The Unexpected Value of Mediocrity
I started playing soccer at 13, the same year that most of my classmates quit. I joined my local rec team, which played in a field that’s basically in my backyard. By that point, most people I knew had started dropping rec soccer and all the other activities that wouldn’t help their college applications, preferring instead to focus intensively on the activities that would. Was I a failure for doing something that most people had left years ago for more college-friendly extracurriculars?
This is an unhealthy way of thinking, but it’s something that girls experience every day. There seems to be no place for doing something that won’t look good on a resumé, even if you just do it on the side. For the most part, I focused on debate and on running my school’s social justice club, but I still felt guilty “wasting” one or two afternoons a week on soccer.
For instance, one girl I know had committed to Princeton for soccer. We were both high school sophomores at the time, and it made me consider why I play soccer. I began to wonder if the time I spent on the field was time wasted, time that I could never get back. I’ll never be good enough to play at even the high school level, so why was I wasting time that could be spent on things that would help me in the future? Why wasn’t I preparing for debate tournaments, studying for the SAT, or working on the social justice club when I’d never see a tangible benefit from all those those Friday night practices?
Our world expects so much of teen girls: getting good grades, doing the right extracurriculars, presenting an ideal image on social media. Being great at everything, all the time. I finally realized that this focus on getting ahead was a bigger problem than my soccer skills. I don’t play soccer to get into college; I play soccer to have fun. When did it become so looked down upon to do something for the fun of it?
It seems to me like this mentality is tied to society’s fetishization of perfection, as well as the general instability of our world. In politically and economically uncertain times, with a shrinking middle class and increasing wealth disparities between the rich and the poor, the pressure to succeed and to grab the most resources possible becomes inescapable. Teens—and teen girls especially, who are at a social and economic disadvantage when it comes to measures of success like wages and social position—have been pressured by the increasing difficulty of prosperity. A recent study by Stanford researchers found that the chances of children earning more than their parents has fallen from 90% in 1940 to about 50% now.
So what does this mean? Mostly, it means that as spots in the upper-middle class (The American Dream!) have become scarce, parents, schools, and teachers have found it more important to pressure students into infiltrating that social group—even at the expense of the “useless” things they love.
But soccer and dance classes and art shouldn’t be rejected in favor of AP Econ and SAT prep. They should be valued equally. Think of it as another form of self-care. If your life is composed entirely of stressors, then surprise! You’re going to be stressed. Going to soccer practice is my way of breaking out of the hyper-pressurized bubble of school and college and the future. It provides a healthy and competitive environment that fosters a community based not on classes or grades but on dedication and teamwork. Everyone should have that kind of community—at least a few afternoons a week.
By Zoe Kaufman, 16