The fully frozen pond is a slick but relatively safe walking space. It can be used for all manner of frivolity including ice skating, hockey, ice fishing or even Curling. The completely unfrozen pond offers an equal measure of possibility with swimming, boating, fishing, diving or just floating. The dangerous pond is the half frozen pond. It offers nothing but uncertainty. At any moment, the surface can crack and leave you in a scramble for survival with hypothermia and drowning both being real possibilities. It is the one to fear and avoid.
The same can be said for commitment to a team. Fully committed players make a good team into a great one because they are not just in it for themselves. The completely uncommitted players are often put on the bench or removed from the team. Just like the ice, the half-committed players are the ones that are dangerous because it’s hard to tell when they’ll crack under the pressure. While players are the easiest to identify with this metaphor, it works equally for fans, management, ownership, etc. Commitment is not just for one group of people to rectify. It is something for all of the different groups who are attached to the club to consider and contribute their part.
This season has been a disappointment to say the least. The POSH looked promising at times early in the season, even without a recognized striker. As time wore on, the pond began to melt and became unstable. The manager was the one who fell through as he was given the cold shoulder by several of the players. Now Grant McCann has been given the task of mending the cracks. With twelve matches remaining and the POSH eight points (plus goal difference) adrift; the team, fans, management, and ownership need to be solid for that time. This is not a task for one or even a handful to complete. At best that is more of the half frozen status quo that has brought us to this point. Everyone who steps onto the pitch, all of the fans in the stands and the ones at home need to solidify in their commitment to the one and only objective: staying in the Championship! The opportunity is not gone. It is only difficult.
My hope is that Peterborough has a cold spring, not literally, you get the metaphor! Rock solid!
“Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” – Oscar Wilde
There are many people who would push back on me suggesting that soccer is an art form. That’s completely fine! A bunch of paint splatters or a urinal hung in a museum are not my cup of tea either. Given that art is subjective and mediums have change through time, I don’t think that I’m out of line to call the beautiful game, ART. Some of the best actors do not read from a script. Musicians jam and vamp with their bandmates far from the notes that are on the page. So in my estimation, a group of eleven people trying to find rhythm from chaos is a form of ballet as much as it is a sport. Whether you buy into my belief or not, at bare minimum, you understand where I’m coming from.
Now let me take it back to the Oscar Wilde quote. Other people can dissect his words in any way that they like. For me, the idea that life imitates art comes from the fact that artists take their medium to extremes. Generally, life is not an extreme sport. In the beginning, humans needed to be conservative with their actions because our survival depended upon it. Even though there were cave paintings, they weren’t of spaceships or a flying squirrel suit. They showed hunters going after an animal. The art was in line or one step ahead of the time but it gave others something to imitate. As we progressed forward, the media of arts expanded and gave expression to the order of the day as well as more extreme ideas. Did the myths about the gods come about to explain them or give people license to emulate them?
Now that I’ve taken you through my thought process, I believe that our world is in distress due to our art. It’s not as simple as Tipper Gore would have liked. Her labels on explicit albums did not change the releasing of the art that she disliked. She simply made it taboo and therefore more desirable. Since the art that I care about is soccer, I’m not going to go down that rabbit hole. I am concerned about the artists on the field.
Soccer is called “the beautiful game” because it is a glory to behold when it is in its natural state. Eleven people trying to get the ball into the goal of the other team while defending their own. A match can have the highs and lows of a great symphony and all of the drama of a Greek tragedy. There is no lack of opportunity to raise the emotional experience to the heights that only artists can. An actor can give an audience chills when they personify a moment so perfectly with their earnestness. Unfortunately the hack actor can also nauseate an audience by faking it, not being true to the role and using tricks to skate by. It’s sad to see but that’s where we are. Players looking to game the system for the outcome rather than earnestly trying to get the result through their art. None of this is new and I know that my short musing about it will change little.
However, I truly believe that the flopping, diving and play acting has affected the world because soccer is art. Therefore, this writing, which is also an art form, could help to counteract it. A pebble in the pond, no doubt but I hope that it will ripple. If the artists who are playing at the highest level were to give up the hack tactics for a short time, would it change everything? Would kids stop flopping and taking the easy way? Would government officials stop taking shortcuts that hurt the people in their care? Would life again imitate art as it has so many times through history? I don’t know! I’d like to believe that it could. The problem is that so many things have become a business and art is a gift! So hopefully, some of the artists on the field can remember that they are making art to give to the world and it’s more than just the result. We’re all watching to be inspired toward our future selves. If you make “hack art” we’ll believe that that is en vogue. BUT if you give the gift of true expression with earnest effort, we’ll reflect that back as well.
