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the Covenant experience narrative

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Covenant's Pickup Soccer Community

Clubs, organizations, events, meetings, hall culture—all aspects of life at Covenant College that knit the students together. However, one group is driven by the sheer desire to play the most globally unifying sport to ever exist: soccer.

What explains the regular turnout? Pickup is very casual, not a high commitment activity, and centers around having a good time, though score is definitely kept. Caleb Masters ’21 said, “I like how regular it is. It meets much more than most clubs. Sometimes we have it four times a week. And if you don’t go that’s fine, you don’t have to go.”

It is this relaxed but consistent nature of the group that provides an inviting space to mess around with a soccer ball and have a good laugh.

Jesse Walter ’21 said, “Pickup soccer cultivates a relaxed culture where competition is secondary to community and anyone can play and have fun. There’s really no other activity on campus that is so noncommittal, and yet consistent in numbers and community.”

His younger brother, Sam Walter ’24 said that pickup is so enjoyable because it is a blend of both competitiveness and noncompetitiveness. “There’s no coach, and you’re not a part of a team that’s expecting you to do well. When you mess up you just laugh it off.”

Connected through the GroupMe app, pickup soccer continues to live on year after year as people’s love for soccer, the need for a break, and exercise continues to fuel the desire to meet up and play. Ben Welsh ’23 says that soccer for him is “something I look forward to especially when I have a lot going on in school and want to let off steam with a lot of fun people. I’ve played soccer my whole life, and it’s good to be able to do that here at Covenant.”

It’s really not just soccer itself that drives the group to meet, but the community forms around it. Walter ’24 says that “pickup soccer is my favorite activity here on campus, and it has provided a group of people [he] feel[s] comfortable sitting with at dinner or hanging out with outside of pickup soccer.”

After a particularly excellent game of pickup last year, John Sadler ’20 said, “Pickup soccer is the most welcoming group on campus.”

Pickup soccer has people coming to play from all years, residents halls and majors. There are people at pickup who have just begun to play soccer, people who have played informally, and people who have grown up playing in clubs and official sports teams.

Masters recalled how the group has changed since he came to Covenant in the fall of 2018. He said, “I’ve seen the style of play changed a lot over my time here. Especially my freshman and sophomore year there were a lot of people that could be on official teams, but wouldn’t want to dedicate that much time to it and just want something more relaxed.”

There are people who are really good at soccer there and people who simply like the sport. The focus is not so much about winning, but having fun with a group of friends.

The group is primarily composed of the guys here at Covenant, but as one of the few faithful female players, feeling unwelcome has never been an issue for me. Sarah Copeland ’21 said, “I love pickup and have made so many friends through playing soccer. It has been interesting to see girls come and go over the past two years. I have enjoyed playing with all the boys, even though I am a girl.”

Playing sports with guys has been a running theme in my life, and if I had to give advice to a girl who wants to play soccer with a group of guys: Go for the ball, don’t wait till you’re passed to, and don’t be afraid. Learning how to play sports with a range of talent, genders, and ages is itself an incredible skill.

While people were unsure about whether or not pickup could continue on campus in light of COVID-19, sighs of relief were breathed as it continued relatively without a hitch though the set maximum capacity in Ashe gym is ten people per court.

Though the love of soccer is what brings people to the court, it is the friendships and community built that keeps them coming. Most of the people who come have played on a sports team before and there is something about sharing blood, sweat and tears that unites people in a completely different way than simply grabbing a cup of coffee and having a chat. It is the teamwork, personal growth and camaraderie that develops with the people alongside you that is so evident on the court and field.

Everybody has off days and pickup soccer challenges people to learn to laugh at themselves, to let go of mistakes and to help others shine as soccer players and people. If you can overcome the temptation to compare yourself to other players or get hung up on mistakes, pickup soccer becomes a great source of joy throughout the week.

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 22, 2020 issue of The Bagpipe.
Photo source: Emily Brauer ’21


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