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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Rejoice in the beautiful game

World Cup fever has struck around our house for the past 10 days. I have watched as many games as possible, sometimes altering schedules so we can be home to watch, while trying to maintain some semblance of normal life. I just love watching it all. The excitement of the fans, the amazing skill level, the national pride. I can do without the intentional dives and the flagrant fouls, but I guess that is part of the game, too, although I am glad FIFA is trying to eliminate some of the garbage out there. I found myself home alone screaming the other day when the U.S. scored the second goal to tie the game against Slovenia. We have been trying to get the kids excited about it, too. It can be a hard game to follow on TV, but when played well, it really is a beautiful sport. It's been exciting so far, and we are gearing up for the US-Algeria showdown tomorrow morning. Good thing today is the last day of school. Breakfast at World Cup for our house tomorrow!

I grew up playing soccer. We played year round, indoor and outdoor, school and recreation. All of my siblings played and it was our family game. There were a few years on Thanksgiving that we'd gather our visiting family members and neighbors and friends and "play" while the turkey was cooking. The rules may have been a little different in those games and may have involved full body tackling, but the idea was the same. It was something that brought us all together. A bond that we all shared. We played in the yard, on the beach, in the house. Wherever there was a ball.

Way back in 4th grade, I remember my parents telling me they had signed me up to play soccer when we moved to Signal Mountain, TN from New York. I didn't want to do it. I didn't know if I would be good enough, and I didn't know anyone else. I was a kid (and am an adult, too) that doesn't like the unexpected. Despite enjoying kicking around a soccer ball at home, I was absolutely positive that playing organized soccer was not for me. My parents, who were all the wiser at the time, made me do it because they knew it would be a good way to meet people and to help make the transition easier. And they were right. Some of my strongest and most meaningful friendships were formed on the soccer field. As my early teammates and I grew older and went off to different high schools, we often played against each other, but the camaraderie of having once been teammates always remained. And in the off season from school, we often found ourselves again dressed in the same uniform playing together again. Always teammates.

So, I've been thinking, as I sometimes do when I am trying to make some order of chaos, about these teams and teammates, and the World Cup, and how it relates to our lives today. And I have zeroed in on the idea of the team, and how we all form our own team to help get through our lives. We build a team of players just as a world class soccer team is built, everyone with their own talents to offer, their own roles and jobs, that when all put together, help to bring about success. Every team has a philosophy, a way to manage their play. Some people push hard on offense, others rely more on defense. Each time has a different lineup, and plays the field in their own unique way. Plans can vary depending on the day or situation or the team you are facing. Each team is built with players that fit the ideals of the entire team. You want your team to be made up of selfless players, those who realize the end goal is the team's goal. You admire the variety of skill and level of play each player brings to the field. You try to eliminate the actors, those who throw themselves around for the drama and attention. You find that some players come, play a game or two and move on in an effort to find their best team or a team that is a better fit for their style of play. A core group always remains. Those you trust, those you believe in, those who will drop back and cover.

And as I get older, I have found that the playing field is sometimes quality and other times a little muddy and rocky. The play of game, as with life, is influenced by so many extraneous factors, but you have to keep right on playing. In fact, one of most favorite times to play soccer was in the pouring rain, in piles of mud. Yucking it up with your teammates, covered from head to toe in mud and loving every minute of it. No matter what the circumstances, the team, your team, that you have built over the years, is always standing by ready to play.

My sister, Mary, is supposed to undergo surgery on Thursday where they hope to remove a tumor in her abdomen. They aren't sure they'll be able to do it, and the outcome of the surgery will affect her progress in a clinical trial at the National Cancer Institute at NIH. Please keep Mary in your thoughts and prayers this week. She deserves a break in the right direction.

Be good. Be strong. Go USA!

P.S. The picture is from my junior year of high school when our team won the TN State Championship. Go Irish!

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