,” Dance said. “We can see through the ways we are trained to socialize.”

Along with the success some players see when they first start playing soccer, also come a number of struggles. Brown said it’s pretty obvious when someone has little experience with the game, and it leads to entertaining moments. Sophomore Katie Michaelsen said her favorite moment was when one the opposing team didn’t know how to properly execute the kick-off. Michaelsen said little things like throw-ins and dribbling also show people’s inexperience.

“It’s like a little game where you have to try and guess how you can get them to mess up,” Michaelsen said. “It can be a lot of fun to go against new players.”

The large number of new players can be challenging. Intramural referee Michael Kappen said the number of players who don’t know the rules makes being a referee a tough task.

“It’s a lot tougher than other sports where players know what traveling or holding is,” Kappen said. “It makes it a lot more of a teaching role than other referee’s jobs.”

One of the most entertaining aspects of new players taking up soccer, Kappen said, is seeing them realize how much skill it takes to be an elite player.

“I don’t think people realize just how much time and energy it takes to develop the skills to be a consistent player,” he said.

Overall, Wheeler said the wave of new players who take up soccer may have different backgrounds and abilities, but that they share a common bond on the field.

“At the end of the day you can’t be worried about what you can or can’t do,” Wheeler said. “It’s all about having fun and competing. We’re all in it together.”

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