my Soccer journey

By Ramona Paul

At 7 years old, I took my first steps on what would become a long, sometimes lonely, road. Since then, soccer has taken me everywhere. To England to pursue my history and coaching badges, to the Netherlands to learn from coaching experts, to Sweden for the world's largest youth tournament, to Ghana to share my knowledge with others, and a thousand other stops along the way.

These are just the places that show up on a map. Through the game, I've reached many other depths and heights that my young self could not have dreamed of.

I've played soccer on perfectly manicured pitches, astro turfs of varying softness, mountain tops with very little oxygen, and on dirt with rocks throughout.

I've played in the park for fun, in the FA Cup for glory, on a busy street corner in London with women who came to play and feel, to battle and heal. I'm playing now in a space that feels like a kind of home, with the beginning of a new chapter, a place to build 'good' up and let 'bad' go.

Despite the opportunities I've received and my years of dedication to the sport, I felt that I never quite fit in. Like the person who is telling a story that one by one the room tunes out, until you realize you are talking to yourself. Something kept me in it though, something kept me playing, and one day that something got me coaching.

10 years after my first kick, a different landscape unfolded in front of me. Now I was coaching little girls, 9 years old or younger, a child leading children but it must have felt right. Since then, I have had the pleasure to work with thousands of youth, on 3 different continents, for whom I am forever grateful. I have always believed that without us, they are still players, but without them, it's hard to be coaches.

This bizarre and beautiful soccer life of mine, is always growing. And as I've gotten older and closer to what I am really meant to be doing, I've found that not all accomplishments are up the ladder. Some are lateral. Others, it seems, are behind you. As I twist and turn my way through this epic love story, I feel the possibilities, like an eager child just moments before the first whistle.

As I write this, I think of a recent lesson I've tried to pass onto my players. That if they are not having fun, then what's the point? All of the valuable qualities that are learned through sport require a desire to be present, a desire to dive in. So I share with them that at 11 years old, sport shouldn’t be a job, it should be a joy. To grow as players and people, your heart and the smile it speaks through have to be in it. Sometimes the game is what helps you get there. I know the same has always been true for me, so I confess my devotion with certainty.

There was no clear soccer path for me, as a mixed race woman whose accent never matched the location, so I've tried to make one for myself. Now, I look into the eyes of the next generation of female coaches who will find unique paths of their own. On a breezy spring day in the early evening sun, it seems I've gotten to where the job can also be the joy, so every day that I work I'm also having fun. So I encourage you to do what you love, even if you can't see it yet, there's a space here for everyone.

About ramona paul

Ramona Paul has been playing soccer for 25 years and coaching for 17. In that time she has worked with players as young as two years old through competitive adult soccer and everything in between. She currently coaches for Internationals Soccer Club, is a program coordinator for America SCORES Cleveland and is a substitute teacher in multiple Northeast Ohio school districts.

Ramona has funneled all of her passion into helping players reach their full potential on and off the field, to learn how to use their knowledge and experience to propel themselves through life and to gain perspective along the way that nurtures the idea of community and how it can be transformed through the game. One day she hopes to run a nonprofit that’s able to provide high quality soccer to girls who cannot afford conventional clubs, with an emphasis on mental wellness, creative arts and environmental conservation.

Ramona is happiest on a hike, on her bike, connecting with a globe of loved ones and watching soccer.