Monday, July 28, 2008


For the first time ever, I played a complete soccer game in my over-30 league - 80 minutes nonstop in the blazing heat. There were a number of no-shows on our team, and we ended up playing a man down with no subs, so all of us had to stick out the whole game. We ended up winning 4-1 against a fellow over-30 team that was similarly understaffed (they had 12 players show up, so they only had one sub for the whole game). Our recent string of games against the over-18 teams had helped condition us to play hard at a disadvantage, and we came out on top... with substantial effort.

Late last season we had a similar game, where I arrived right as the game started, the 11th on our team to show up, leaving us a full complement of field players, but no substitutes. I played for 75 minutes, sitting out 5 minutes late in the game to recover and hydrate, and playing my last 5 - 10 minutes basically standing still and hoping the opposing team didn't make it down to me, ending up with a splitting headache and coming close to calling in sick at work the next day. As I recall, we lost that game.

This time I fared much better, as did our final score. First, I'm about 13 pounds lighter than I was then. Second, I've had another year of conditioning to keep my wind up. I closed the game with a few demoralizing clears (I'm a fullback) right as our opponents were making their final charge to catch up from their 3-1 deficit. We scored a fourth goal late in the game, which sealed the outcome. After that, they never made it inside the penalty box.

My problem now is staving off injury. This morning I have a sore thigh, and possible tendonitis in my right ankle. I felt the thigh midway through yesterday's game, and have been feeling my ankle since last week's game, where we played on a field as hard as stone. Fortunately, I'll have a full month to heal, as next week is the family reunion, and then we have two weeks off for a tournament on our fields, and then the fourth week our team has a bye, since there are an odd number of teams in the league. By our August 31 game, I should be all healed up, and hopefully the fields will be in better condition.

So, yeah, the family reunion is this weekend. It started back in the 1970s when my Grandmother organized a get-together in the town she grew up in (Mechanicsburg, Virginia) with her 11 siblings and their families. We meet on the first Sunday in August, and have missed only one year since we started, and the number of family members who show up has grown to approximately 200. Since the numbers have grown so much, my grandfather's side of the family has split off to their own smaller reunion that meets the Saturday before at a different location. It draws a few people who don't usually make it to the big one, and a few like me who go to both, numbering around 30 attendees so far.

This will be the first year I get to show off Liberty and, hopefully, Scout, down there. I'm looking forward to it, but Liberty is showing a little anxiety about it. "Come meet 200 of my family." It's understandable. When she sees that the main questions she'll be asked are "Who are you with?" and "Have you tried the pie?" then I think she'll be OK.

After the reunion, Stacey will be going from Virginia to North Carolina to stay a couple weeks with her Grandma and Great-Grandma, where she'll get to play with babies and be doted on, coming back to be with me shortly before her birthday party. We're going to go back to Summit Vision, this time to do the high-ropes course/zipline. I'm hoping a lot of kids show for that, as it seems like a good time. Stacey didn't have her best social year ever, having the culture shock that is middle school, but I'm hoping the girls who usually show and have a good time will still be up for it.

Last in the news, Stacey's soccer season will be starting soon, and I'm the coach! I took a class to get a coach's license, learned some drills, bought some cones, and checked the little "I'd like to coach" box on the form I signed Stacey up with. I'm excited about it, but a little anxious. I'm hoping I'm going to be healthy enough to participate in drill demonstrations and sprints, and hoping also that I'll be understandable and likable. I'm also hoping my philosophies of "play with your feet, not your hands" and "if you knock 'em down, help 'em up" won't be vilified by the parents.

From my time on the sidelines with other parents, I've seen people preach both sides of aggression and sportsmanship - from no blood no foul, to kids should be kids. Me, I'm more Shoalin: Avoid rather than check, check rather than hurt. I think it's OK for kids to make contact with each other on the field, and blocking with your body is easily interpreted by players as strategic rather than confrontational. Not so with pushing; the more arm you use in maintaining possession/position, the more likely you'll be seen as trying to start a fight. Soccer is fun, and fighting is not fun... so play with your feet, not your hands. That's an easy sell. The other is a little harder.

If you knock 'em down, help 'em up. Maybe I'd be ok with a player going ahead and taking a couple dribble steps and a shot on goal after bumping into someone and knocking them down. After all, it would take that long for the person who fell to take stock of their own situation and determine if they were hurt or could keep playing. Otherwise, I'd like to encourage my girls to sacrifice perceived positional advantage for sportsmanship. If you knock someone down, you are responsible for their injury. The ref should stop play, but if he doesn't, you should pass the ball away, and then help the girl you knocked down back to her feet. If she can get back up and keep playing, she will remember that act of kindness and it will have an effect on her. Yes, I'd like to win games, but not at the expense of being uninterested in the other team's well-being, or worse, a bully. 5 seconds: Pass the ball, help her up, get back in the game. It won't change the score, I guarantee.

On the other hand, being a martyr isn't my bag, so if I get a lot of flak for that, I'll have a challenging problem on my hands. Time will tell how that will play out.

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