Every now and then I'll flip through the channels and pass through some meaningless game between Ethiopia and Iran and that's about the extent of my soccer watching.
It's with all this that I figured I'd try to learn more about the so-called "world's most popular sport."
I thought about who I could get to teach me a little more about this game. I started thinking about some of the more qualified people who know a lot about soccer and thought maybe someone like Alexi Lalas or Cobi Jones — who I believe is the perfect person to play Jimi Hendrix in a Hendrix movie — both of Major League Soccer fame, but I figured they're probably too busy.
All the local coaches are probably too busy, too, so who would teach me? I thought, "Who knows a lot about soccer and has lots of free time on their hands."
The only person I could think of was our own Staff Writer Mario Rentería.
At first glance Mario doesn't look like a soccer player (if there is such a thing as looking like a soccer player). He looks like an ordinary guy. But he does come with quite the soccer resúmé. According to him, he's been playing for more than 10 years, was a three-year starter at Southwest High School and a two-year starter at goalkeeper at Imperial Valley College, where he earned team MVP honors. He now is the junior varsi.ty coach at Central Union High.
He ain't no Bebeto or Reynaldo or any of those other Brazilian soccer players with one name, but I figured Mario would do just fine.
I asked him if he would teach me and he agreed. He actually seemed pretty ecstatic about the idea. I guess not many people approach Mario about soccer lessons.
So we went to Southwest High School in El Centro, his old stomping grounds, and the first thing he asked was, "So what do you wanna learn?"
I said, "I don't know; how to play soccer and kick some butt on the field."
He said he'd just teach me the basics because learning to kick butt on a soccer field would take years and years of practice.
The first thing he taught was how to pass the ball. There's really not a whole lot to it. Passing a ball is pretty much like kicking anything else, except you use the inside of your foot. Instead of kicking it off the tip, you angle your foot so the side makes contact.
I asked him why soccer players don't use the tips of their feet and he said doing that could cause injury to the toes. After he said that, I tried kicking with the tip of my foot and sure enough I jammed my second toe and learned firsthand (or foot) why you don't use your tip.
Another thing I was curious about was learning to use my head. I'd seen local high-schoolers use their heads often and wondered if I could do the same.
Mario said you basically use the crown of your head and put some force into it to sort of absorb the shock and guide the ball. So he tossed me a ball, I got under it and it hit me right on the top of my head. I felt a little jam in my neck as I watched the ball sail backward.
I tried it again and used my crown this time and did a little better as the ball went straight instead of behind me.
One thing that threw me was when he said he was going to teach me how to dribble. For a second I was all set to pick up the ball and demonstrate my Allen Iverson-like crossover, but I held back and waited to see what he was talking about.
Dribbling is just running down the field gently kicking the ball along and keeping it at your feet without losing control. I guess this is a pretty important aspect of the game if you plan on moving.
He taught me the correct way to take a shot on goal, as if I were kicking a penalty shot. With the ball on the ground you approach it in a slight run, plant your non-kicking leg next to the ball and drive your kicking leg and kick the ball with the side of your foot.
One thing he didn't teach me to do, though, was how to run around the field after a goal and take off my shirt to expose my Superman shirt, then slide on the ground and pose for pictures, or how to yell "Goooooooaaaaaalllll!!!!" I guess that'll be in the next lesson.
I did get the gist of the game and realized it does take some work. I guess I can say I have a little more respect for soccer players.
What I'm still not sure of is why soccer fans riot so much. I guess that'll be in the next lesson, too.