A Fighting Spirit
by Sam Greene
I practice Buddhism with my family in Los Angeles. I grew up in a large house and life was good. I was always a big sports fan, and I began to take soccer very seriously around 11 years old.
By this time my parents had divorced, I lived in a much smaller house, my mom had to work full-time and life seemed pretty tough.
Soccer was a big outlet for me. My friends' parents often gave us rides to games when my mom was working. I did however experience many scenarios that at the time I saw as unfair. Some of the girls on my soccer team would always have the latest and most expensive soccer shoes, and two even had a small soccer field built into their backyard. It was a real struggle for my mother to find the money each month for fees and tournament expenses.
My mother was not able to attend many of my matches as she worked full-time. Around this time life got really dismal when my father was arrested for tax fraud and was sent to prison. I became even angrier and more confused.
The coach of our team, George, started to give me private coaching--like me he had a father who had gone to jail when he was in high school. I put a lot of faith in him, and then he was fired. I was devastated, but I kept on chanting for a solution.
My mom and I found a new team a one and half hour drive from our town, but with the help of many members of our SGI community who volunteered to drive me there when my mom was working, I started to become a valuable member of the team.
Just getting on this team seemed like a miracle. I had a lot of hard work ahead of me. After letting my team down by getting a red card and not being allowed to play for two crucial league games, I realized that I needed to check my anger. My mother encouraged me with stories about Roberto Baggio, the great Italian soccer player who is an SGI member. She quoted SGI President Ikeda and Nichiren in building up my self-esteem and confidence.
I started to chant before my games and began to make a difference in my team. I feel more confident when I chant before playing. I know I have done my best and that nothing has stopped me from doing so. I feel I have a better understanding of people and situations, and I don't get affected or distracted by the moods of the referee, the other players or my coach.
Our big challenge was the National Championships. My team were the outsiders, and I often felt like the underdog on the team, but through hard work and a never-give-up spirit we won the National Championship in Florida in 2004. Although my mother could not come, she got up at 6 am to chant at the same time as me every day. My team also won the Fair Play award, and we each received a special recognition plaque from the State of California. My whole team knows about my chanting and even encourages me now to chant before a penalty kick or an important game.
Recently my father was released from jail and was able come to my games and also help my mother financially. This has made a big impact on my confidence and my game.
Soccer has taught me team spirit, how to listen to others and accept differences. It has taught me to never stop believing in myself. At 16, I am lucky to have a passion which is also a good way to stay out of trouble and to travel and see new places. I was recently surprised to be named Player of the Year in Ocean League girls soccer in California. I hope to get into a good college, to one day play for my country and become someone who will contribute to the world as a teacher.
[ Courtesy July 2006 SGI Quarterly ]