I place the blame squarely on my own shoulders. So far this season, I’ve only been able to watch four matches and two have been POSH wins. My lack of commitment is a leading factor in the poor form. While I say this all in jest, people link results to a variety of factors which represent correlation and not causation. The away form is troubling and so are the goals in quick succession. Both are a symptom of an underlying problem that is easy to spot but more difficult to correct. Fergie put it very plainly in his post match interview. There is a lack of belief within the team that gets exacerbated away from home and when the team concede.
While it is simple enough to identify a lack of belief, it’s more difficult to correct considering all contributing factors. In order to have a squad that can withstand the workload, injuries and the level of the Championship; there needs to be competition at every single position. It is an absolute necessity but it creates circumstances where a player’s position within the team is always in question. As professional athletes, this is part of the job but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy.
If it were just the uncertainty of the position, there probably would not be such a grand issue at the moment. However each player must also internally wrestle with the question of whether or not, they are “Championship standard.” Obviously all of the members of the squad are eligible to play in the Championship because it is the league where the POSH are now. However there is a difference between being a Championship player and feeling like you belong at that level. Hopefully the players are smart enough to avoid looking at social media or player rating. That level of scrutiny is difficult to bear. Fans, pundits and journalists have the right to rate or not rate a player. It doesn’t mean that it’s helpful. Keeping one’s mentality straight with daggers being pulled for any play that is not up to snuff.
Finally the pressure of survival. This is one of the reasons that I’ve been a firm proponent of aiming higher than survival. Having taught for many years, I know that the individual who is just looking to pass will never get an A. The one who is willing to put in the work with high expectations will do far better than the bare minimum. Survival is not riding on every kick of the ball or even every match. It just feels that way and that feeling doesn’t help. The increased pressure produces anxiety that does not improve performance.
It’s simple enough to just say “get on with it.” These players are professional athletes who signed up for this pressure. True! However, any fan, pundit or journalist can tell you that a striker in the Championship needs to be more clinical because the number of chances are fewer and more difficult. So a player will train to improve their finishing skills. It’s necessary to perform at this level. How much training have players gotten on their mindset? Belief? Self-talk? Visualization?
I’m sure there has been some but if this truly is the missing component to success then it needs to be a core component to the training. A striker who is not putting shots on frame would not be told to just figure it out. There’s too much at stake. Each player would be different. Depending on their personality types, learning styles and modality preferences; they would need to develop skills to help them put legs under the “table” of their belief. For now they seem to be able to believe at home. That’s something! Unfortunately that does not scratch the true potential of this squad. They can make a real dent in this league but they need to believe it to their core. For now, they are waiting for the results to give them belief. That’s actually reverse of what needs to happen. Belief is a skill that they need to hone.
Up the POSH! I’ll do my part. I’m positive the players can do theirs.
“I got the ball!” is the exclamation of many players after they’ve been called for a foul. This phrase represents a separation between the actual Laws of the Game and the common misconceptions about what they say. Nowhere in the laws does it say that a player’s contact with the ball makes something a foul or not. It does however refer to careless and reckless behavior. That is the standard by which a referee must determine a foul, not contact with the ball.
This type of misconception is not exclusive to fouls in soccer. It is represented in a variety of other areas where we should really know better but we try to justify our careless and reckless behavior with a qualifier. “He hit me first!” “I don’t usually do this type of thing.” “My parents used to….. so I can.” “It’s not against the law.” “No one is watching.” If we were to truly look at our actions with an objective eye, we can see the folly. However we stack up these “got ball” excuses to make it easier to exist as a lesser version of ourselves. We don’t want to admit that life is going to demand a higher standard than makes us comfortable. It’s easier to fall to the level of what “everyone else” is doing.
This is not a finger wagging session from a pedestal of superiority. Quite the opposite! It’s an admission of my lower self in soccer and life. Telling the players on my TV to “just get in the box!” in the hopes of a soft penalty. All of the other areas of my life where I’ve not held myself to that higher standard because it was inconvenient, time consuming or I just didn’t want to! We’ve all been careless or reckless at one point or another. Now we have another chance to decide if we will continue or not. The game is not over! You’re probably not even at halftime yet. Make a change in order to play a better game. I need to as well.
