On Monday nights in the depths of winter, the Yale women’s club soccer team drives to Oakwood Sports Center to get bulldozed by girls still bedazzled in braces. The soccer attire I wear as a wizened college senior would have my brace-faced self appalled and refusing to acknowledge our clear biological relationship. Back then I felt that combining soccer socks with sneakers was akin to pairing spots with stripes, except infinitely worse. Now a doddering 22-year-old, I just don’t care.
This Monday, I sported fat, five-dollar sneakers and briefly experimented with my Absalom, Absalom! paperback as a makeshift shin guard, but I decided I really couldn’t do that to William Faulkner, and besides, it turns out that books make rather clumsy soccer gear.
As usual, stepping onto the artificial turf and seeing our spritely adolescent opponents for the first time all winter reminded us of what we looked like when we too had barely passed through puberty and when every meal we ate wasn’t an all-you-can-eat buffet. Lining up against a local U-16 team is like looking back at our high school varsity selves — sleek, strong, skilled. Now we are slow, stodgy and slightly plump.
Putting these innate inferiorities aside, the odds at Oakwood are stacked blatantly against us. It’s like training at sea level to go compete in the Himalayas: These U-college prepubescent teams practice every day of the week and develop a keen sense for the stealth strategies of indoor play. They’ve also got the advantage of a menacing coach and a consistent lineup, whereas our team arrives with a different batch of players eachMonday, fumbling around with positions and trying to get a hang of each other’s playing styles on the fly.
What has continuously baffled me over my four years on this team is our steadfast commitment to self-obliteration, the frosty Monday nights we drag ourselves from our bedrooms to get crushed by Shirley Temple and friends. What we’re doing is almost completely antithetical to the typical hardwiring of a Yale student’s psyche: We are willingly going out of our way to lose to less charming versions of our former selves. In the mental calculus of day-to-day Yale that seeks to maximize achievement and to glorify everything from the mundane to the even more mundane, ourMonday night games are a true anomaly.
Pause and think about the stereotypical Yalie. She sometimes appears a caricature of herself, glorifying everything she does out of insecurity that she isn’t as glorious as everyone around her — glorifying applications, glorifying exclusivity, glorifying stress, glorifying fatigue and glorifying the state of being perpetually busy. But as for our Monday nights at Oakwood? There is nothing there to glorify. In fact, we are voluntarily deglorifying ourselves — losing sometimes by double digits to girls barely out of the womb.
So why do we even bother?
A year or two ago, I’m not sure I could have told you. Our inevitable Oakwood losses felt like a huge imposition on Monday nights when I could have been sitting in bed cleaning out my email inbox. But in my last indoor season with the club soccer girls, I think I’ve finally realized what it’s about, and now it seems so simple: It’s about commitment.
As a Yalie, I obviously spend most of my time trying to scrupulously sculpt myself into an ideal human specimen. But when I’m with the club soccer team, my attention is drawn away from myself and into the group. Two or three times a week, I drop everything Yale and exist in this suspended, completely deglorified state of being. I don’t know anyone’s course schedule, or where they did or didn’t do their summer internships. I have almost no sense of my teammates’ extracurriculars or whether they’re in relationships. What I do know is whether they have a decent left foot, how they communicate on the field and how they play in the last five minutes of a tied game. Even then, there’s nothing real at stake. We’re not a varsity team, everyone gets equal playing time and ultimately, the only thing on the line is a sense of individual and team integrity. But maybe there is something real at stake — commitment to a larger, greater entity than ourselves: the team.
Many Yalies I know tend to commit partially, selectively and capriciously. They choose what is best and most convenient, whether it’s a class, a relationship or an extracurricular, spending time on things they can tag on Facebook or tack onto their resume. This pseudo-commitment has been pervasive during my time at Yale, and it has always unsettled me — above all when I know I’m doing it myself.
Monday nights at Oakwood detract from my schoolwork, my suite and my sleep. They showcase the extent to which my fitness and foot skills have degenerated since high school, and I usually come home with a sore ankle and large patches of rug burn. But I also come home with the satisfaction of having fully committed to something.
Tao Tao Holmes is a senior in Branford College. Her columns run on alternate Fridays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.