How a U.S. college student came to play women's soccer for Israel
"I met with my coach at Boston College and we discussed that it would be good for me to come to Israel," says Mairav Shamir.
Mairav Shamir looks like a goalie. Whether it is her intense concentration or her height, when she walks onto the soccer field it becomes apparent that there is no other position she could play. And despite a language barrier, she directs the field with poise and focus.
Shamir first started playing soccer when she was just four years old. As a young child, her dream was, "to play soccer collegiately and eventually play for the national team. However I never thought I would be good enough but I always dreamed big," she told Haaretz in an interview.
For Shamir, hard work and dedication led those childhood dreams to become a reality: She is now the starting goalie for the Israeli national soccer team.
The goalkeeper was born in Israel and lived in Netanya until she was two, when her family relocated to Boston, where she currently resides. Shamir says that as an Israeli, growing up in the United States, she was brought up with a consciousness of both cultures.
"My dad is Israeli and was the typical soccer dad, very supportive and encouraging but, of course, a little controlling," she says.
As she got older, it became apparent that Shamir would be good enough to play on a collegiate level. She enrolled in Boston College in Newton, Massachusetts. Besides being a goalie for a nationally ranked division 1 soccer team, she also managed to major in human development and minor in communications and special education. But she always felt that something was missing,
"I lacked confidence in my game," she says. "At home I was a head case; I put so much pressure on myself, I needed a change of pace."
Seeking this change and also wanting to connect with her roots, Shamir visited Israel this summer with the Maccabiah Sports organization and was the starting goalie for the U.S. team. She stayed in Israel for a month to play soccer, and recalls how the coach of the Israeli national team approached her after one game.
"They came up to me after the game and showed extreme interest and asked me to come right away and I decided to just go for it, I'm usually not like that, but I knew I had to," she says.
The hardest part for her was that she still had one year of school left. "I met with my coach at BC and we discussed that it would be good for me to come to Israel," Shamir recalls. "She was upset but she knew it was best for me and it was a good choice and my parents were for it."
In Israel, Shamir has excelled on both the Israeli national team and on ASA Tel Aviv, a local team. She has controlled the pace of every game, and has at some times been the saving grace of the defense. During a recent game against Russia, Shamir kept the score at just 2-0, despite an onslaught of Russian offensive action.
She feels that even after only two months, Israel has had a profound affect on how she plays soccer. "I am the goalkeeper for the whole country here, people know who I am, its kind of cool, people have called my uncle and said they saw me on TV and that didn't happen at home," she says. "I have my confidence back... I think a big part of that is because I don't understand 95 percent of what people are telling me, I am in my own world focusing on what I need to do. It lets me play my game and this has contributed to me becoming a better player; it's less thinking, more get down to the basics. Exactly what I needed."
Of course, there are also moments of culture shock. Even though Shamir is Israeli, she does not speak Hebrew. "Today at practice, there was this play where at home I would say, 'it's mine' and I tried to communicate this, but someone spoke Hebrew and I spoke English and then, a goal was scored," she says. "The language barrier has created this culture shock that I've had to adapt to, but also now I feel that I have to learn Hebrew!"
The goalie also credits this experience with changing her mentality toward life as well. "Being here has taught me not to take life seriously and that I need to go with the flow," she says. "If something is new to you, don't be freaked out, open your horizons. We are here to enjoy things and not stress out over every day life... I have never felt so Israeli in my life! Even though I am still singled out as the American, I feel that I now understand where my dad came from, I'm beginning to understand the culture, the people. It's great."
Nonetheless, Shamir has not yet decided on plans for the future. In addition to playing soccer, she studies at Tel Aviv University in order to finish her Boston College degree.
If she decides to stay in Israel, Shamir says, she would want to help develop the Israeli soccer program. "I think bringing awareness to our team will give younger girls a role model and they can have what guys have here, the men soccer players are heroes and girls deserve to have a female influence as well," she says.
Shamir and ASA Tel Aviv will next be playing on December 8th versus Holon at the Tel Aviv University field.