As a player, I slowly moved from the front to the back in terms of position. Originally I was a forward or wing (playing in a 2-3-5). As a player in men’s leagues, I was usually center back. If I weren’t horrible at it, I probably would have ended up in the net at some point. This progression was not surprising. When I was young, I was pretty fast but eventually my most prominent skill was my ability to talk. Center backs and goalkeepers have some of the best views of the field. Therefore it is their job to help organize everyone in front of them. A perfect use for my big mouth! If it weren’t for my height, I probably always should have been playing in the back because it fits with my personal ethos to help people.
Recently I had been thinking about all of the overlaps that find and point out between soccer and life. My intention behind this exercise is always to help the people in front of me (literally or virtually). Despite the fact that it is a transformed version of a negative American Football term, I’d like to use it as a positive. I’d like to be a “Monday Morning Center Back.” Rather than someone who second guesses your mistakes after you’ve made them. The point would be to help people to be ready for the week going forward.
Monday has gotten a bad rap because people are living for the weekend. Generally they want to “survive” 5 out of the 7 days of the week. I get it! But it’s also a pretty big waste of time. Finding the joy in the mundane is a skill that needs to be developed. Otherwise the source of our joy is dependent on circumstances beyond our control. During my time as a garbage man, I developed this skill out of necessity. Eight hours in the heat of the summer, throwing trash into the truck while smelling horrible and encountering maggots and other fun things. I had so much fun! Literally, I found a variety of different ways to enjoy the job and the time. The first time that I conceived of writing a book was on that truck and I “wrote” much of it inside my head during that time. So whatever you’re doing on a regular basis, it is probably not maggot infested. Make the best of it because this time is all that you get. Don’t give away 5 out of your 7 days without a fight.
Now that I have the concept inside of my head, be on the lookout for more Monday Morning Center Back ideas. I’m here to help and I’ll try blogging, videos, podcasts in order to see what sticks. Have a great week! Yes I realize that it’s Wednesday but hey, nobody’s perfect!
As the Euros are on at the moment, there is plenty of buzz around different players. The value of a player can go up or down massively during a tournament like this. Some stars are born out of these circumstances and others that have shown bright in the past fade. Gareth Bale used to be worth nearly 100 million pounds. Now his market value is around 19 million. Is he one fifth the player that he used to be? Probably not, his chipping has definitely improved! Haha! But seriously, a player’s value is not a fixed thing, nor is it ever completely accurate. It is based on many perceived factors including consistency and potential. No one can see what tomorrow will bring but those who guess right consistently enough, create value for their clubs.
Luckily for the past decade and a half, the POSH have had a relatively consistent combination of a gambler and a teacher who have maximized player value. This season that value is no longer going to help finance the club’s future young starlets. It is going to pay the rent for a year in the Championship. While the POSH haven’t done any transfer business yet this summer, the core of their promotion winning side is intact. This side’s fate will depend largely on the “dynamic duo” of DMac and Fergie to do what they have for so many years, see value where others don’t and improve it.
Although it’s easy say after the fact, that Boyd, Gayle, and Toney were “destined” to be great, no one can ever truly say. The order of the moment is to believe. Consistently through the years, the DMac/Fergie combination have delivered results. Although the Championship is a different level, lessons have been learned and the course is clear. There is nothing magical about the Championship. No one has a divine right to play there but there are teams that it’s almost a given that they are going to stay up. The bookies know who they are, that’s how they set the odds. However they have made a slight error in setting the POSH at 15/8 to get relegated. They are discounting the gambler and the teacher. The track record of turning potential into POSH should not be overlooked. Perhaps it’s for the best though. Long odds can create strong mentality of belief in teams and individuals. Us against the world is an idea that can be sold because people who are undervalued have something to prove. This season is all about the things that POSH does well. Finding diamonds in the rough and getting them to shine for all to see. Patience.
There are many things that can be considered “unsporting behavior” within the game of soccer. However I believe that the one that encompasses them all most concisely is “Shows a lack of respect for the game.” Whether it is a reckless foul or attempting to deceive the referee, all situations that can be characterized as unsporting behavior show some level of disrespect toward the game. Generally speaking most people tend to respect the game at levels that allow for the game to move forward. If too many people disrespect the game, there is no continuity and possibly, not enough players left to make the game worth playing.
