Winter Blast Champions

Winter Blast 2016 Champs

We all piled into the minivan a bit later than normal. This time around we got a bit of a reprieve. Instead of starting before the sun came up, this soccer tournament Sunday would start closer to high noon. We just had to get there.

An hour or so later, we pulled up to the high school gym where for the next 4 hours our two teams of third and fourth grade boys would play between 72 and 90 minutes of indoor soccer. It was fun and intense.

As a coach to these boys, I’ve really come to enjoy watching and being a part of their development as players, and more importantly, as people. It is not always an easy job, but it is rewarding. Such a reward came at the Winter Blast Indoor Soccer Tournament.

As is the case with any good sports story, we had to overcome challenges that tested each player and the team. We had to play each other in the semifinals and then in the final we faced the team that beat both of our teams in the round robin group stage. The final was much closer than either of the earlier games. Emotions ran high on both sides. There was pushing, shoving, and injuries. Our team took the lead. Up one goal, the time seemed to slow down. The wear and tear on their young legs was catching up to them. This tiredness and the subsequent communication breakdown it caused led to the other team scoring an equalizer.

Not much time remained in regulation. I was starting to determine the best strategy to employ in overtime. Despite the pressure of playing in a final and all of the other challenges, our team persevered and scored the go-ahead goal.

As the clock ticked down…10…9….8…7…excitement built on our sideline. Then, exultation. We were the champions. The excitement and joy on the faces of the boys is what I will remember the most. That, and all of the work they put in to creating that moment.

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Confronting my own self-doubt

irish steps sunrise

For the last two weeks I have really been down in the dumps. I’ve been put face to face with the questions of “Who I am?” and “What kind of person do I want to be?”. I haven’t been certain how to answer these questions in a way that leads to a positive result until today.

The backstory

In my job, I was told that I just didn’t have the creativity and passion in my writing on an assignment that it was thought that I should have. I just didn’t bring it. And the person that told me that was dead on. She said she was “on my side” and telling me this as an ally. I appreciated that. I just couldn’t produce at a high level. She reminded me that how good or bad the end result is depends entirely on the work that is put in in the trenches.

I have absolutely no formal coaching training. I have a passion for the sport of soccer and I think I have some skill for coaching. Or at least I thought I did, until a parent told me that I deliberately created two tournament teams with 100 percent unfair rosters, leading to one team that was destined to lose. That wasn’t the way to coach and create a positive and encouraging environment, this parent said. Although the other volunteer coach and I did not agree with her, I took a step back to see the argument from her perspective. It gave me the opportunity to reevaluate how and why I volunteer coach.

Just as I was thankful for the advice of the person at my office, so too was I thankful for that opportunity to examine my coaching philosophy.

Fast forward to today

Today rolled around and I took stock of these things. What I realized is that God played a central role in all of this. These two weeks were a valley that He was leading me through. It was an opportunity for introspection. I am thankful to God for the opportunity. It wasn’t easy. It really made me question who I was and what I was doing.

This is the great thing that became crystal clear to me today: These struggles have strengthened my faith in Him. He is my rock and my strength. God is there no matter what and he sent these messengers into my life to challenge me because I was becoming complacent. He also showed me the people in my life that really care about me and will stand up for me in times of need. I needed that. I need Him.

How Soccer Explains the World

Image of How Soccer Explains the World book on bookshelveChristmas in our house this year was fantastic. We all received gifts that we wanted, and some that we didn’t know we wanted until we opened the package and saw them. One of those gifts for me was a great book that my wife picked up at our local Goodwill store. The book is How Soccer Explains the World: An {Unlikely} Theory of Globalization by Franklin Foer. I am a soccer nut, so as soon as I had the chance, I started to read it. I mean, who wouldn’t want to read about the correlation between the spread of the most popular game in the world and the homogenization of our cultures into one global culture?

The book grabs you from the first sentence. I mean, who wouldn’t want to keep reading after “I suck at soccer.” All joking aside, though, if you were to read on, you would find an intriguing narrative –  the quest to understand the beautiful game from every possible perspective intermixed with local and global history.

I must admit, I am only about a quarter of the way through the book as I sit to write this. However, in the pages I have read, I have come to understand the birth and underlying rational for hooliganism and the cultural ties this fan-based violence has to the rise and fall of various regimes in the former Eastern Bloc. The author’s theory concerning globalization begins at the local level, primarily because the violence, sectarianism and hatred exposed by his depictions of the hooligan fans is identified as unique to the particular club and socioeconomic conditions that are apparent at the time the hooligan culture is on the rise. As the economies around the various clubs begin to change, there is an evolution of the fan base toward a more cosmopolitan make up. Those with less money are siphoned off from attending the games in the stadium and like these fans, the author seems to intone that the hooligan culture is also pushed aside, to the darker corners of society.

Throughout the world we have seen this same scenario played out over an over. The violence never goes away, and in fact will always be associated with sports. Especially where alcohol is involved.

Is there an answer to ending the violence related to sports? I’m not sure. I do believe that having a positive shared experience with others as it relates to the purity of sports can help all of us live together in a more peaceful way. As humans, we will always have a competitive nature. Let it play out on the field. After all, it is just a game. However, as Foer points out, by exposing the dark underbelly of soccer, we get a glimpse of society’s dark corners. We may not always like what we see. Yet, in knowing the darkness exists and understanding why it manifests itself in the ways it does, we can take steps to change it.

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