Go Team! Why cheering for others raises your own game

I was not the star kid on my soccer team. Shocker, I know, considering the size of my thighs (Schwarzenegger-ish) and the way I strut around like Team Captain, doling out nonstop direction: “Pass the ball! Take the shot! Put your dish in the dishwasher!”

Still, once a week you’ll find me running around a real soccer field with a group of real “soccer moms,” burning off bad carb choices and the incessant demands of spawn and spouses. To see me in my pickup league, blasting shots past the goalie’s face with a force that makes her eyelash extensions flinch, you’d never know that back in my travel team days, I sometimes spent half the game on the bench.

You might know that I just wrote some soccer commercials. There’s one playing on your YouTube right now with Team USA captain Alex Morgan that is all about cheering. What follows is the short yet still-convoluted story of how that commercial came to be.

But first, an apology to actual cheerleaders. Back in high school, I made disparaging remarks about you and your poufy hair behind your back, even insinuated (okay, flat-out stated) that cheering is not a sport. The insecurity behind my remarks is for another day, but I didn’t mean to discount the value of your cheering. So, sorry. Woke wasn’t a hashtag back then.

Now where was I? Right. Soccer.

From fourth grade until tenth, I played on the county-renowned Manalapan Indians and before each game, my teammates and I would always sing during warm-ups. It was just a thing we did. Team spirit, camaraderie, distraction from the agony of stretching. And singing is a term I use loosely. Imagine a bunch of eleven year-old tomboys screaming in unison with a touch of rhythm:
“We are the Indians,
the mighty mighty Indians,
and everywhere we go-oh
people wanna know-oh
Whooo weee aa-are
And so we tell them…”
Now repeat. Over and over. Louder and louder.

The Mighty Mighty Indians. I’m the one with the Dorothy Hamill haircut. You’re welcome.

One day, amidst the caterwauling, our coach pulled me aside before a big game. “I have an important job for you,” he said into my ear. “I noticed you have a way with the other girls, always rooting them on and encouraging them. I want you to be my secret Spirit Chief, to help us stay positive.”

Secret Spirit Chief? Was that, like, an undercover cheerleader? I was flummoxed. Mostly because cheerleaders are so pretty. And I was not a fan of them. Also I can’t land a cartwheel.

But Coach saw something in me. Plus Spirit Chief sounded a lot like Team Captain, and since we were the Indians, didn’t that kinda make me the leader of the tribe? Challenge accepted. If I couldn’t lead us to the net with my less-than-remarkable foot, maybe I could get us there with my louder-than-necessary voice.

I embraced my new position with the gusto, of, well, a cheerleader (with flatter hair). In times of struggle, I’d assure my teammates, “We can do it! Don’t give up! Way to go!” Our pre-game singing took on the intensity of military battle cries, with me as the drill sergeant. We even started smearing black war paint under our eyes the way football players do, which made us look badass and often psyched out our opponents before we even stepped foot on the field.

Confidence is a powerful weapon. So is eye black.

Here’s the part where you ask if all my spirit-chiefing propelled us to an undefeated season or gave me a breakout moment like Rudy, the too-small walk-on player with the huge heart that got to make the big play of the game. Did everyone wind up chanting my name like Rocky and the Russians?

Uhm, no. Not exactly. But we did have a nice winning streak and were even one game shy of being state champs. I wasn’t the all-star, but I know my contributions still mattered.
That's the message behind my new commercial.
We're stronger when we cheer for each other. 
See, everyone on a team has a role. There is the workhorse who creates all the plays and the goal scorer who gets all the glory. And every team needs a cheerleader. I know there are parents on the sidelines vying for the part, but when you have a fan in the trenches with you – someone who’s got the same skin in the game, sweating and sucking wind alongside you – and they tell you that you can do it, they believe in you, you’ve got this, you’re more inclined to believe it because you believe in that person too. Teammates are the ones who have your back and your best interests at heart. And often they see something in you that you might not see in yourself.

You don’t need pom-poms or a megaphone. Face paint is optional (but also super fun). Be the secret spirit chief for your peers, whatever team you’re on. On the field. At the office. In your mommy group. Wherever. You may not be the next Alex Morgan. You may not always be the star of your squad. But you will be its most valuable player.

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I wrote this commercial! Best of all, 
I got to meet Alex Morgan. I can die now.