This situation almost never happens. Games are infrequently abandoned due to a high number of players being dismissed. It would be counterproductive. Players inherently want to play. So excessive disrespect to the game is not in their best interest. Even implementors of “anti-football” had to recognize that the more egregious their actions, the more they gambled with the tactic backfiring. Stifling the opposition can be a team’s undoing if they take it too far.
Taking a step back from the rectangular field with lines and focusing on the spherical one with continents. The same logic seems to fit. A lack of respect for the game is counterproductive and can stifle us all. The problem in the bigger game comes from the fact that not everyone is aimed at the same goals, each person has their own set of rules and mostly people referee themselves. So a lack of respect is even more subjective than in a soccer game. Playing within the rules can get frustrating when confronted with opponents who seemingly have no rules. Your goals and ambitions may be nothing more than trash to other players in the game. Therefore many people end up disillusioned or overwhelmed by the world. The game of life was never set up to be fair, equitable, convenient nor consistent. So as the player, it is important to decide how you are going to play the game and the rules that you’ll live by.
From time to time, it may be necessary to revamp your personal “laws of the game.” However you should not adopt someone else’s just because it’s popular, easier or more convenient. Your laws need to match who you are and where you want to go. The feeling of being aligned with these components is worth the difficulty of defining them. Playing the game in a fashion that makes you miserable is probably not ideal. So be as deliberate as you can defining your goals and laws of the game. That way you can hold yourself accountable for unsporting behavior. Almost no other referees are watching. So you need to be.
In light of the recent furor over the “Super League” and my own crusade to spread the fandom of my favorite team, Peterborough United, I thought it was worth taking the time to characterize my view of American interest in English clubs. It may not be 100% accurate nor complete in its description but it may be helpful. In order to make my points, a little imagination is needed. Rather than a club being an organization with a team, fanbase, a business structure and a history; I’d like to characterize a club as a child that can never grow up.
Due to the fact that this child is never going to grow up, someone needs to be put in charge of the child. The creators of the club were truly its “parents” but as those people passed away or moved onto other endeavors, someone new needed to “adopt” the club. For the longest time, these new adoptive parents did so out of genuine love for the club. Like any parent, the economics of care meant that at best they were going to break even. Then football became a business and many people with means saw it as an opportunity to get into the game. Some adopted a club with love for the sport or the club. Others recognized the ability to profit from the sheer number of people who love this “child.” It is a difficult balance to strike. Parents with pure love may not have the means to keep the child alive while people with money may not love the child.
On the periphery of the parent-child relationship are all of the other invested parties: siblings, uncles/aunts, cousins, friends that feel like family. Fans fall into one of these groups depending on their involvement. Like any familial structure, there are people who are more involved in a child’s life or less. A fan who has been raised with the club may have the affection of a sibling for it. It’s easy to squabble over the intricacies of fan legitimacy but I’m not sure that it serves much purpose.
For my part, I’d characterize myself and most American fans as distant cousins. You don’t see us very often but we’re out there in the ether. The upside to having a large “extended family” is that there are extra resources coming in from afar to care for the club. Generally the inconveniences of having this extended family are small. A few events may be moved up or back based on a desire for “everyone to be there.” Regardless, most of us distant cousins gain a great affinity for the club. We watch, we visit, we like to stay involved. Some of us despite our distance, eventually begin to truly “love” the club. Perhaps not the same love that someone who is there day in and day out might love it. However it is love nonetheless.
Therein lies the problem with the Super League and many of the owners who get into football, whether American or not. The key to this entire equation is that love should be a major component to the acquisition of a club. Because there are so many people who love this entity like a child, to treat it like a resource to exploit for profit is contrary to its entire existence. It is completely acceptable for an owner to profit from a club. Businessmen almost never intend to lose money. However if the profit was their only intention, then that eventually hurts the entire family because no one wants their child to be exploited.
My personal crusade is to add more distant cousins to the POSH family. This is an opportunity for me to give back while paying it forward. I’ve enjoyed my time as a Peterborough United fan immensely! It is part of me at this point. The promotion to the Championship puts the club on a more visible platform. My hope is that 10,000 brothers and sisters show up each week in the stadium but 10,000 more distant cousins wouldn’t hurt. So I’m searching for people who are looking to love a club. There are no quick rewards here. It’s not the glamorous pick. The past eight years have been spent in a league that most Americans don’t know exists. Buckle up because it is a bumpy ride!
