Hold Still

You might think that after thirty-two years of playing soccer, enjoying it would no longer surprise me. But I strive not to be that sensible.

Driving home from a game the other night I thought, “That was fun.” The thought is not new, but this time I paused long enough to let it expand into some open space in my brain, space that is usually occupied by other, less fun thoughts, such as, how can I exercise more, write more, eat more vegetables, and have more down time? In my next life I want to worry about why I can’t do less, just for variety.

Quality improvement processes go like this: look at what’s happening, see which part is broken, figure out a possible solution, try it, check to see whether it’s working. My brain, on the other hand, goes like this: assume nothing is as good as it could be, come up with twenty-five hours worth of daily improvements, begin system overload due to attempted expansion of space-time continuum, scramble to scale back and prioritize, fail, shut down system, reboot and run again. I am pretty sure I found this method in the Tao Te Ching or Bhagavad Gita.

That momentary space in my brain allowed me to wonder whether anything actually needs to be improved. Might it be possible that I am healthy enough, accomplishing enough, treating others well enough? And if so, what do I do about it?

Because it only took a few minutes to realize that everything being OK is pretty scary. What happens next if we’re OK? What is there for us to DO? How can we prove our worth? What will prevent us from sitting on the couch eating potato chips to the exclusion of all else?

Age-old wisdom aside, I think I’ll risk living my life exactly the way it is for a few months and check to see whether, just maybe, everything’s OK.

Starting the Season Right

I almost subjected you to deep thoughts this week. Nothing cures unnecessary deep thoughts like a good party, and no one throws a better party than Central Coast Soccer. I highly recommend parties over deep thoughts. First of all, there’s more food. Second of all, people are enjoying themselves.

soccer ball with Santa hatHere is what I love about CCSoccer: it is coed; we don’t keep score; the league asks anyone who is too aggressive to leave; newcomers to the game are welcomed, encouraged, and passed to; everyone on the team having fun trumps playing the best possible game. This truly recreational atmosphere is as rare as a cheerful Woody Allen movie, one out of every few thousand.

Here is what I love about the CCSoccer party: it takes a moment to recognize people because they’ve blow-dried their hair and no one is sweaty. Greetings resemble those between long-lost friends whether people haven’t seen each other for a year or they just played together Wednesday night. Everyone brings their kids, who get to run around and play and be kids. Stealing during the white elephant gift exchange is merciless. The food is really good.

The attitude of the league creates the ambience of the party. The members of this community have practiced not taking one another too seriously, and all the time they’ve spent together, they’ve spent doing something they love—a rare combination.

I don’t know the details of these people’s lives the way I know those of my closest friends or family members, but whether I only exchange hellos with someone or the conversation continues through year-in-review updates, seeing each person cheers me. The smiles and hugs throughout the room make it clear others feel the same way.

If the spirit of the holiday season includes welcoming, supporting, and enjoying those around us, this group is ready to celebrate.

A Sporting Chance

Though some may not realize it, the most important sporting event in the world took place a couple of weeks ago: the Women’s World Cup. If you don’t yet recognize the Women’s World Cup as holding that lofty position, you may leave your misguided comments below.

For days following the final, people who have no particular interest in soccer came up to me and said, “Did you see that game?” I don’t know whether they watched the entire 120+ minutes or saw highlights on the evening news, but their comments made it clear that sports create a point of connection.

They’re not always the healthiest connections. People trampled to death at soccer matches or assaults on opposing fans following American football games don’t foster open, accepting community. But if you take the sum total, from AYSO to the Olympics, sports teach both players and fans the building blocks for creating community more often than not.

I recently joined an ultimate Frisbee league. Ultimate has no refs, so players make their own calls, which inevitably leads to contention over fouls, which leads to grumbling, a few snide comments, and a lot of sideline conversation. But then it’s done. No one rolls the previous game’s complaints forward to the next week. Given the fact that for years I resented my sister getting a rabbit when I only had a bird, this letting go impresses me.

The opposing team isn’t always the difficult bunch. At the end of a recent game, one of the young women on our team gathered us together and, in an act of courage I could not have equaled at her age and perhaps still cannot, reminded everyone to respect each others’ opinions, regardless of experience level. My team responded by affirming her request and apologizing—no defensiveness, no ego. Remarkable.

As a kid, I hated both participation and sportsmanship awards because you only receive them when you lose. The more I play, though, the more I realize how sometimes difficult and ultimately rewarding participation and sportsmanship are. Only being competitive doesn’t require much maturity, and winning doesn’t always require the strength of character losing does.

We will all fail in both small and spectacular ways: not get a job offer, get dumped by a boy/girlfriend, make a joke nobody laughs at, do or say something that hurts a friend. These moments may matter more than the dropped catch, the missed goal, but if we’ve practiced how to behave on the field, we might remember when we really need to.