In my capacity as a Learning and Development Specialist, I often direct new hires to activities, clubs, or professional development opportunities, putting them in touch with the right person to – pun intended – get the ball rolling. Recently, a new researcher asked me about the Hanover soccer team and it dawned on me as I sent him our team captain’s contact info that I’d also like to join.
I’ve been with Hanover for three years – and the soccer team has been around longer than that. So why now? I’ve spent the last year or so getting active, and free access to a recreational sports league populated by my fantastic coworkers was suddenly too good to pass up.
That said, there was a lot that was intimidating about joining the Hanover soccer team. We’d won the championship the week before my first game. I’ve heard about Hanover soccer winning championships for years now! Some of our players played up until college. Meanwhile, I had never played soccer before in my life. Not as a kid, not at all. The best I could say is that I can run around fairly well. But I didn’t even know the rules! Like a true researcher, I spent the evening before the first game learning the rules online.
I also learned that I needed a few things to get started: first of all, shin guards. As a total soccer newbie, I had no concept of the necessity (or even existence) of shin guards. But generally a fan of safety precautions, I found myself heading a mile and a half down the road on my lunch break to a conveniently placed soccer-specific store to buy some. I also needed a blue shirt. This was easy, as Hanover’s Day of Service shirts are blue and there were extras available (score!). Finally, cleats are recommended – but not required. Those, I bought online, content to play in sneakers that first time.
We piled into a teammate’s car and drove under threatening, late-afternoon clouds to West Potomac Park. I was hoping I’d have enough fun to justify getting in and out of DC on a Tuesday. What I didn’t expect was to flat out love it. As we arrived at the field, the Washington Monument in the distance, I was excited, but extremely self-conscious. I told everyone in attendance that I’d never played soccer before and apologized in advance for not being very good.
Then, a teammate asked me to play left mid (and I totally knew what that was because of my Googling the night before!), the ref blew the whistle, and the game began. I mostly ran up and down the field – maybe I kicked the ball twice that first time – but I could not stop smiling! A colleague asked me if I’d be back the following week and I didn’t hesitate to say yes. No one was bothered by my lack of technique and by the end I wasn’t quite so self-conscious, firmly on the side of ‘I’ll only get better from here!’
I’ve played a few more times now – and haven’t missed a game since. I still don’t have great control of the ball or super quick reflexes, but no one seems to mind. Then again, I shouldn’t be surprised. Hanover is very much a culture of learning and enthusiasm. Anyone who shows up at Hanover (be it at a soccer game, a training workshop, or the research floor) ready to jump in, try hard, and learn, will always be welcomed with open arms (and guarded shins).
Hannah Stopnicki, J.D.
Content Learning and Development Specialist