If you want an instant self-esteem boost from supporting a Champion’s League team, then support Man United. However you need to recognize that the adopted parent of the child that you care so much about doesn’t love it or the extended family. The only interest in keeping the golden goose alive is to walk away with as many eggs as possible. No doubt it is possible to love the club and hate the ownership but when everyone is aligned it feels different. Tears of joy from ownership upon promotion says nothing about return on investment and everything about commitment.
In the present footballing world, a longstanding tradition has been suspended due to COVID-19 concerns. Teams have been allowed to have five substitutes within a match rather than three. This has opened up the possibility for a manager to change almost have the team. For a squad that is deep in talent, this is a lifesaver because a compressed schedule has led to tired legs. Energy and desire can be thrust into the match in order to turn the tide of a game at that is going wrong. I’m sure that many traditionalists have hated this development while others see it as a great addition to a strange season. As I frequently do, I started to think about the overlap of this aspect of the game with life. And in life, there are NO SUBSTITUTES!
It’s harsh isn’t it? Especially at times like these where it might be nice to have someone else step into your life for a day or a week. All of your responsibilities and obligations taken care of by another person while you lounge on the bench, recouping your strength to give it a go in the future. This is not a call for cloning or AI to take our places (this already scares the bejeezus out of me). Just a thought exercise to bring to light the fact that no one gets to take time off from being themselves. It is your position on the field. A role that only you can fill. No doubt that you can surround yourself with teammates who will pick up the slack when you feel tired but there are NO SUBSTITUTES!
In some ways this could be daunting. A lifetime of one position without anyone to take it over when you get tired. However it is also a beautiful thought. No one gets to replace you. Even if you’re an identical twin, your sibling is not you and can never be. So now that you have this position on the field and no one can take it away from you, what are you going to do with it?
Many people lament their role. They see other players of the game with more of this or more of that. Inside their head, they think “I’ve gotten a raw deal.” It’s common but it doesn’t make much sense. The complaint doesn’t progress anything forward, especially the complainer. So it is energy wasted in hope that they might get to substitute someone else. As we know now, that’s just not happening.
So the only sensible action as far as I can see is to play. That’s right! Even if you’re in your 90s or older, play that starting position that you’ve been give with everything that you’ve got. No one can replace you and that’s a great thing! When you’re eventually taken off the field, be sure that your teammates miss you. Give them performances to remember, that inspire them to be a better version of themselves. They can never replace you but they can follow your lead. Sure you’re bound to get tired, bumped and bruised but there’s pride to be found in continuing on.
Regardless of how you decide to play the game, remember that there is NO SUBSTITUTE for you! The world is full of obstacles, difficulties and challenges and we need YOU. Put your hand in because it’s another opportunity for you to play your part.
With three matches remaining, the POSH are on the cusp of returning to the Championship. Three points is all that it will take to push them beyond the reach of Lincoln and Sunderland. Everyone can feel the excitement of possibility. Despite the desire to achieve promotion on Tuesday night, the players cannot go into the match trying to do that. Winning promotion will be a byproduct of their actions, not something they can force. It will be a sum total of quality actions leading up to and during the ninety minutes of the match. Keeping one’s nerve is much more difficult when the moment is inflated into something that it isn’t.
Anticipating the key moment to a match or someone’s life is almost impossible. So it is really not worth doing. Putting the extra pressure of anticipation or anxiety is not usually a recipe for success. A moment is just that, a moment. Its meaning will come clear to us after the fact. Most of our performance in life comes down to things that we’ve done hundreds, thousands or possibly millions of times. Freeing one’s self from the weight of expectation comes down to the knowledge that when given an opportunity, you won’t run from it. You will give the moment the attention that it deserves, no more, no less. Consistency is key.
The reason that the POSH are in this position is that they have consistently strung together enough moments to earn this opportunity. They do not need to be better than who they have been all season long. They simply need to be who they have been consistently without the weight of expectation. No one needs to score a hat-trick, a bicycle kick or a goal from a half field. A deflected ball off of any player’s butt will do.
So the key to winning promotion is simply winning the moments. Focusing on the things that are actually within one’s control: playing a ball to feet, being first to the ball, seeing the goal rather than the keeper, and getting back to neutral if anything goes awry. Winning the majority of the moments gives us the best chance and afterward, we’ll all be able to see which ones were the biggest. Those 7 minutes only become famous because the moment wasn’t bigger than the men.