Maya Castro, the daughter of a Puerto Rican father and Anglo mother, mixes memoir and personal essay styles in a passionate narrative describing her experiences as a minority soccer player on an elite, mostly white, high-school soccer team.
Castro joined her middle-school soccer team in seventh grade, in order to avoid dodgeball in regular PE. She soon finds playing soccer better than “roller-coaster rides, a sugar-rush, or a present on Christmas day.” From that innocuous beginning, playing the game becomes her passion, and by the end of middle school, she develops advanced skills in the sport.
At the end of eighth grade, Maya opts to transfer to a high school in a different part of town which has a highly-rated soccer program, where she hopes to learn more about the sport and further improve her skills. That decision leads to personal growth as an athlete but also results in a painful, profound loss of innocence relative to the roles and motives of adults associated with this program dominated by school politics, “entitled” students, and hints of racism.
Castro cites detailed descriptions of events and her perceptions. These often engender reader empathy and raise reader awareness of the emotional fragility of early adolescence. They also suggest that a “wink and a nod” are still alive and well in many areas of competitive team sports.
This story works well and carries with it a social statement. The voice is strong and unique, often written in the vernacular. It reveals interesting aspects of the author’s personality—passion, humor, and a well-defined sense of right and wrong–someone the reader would like to know, and someone we will want to hear from again.
Maya relates her experiences to those of other athletes whose stories have recently been “front page” news. She provides a strong indictment of individuals who “… overlook misconduct (for their own personal gain) rather than correct it.”
Her concluding words will resonate with many parents, coaches, and fans. “The sooner the “grown-ups” on the sidelines understand that to overlook corruption, in all of its stages of severity is to enable it, the safer and more meaningful the youth athletic environment will be.”
The Bubble: Everything I Learned as a Target of the Political, and Often Corrupt, World of Youth Sports by Maya Castro is a strong statement, reflective of one young woman’s experience in youth sports, a treatise that coaches, parents, and young players will do well to note. Recommended.