I started playing soccer when I was 5 years old, in the summer of 1997. I had already started playing organized sports, with baseball and basketball on my resume when I arrived at Mountain View Park for my first summer skills session run by the Scottsdale Soccer Club Blackhawks. My mom had heard from a neighbor that it was great exercise and that her kids had loved those coaches with the funny accents, so we hopped in the car and took a short ride to our neighborhood park. As it turns out, I was much better with a ball at my feet than I was trying to make free throws or field a ground ball. Soccer quickly grew on me.
I fell in love with the game because I was good at it, but also because my parents allowed it. If you ask them now – if they would do it all over again – both my mom and my dad would jokingly say no, then smile and say, “Of course.” They have both spent thousands of dollars on gas to drive carpools to practice, the best equipment that we could afford, uniforms, as well as countless afternoons on the sidelines of u-12 games roasting away in the heat and not once have I ever heard either of them complain. Once my parents realized that soccer was my passion, they dedicated themselves wholeheartedly to ensuring that I could be as successful as I wanted to be.
Their support was evident to me from a young age, when, in my second season playing with Blackhawks, the goalkeeper on my team got injured and I volunteered to hop in net. I believe that soccer goalkeeping is one of the mentally hardest positions for a young child. The extended periods of focus required, the self-confidence needed, and of course, there are rarely close games at the youth level. The team with the biggest kids often had the advantage. While the team I played on when I was little was not necessarily bad, we certainly were on the wrong side of some lopsided results, and I always took it personally. If it weren’t for my mother’s quiet encouragement or my dad’s insistence that “all that matters is that you had a good time” I most likely would have quit long ago. No one tried to fix me; they let me have my space and then got on with things. Their supportive presence during teary car rides home always gave me the confidence to go back out there and give it another go, because no matter what, I knew that my family would love me.
As I moved from elementary to middle school, the results began to change, but the support I received from my family never did. I remember long drives to practice with my mom and carpool; she could always tell when we were having a rough day at school and tried to keep the mood light by arguing with us about which of our teammates was the “biggest weenie” or joking about our Scottish coach’s ridiculously thick accent. Mom would then spend a couple hours sitting on the sideline of a sparsely attended practice, and never once let me skip… no matter what else was going on. My dad was equally supportive in his own way; although he was always working in the evenings and couldn’t make it to practice, he rarely missed a game. When I was in 7th grade, he realized I had begun to take an interest in the English Premier League and despite our family’s limited income at the time; he called in to our cable provider and upgraded our package so that I could watch the very best in the world play on Saturdays and Sundays. A football guy through and through, my dad was soon immersing himself in the world of soccer and using terms like “through ball” and “two-footed tackle” so that he wouldn’t sound like all of the other soccer dads whose soccer lexicon only extended as far as “boot it!”
As I got older and better, travel began to increase as my team began playing in three or four out-of-state tournaments a year. It seemed that regardless of their commitments with work, my parents were ready to pack up the family minivan and drive to Southern California or Las Vegas and watch quietly from the sidelines as my team tested ourselves against the best in west. More often than not, we would come up short, but the positive was that I was beginning to show glimpses of real talent. As a developing youth goalkeeper, NOT playing on the strongest team has its advantages. Both my parents recognized this and began to make even more sacrifices for me. Along with three training sessions a week with my team, I was also doing a goalkeeper training session with the club’s goalkeeper coach, a speed training session, and a fitness and strength session at a local physical therapy gym, all paid for with money that my family managed to scrape together for me.
The results of these sacrifices would pay off when I arrived in high school. I not only made the varsity team, but started for the varsity squad my freshman year; this team would go undefeated the entire year, up until the playoffs, and finish ranked 8th in the country. My club team would also go on to make major strides. After years of mediocrity, we went on to make the championship of the prestigious President’s Day tournament, after some of the best play of my life. It was around that time that the thought of continuing soccer in college began to cross my mind, and when a number of players left after that season, I thought it was time for me to find a new team as well. My parents didn’t let me leave however; loyalty was a virtue that they had instilled in me from a very young age and the coach that I played for had worked with my since I was eight years old, shaping me into the player that I was at that point in my life. So, I stuck it out until the season ended, on a team with very little talent. After that final season with the Blackhawks, my family and I collectively decided that it was time to move on, if I had any chance of playing soccer in college.
Graduating to the next level of my youth soccer career required even more sacrifice from my parents, as the team that I moved to now practiced 45 minutes away from my house. Rush hour traffic could make the drive as long as 90 minutes. They must have both rolled their eyes when they heard that, in my sophomore year of high school, I wanted to play for Tempe Pros, but once again realized that it needed to be done in order for me to fulfill my personal goals. So we began making the long drive down the Loop 101 to the far side of the city, and soon the results began to come. We won nearly every tournament that we entered, including my first State Cup title that year, but more importantly, colleges began to take notice of me.
At Tempe’s annual Thanksgiving Day tournament, again I put in the performance of my lifetime against a recently formed team from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Little did I know, that team contained three players that I would call teammates in just two years’ time, as well as a coach that was in charge of recruiting for the University of New Mexico. I remember calling my parents during my unofficial visit before my last chat with Jeremy Fishbien, head coach of the Lobos and asking them what I should do. True to form, they told me I should do whatever I think is right and they would support me no matter what. Three months later after our first contact, I had given my verbal commitment to UNM.
My parents’ support has not wavered since I graduated high school and left home, and if anything, it has gotten stronger. Both my parents have made even greater financial sacrifices in order to help me pay rent and live in a house right behind the training complex, so that I can train any time I want. My mom and my dad are always right by their phone to help support me after a tough day, and I don’t think I could do what I do without them.
My dedication to training and focus on the end goal may have allowed me to be able to play at the Division I level, but had God not gifted me the wonderful set of parents that I have, I’m sure that I never would have made it.
Patrick Poblete is the starting goalkeeper for the University of New Mexico Lobos, who are currently ranked #10 in nation.