Running, it seems, is hard work. I know I don’t do it unless there’s a chance someone might pass me a ball. My husband, on the other hand, is currently training for his eighth marathon, and never, ever does he look like our son, Chris, looks on the soccer field after his team has scored a goal. Never, ever the joy.
Chris and I passed one of those runners in the car yesterday morning on our way to the second day of a weekend soccer tournament. Fittingly, U2’s Bono was singing on the radio, “And I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” Running, it seems, is a never-ending personal quest for…what, I don’t know. But I presume it makes runners happy, even if it never shows on their faces.
Soccer, however, is life. It’s a culmination of the quest and the joy, the hard work and the trust, the individual and the team.
Take our tournament, for instance. As a coach, I not only have to get each player to work on passing, shooting, throw-ins, etc., but also whatever personality trait that gets in the way of moving up to the next level of their game.
For one kid in particular, that’s his tendency to kvetch out loud on the field. After the ref gaving him a yellow card for complaining to him, we coaches pulled him out, and I gave him a speech.
“Mouthing off is your Achilles’ heel. You know what that means?” I asked.
“Yeah, my weakness,” he said.
“Every player has one. Some kids have several. But for you it’s your mouth, and it’s going to get you in trouble with a yellow card,” I explained. “And eventually, it will affect the entire team, when you get another yellow and can’t play in the next game. Or when you get a red, and we have to play a man down.”
He nodded, trying hard to keep his emotions in check.
“When we put you back in, what will you do when the ref does something you don’t like?”
“Keep my mouth shut,” he replied.
When we put him back in the game, he kept his mouth shut and scored a gorgeous goal. It was good for him, and good for the team.
Another player did something that a thousand speeches from his coaches could never do. He won the MVP, awarded by the other team, for our first game. When he was awarded MVP for the second game, he handed it over to a teammate who’d assisted one of his goals. When he got it yet again for the third game, he gave it to Chris, who plays defense. I asked him to tell the entire team why.
“Because we are nothing without our defense,” he said, and I beamed, not only because he’d given it to my son, but because soccer brought out the best in this 11-year-old kid, and I got to witness it. (Also, because defenders almost never get MVP, and, as a former defender, I believe we all had a small victory worldwide because of it. No, I’m not bitter.)
Our team went on to win all four of our games, and, as a result, we won gold medals. And that brought us all a lot of joy. In fact, you could see it on our faces.