A magazine for Africans and friends of Africa...Our Voices, Our Vision, Our Culture

Got Game?
By Ngam Ngangmuta

Summer is just around the corner and if you have a love of fútbol there are still opportunities and a time to play even if you're working a 9-5.

As a Cameroonian, soccer is in my national DNA-any mention of my country to new people I meet usually reminds them of Roger Milla and the Indomitable Lions historic run for glory at the 1990 World Cup. I myself have been playing soccer since I was a young boy dribbling a makeshift ball around the bumpy, dirt streets of Addis Ababa. My economist Dad worked for the United Nations and we lived in an international compound with playmates from the Organization for African Unity and World Bank families- kids from all over- coming together for love of the game. Even after leaving Africa, I continued to play on my High School and college soccer teams in the States. But as a full-time working professional, it's now a struggle to fit in games and maintain a competitive edge. But I do it and have some information on how you can too.

Leagues: For the past seven years I've been playing soccer in New Jersey amateur leagues- both indoor (year-round) and outdoor (summer) leagues. Leagues are tiered- usually into several divisions- A, B, C -with the highest level being semi-professional and the rest trickling down from the top. Small leagues include anywhere from twenty to thirty teams. In New Jersey the teams tend to be grouped around nationalities- mainly Latin: Colombians, Brazilians, Ecuadorians, Mexicans- due to the immigrant population makeup. Not as many African teams but you can find some Caribbean and West African teams -Nigeria, Cameroon, Sierra Leone, Ghana- depending on where you live. My teams have also set up scrimmages with African teams from throughout New York. There are also leagues for the "over thirty" or "over forty" set and leagues for women.

Recruitment & Research: Depending on your level of play, that Saturday you spent kicking around a ball at the neighborhood field with your friends can end up in an opportunity to play competitively with local and regional leagues. You can be scouted by teams as coaches search for talented players to fill their rosters. You can also find out information about leagues in your area on sites like the United States Adult Soccer Association which has listings for some regional leagues.

Costs & Rewards:There can be rewards- at the end of the season some championship winners get a money prize -often pooled from all the league's team funds totaling even in the thousands. There can also be travel trips, new gear, trophies, or even parties for the team. But there also are costs- of time, energy and money- so you have to commit. Some teams have sponsors but often it's the team managers who cover the inevitable expenses like referee fees, field rental, uniforms and equipment. Still you must pay to play. You have to purchase a pair of cleats and shin guards but your main commitment is in terms of time. Depending on the level of play there can be team practices anywhere from two times a week and up, but coaches and managers work with your schedule. Every summer I play for at least two competitive leagues but leagues are not for everyone. If you want to just kick the ball around with your buddies on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon you should consider sticking to a good pick up game.

Last year I was a stopper- central defensive position- with an African team, the Sierra Stars, in the inaugural season of the Liberty Soccer league-a 10 team strong semi-pro club. The team played a game every weekend for the summer season which can lasted 5 months, April- August. We practiced Tuesday through Friday every week from 6:30-8:30 pm. Even if couldn't make each practice I drilled and did interval training on my own to keep conditioned and build a good cardio base: walls or curb to do touches, a series of 15 yard sprints- the average run in soccer is 15 yards. It was worth it, My team won the championship and 000 dollars to host an event. But the best reward was the chance to up my game. I always try to challenge myself and play with better players to become better myself.

I play whenever and wherever I can. Away games have taken me to fields in and throughout the Garden State and on to Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx. I have also had the opportunity to play in tournaments in Atlanta, Boston, and Maryland to name a few. As long as you have a love for the sport of Football, Fútbol, Voetbol, and yes Soccer, however you say it, and you still have a passion to play be assured that you can find a place to feel welcomed and enjoy this sport loved all over the world.