Monday, October 6, 2008

Lessons in Sports Are Everywhere

It was late in the game on Sunday afternoon, our team clinging to a one goal lead and I had just wandered in for my third shift on defense. The game itself had been a crazy mix of weather alternating between drizzle, showers, sun breaks and a bit of wind, but it started on time despite the conditions. Our opponents only fielded 7 guys at kickoff, and we were at a list of 20 guys ready to go, so we had the number stacked in our favor. But our opponents, whom we'd played before and lost to 7 to 1, had some skill and had played together for years, so even being short players, they were able to break us down and our offense wasn't as organized as it has been. But here it was, us with a late lead and we were hoping to escape with points.

But our opponents had another breakaway on the left side opposite me, as I was playing on the right as a 3 person defense. Our middle defender, Pete, and left defender, Eric, went for the ball on the breakaway and I tracked back on the right. Up until this point, I'd been marking guys well, knocked out a couple of passes out of bounds, and generally played a strong game. One of the opposing strikers got a little past Pete and fired the ball in towards our keeper, who committed to block the shot, and the ball sailed to the right and glanced off the right post and it shot out toward the field. I immediately ran over to knock it out of bounds, but suddenly the other striker had pounced on the ball and knocked it in for the tying goal. I was absolutely devastated, as a guy that I should have marked I lost track of and he notched a goal. The game ended a few minutes later after a couple of furious runs for us towards goal, but in the end, it was a draw. Mind you, our team is win less and had been beaten pretty handily in the first three weeks, so a draw is a bit of a victory in that respect.

But I can't help but think about what might have happened if I'd have marked my man when the shot was taken. Granted, I could have knocked the ball away and it would have gotten rid of that threat, but there could have been more coming. I could have also knocked the guy down and given up a penalty to the other side, which I didn't do. It was a matter of a lesson learned, that marking guys is vital and I know that better for next time. My footy experience has mostly been on the pick up games in college and during P.E. back in school, but I've watched enough games to understand basic rules and strategy. It's putting it into practice that is important.
And it's also important to get back out and play and keep trying hard.

What I want to avoid is an effort like the Oregon Ducks this weekend, who folded up in the second quarter versus USC and gave them the win without too much effort, as USC took it to Oregon and they never responded. This team showed a lot of grit in beating Purdue on the road in two overtimes, but yet thought they could beat a Boise State team on talent alone, and BSU took them to the house. Oregon got the early lead, but when USC started pouring it on, Oregon made mistakes and the rest is a blowout. Plenty of Oregon players even said they felt they were the better team, despite the score, but the score is what people remember regardless. That might not be fair, but it's part of the game and part of why they keep score. You have to show up each week, ready to play, and if you make mistakes, that's part of the game. And it's OK to be confident of your talents, but you also need to be humble in victory and respectful in defeat. It's a matter of learning from the lessons, and my hope is that Oregon learns from the mistakes on Saturday and gets the ship righted.

If anything, they should take heart from the Oregon State Beavers, who played a very good game versus Utah to only see the Utes clip them with a late field goal. The Beavers had the game won, but they struggled late with some defense and came out on the short end of a pass interference call on the first two point conversion try Utah attempted to tie the score. The Beavers had upset USC the previous week, and had been basking in the glory of knocking off the number 1 ranked Trojans, and now were in a dogfight with the Utes in Salt Lake. The Utes have a lot of talent, and made some plays despite what the Beavers tried to do. It ended up a loss, but shouldn't be the end of their season. The Beavers show up to play hard every week, even outclassed like in Penn State earlier this year, but their coaches get them fired up to play each and every week, and let the chips fall where they make. Because as we've often seen, sometimes the chips fall in the right way to cause special things to happen.

You are only as good as your last week's performance. That's not meant to be overly critical, but what it shows is that it matters what you do now on the field at the point in time. Wins are great, but losses are part of the game as well, and you can't get too high from one or down on the other and expect to be able to snap back each week. It's human nature to glorify good performances, but sports has a humbling quality that pops up now and again, and it can put you in your place from time to time.

And it's also important to be there to support your friends and family when they are out there playing. It really helped me a lot to see girl on the sidelines, getting wet from the rain, but there providing support and distraction as needed. I spent a lot of time playing sports in high school, and I would have loved seeing my family there to cheer me on, win or lose. But there were other things to do, supposedly, and the one meet they did watch me, I came in dead last and heard about it all the way home. Moral victories and effort may not show up in the scoreboard, but it's important to acknowledge getting out there and trying, even in the sense of teamwork. It's a fine line here, though, as I don't advocate things like "trophy day for everyone" in sports, because I think it's important to learn the lesson that sports, like life, isn't fair. But if you work hard, try your best every week, learn from your mistakes, and don't beat yourself up or slap your back too much, sports can be a rewarding experience just the same.

So for me, it's time to get back to practice this week, and we have another game next Sunday. And I'm looking forward to it, because I've learned some valuable lessons. Hopefully Mother Nature won't make the whole experience happen under water...

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