I was born in America. Greenwich, Connecticut to be exact. But I grew up in Holland, in a city called Haarlem. Haarlem is where Harlem in New York gets its name from. Just like New York used to be called New Amsterdam. Haarlem is a beautiful place: Similar to Amsterdam but without all the tourists!
When I was 7 years old I started playing soccer. But it wasn’t what you might expect. It would take many years for me to buy cleats and join a soccer club and play real field soccer. Nope, this was totally different.
One day at school it was early break time and two of my friends (Jan WIllem and Reinier) invited me to play soccer with them. It was a somewhat secluded area of the school yard, off to the side. I loved sports already at the time so of course I said yes. There was a catch, though: They HAD to be on the same team. Always! But, I wanted to give it a try and play with them so I agreed and we played some real-life street soccer. As you can imagine, I got destroyed. Repeatedly… It was 2v1 and they had mad skills already! I didn’t stand a chance.
Both Jan Willem and Reinier actually played club soccer already and on top of that they were actually really good. What might seem like a pointless exercise in humiliation and guaranteed defeat to most people was a next-level challenge to me. Obviously, I was just trying to have fun at first. As competitive as I am, personality-wise, I also love just running around and playing sports. But the prospect of improving my skill and maybe even winning one day was more than enough for me to keep trying and to never give up.
My relentlessness and perseverance started paying off. You see, while the whole premise of us playing was that they always wanted to be on the same team they had also created a few other rules. Rules like there not being any ‘out of bounds.’ Rules that in the end would be in MY favor.
Here is the thing: They might have had 2 team mates total…. but I had unlimited team mates! I started bouncing the ball off of walls to create 1-2 passes and before I knew it the whole area we used as a mini playing field became my team mate. It didn’t take long before I stood a fighting chance. With curbs and walls to help me get around them I was able to hold my own and minimize their advantage! The next thing I had to figure out was how to become more technical so that I could also out dribble them. It was only a matter of time before I started to get better than them, slowly but surely.
Over the next 5 years I played countless hours of street soccer. Street soccer is similar to basketball in many ways, where the flow of the game goes back and forth rapidly. Having played basketball for a while really helped me but the experience of learning to play soccer in a 2v1 environment really made all the difference. If that is what you are used to, adding a few more people to the mix really doesn’t make that much of a difference. Likewise, when you get used to dribbling more people you get really confident on the ball. Schooling a bunch of players and THEN scoring is a feeling that is hard to describe. Nothing ego-based, mind you. Just a sense of accomplishment. It is hard work. But goals make it all worth it.
It wasn’t until I was 11 years old that I finally joined a soccer club in Haarlem. The transition was difficult at first in many ways. Field soccer is completely different from street soccer. The biggest difference being space. Lots and lots of space! But, as any decent quality soccer player knows, If you give a skilled player space they are going to use it. And I did. I still do, to this day!
To be completely honest, I prefer field soccer these days. The smell of the field. The space. The big goals. There is something magical about it. But, street soccer is in my blood. It is in my bones. It has a place in my heart. And I wouldn’t be able to play the way I am able to play if it wasn’t for the countless hours I spent playing soccer on the streets of Haarlem.
Street soccer adds a whole new dimension to soccer that field soccer players don’t have access to. Field soccer is amazing, but it isn’t complete without street soccer. The same can be said for field soccer players: They are incomplete without significant street soccer experience. My advice? If you haven’t played street or indoor soccer in a while I suggest that you find a way to get some practice in. Your field game will significantly improve, I guarantee it!