Blogpost, self-reliance, SoccerLifeBalance

The Beautiful Game Has Become Ugly

“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.

Painting of Pele by Andres Ramos.
Art imitating art!

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.

Be an artist today!

Blogpost, self-reliance

All That You Don’t See

It’s that time of year where I have a list of Christmas movies that I and most people watch. Although there are several on the list, the most important is “It’s a Wonderful Life.” There are some young people who have probably not even seen this classic but it is by far my favorite. A few of the reasons that it may not be as popular in the modern era are as follows. It progresses slowly. There are none of the traditional characters that you hear about in songs regularly. Although it is a Christmas movie, only a small amount of the story has to do with Christmas at all. Despite all of these facts, it is still my favorite because of its enduring messages. Some are said quite plainly but it’s possible that you might have missed a few because they are subtle.

“No man is poor who has friends” – This is the most obvious to viewers of the movie because it is stated very plainly at the end. However throughout the film, George Bailey does not notice all the lives that he has impacted. So he sees himself as a failure, poor and worthless. His main measure for himself is financial and by that measure, he believes he failed. This message is extremely important today and will continue to be. People discount themselves regularly because their self-assessment discounts their true value.

“Greatness in not a solo act” – Mary (Hatch) Bailey is the unsung hero of the film. Why she fell for George when she came back from school is a bit of a mystery in my eyes. However it is evident that she is the support system upon which any success that he has is built. From salvaging their honeymoon, fixing up their rundown house and finally saving George’s financial future twice, Mary is truly the one that makes George who he is. The scene where she is shown as an “old maid” is unlikely. Mary was great and would have made Sam Wainwright or another guy equally great. In my humble opinion, Mary gets slightly overlooked and that’s not just because I have a crush on Donna Reed.

“The hardest person to forgive is yourself” – This one doesn’t slap you in the face but it is there. Whether George Bailey himself, Violet Bick or Uncle Billy; forgiveness is relatively straightforward when it comes to others. Forgiving one’s self for things that were done or left undone is a tricky business. Other people get a little more slack than we generally give to ourselves. Perhaps it is because we know our every thought and action that we are less generous. Or maybe we overestimate our ability to be perfect. Regardless, it is there and forgiving ourselves is usually the right thing to do. Especially when it is something that we would easily forgive another for doing.

Although this movie may not have Santa, claymation or great special effects, it is my perfect Christmas movie. It directly or indirectly reminds people about what is truly important at this or any time of the year. Our time in this world is short and it’s easy to lose focus on the most important things. So these subtle reminders will hopefully keep them at the top of our mind for a little while at least.

Enjoy this time with the people who are important to you!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

Born Ready!

BS!!! I was born just like everyone else! Naked, afraid, unable to read or write or even hold up my own head! Yet I persisted through those difficult circumstances. After many failed attempts at walking, my parents tried to convince me to move on to easier modes of transport but I wouldn’t hear of it. Probably because I only understood basic words and phrases. I was stubborn and knew that one day I would walk. Now here I am! Decades later celebrating my imperfect birth. 46 years worth of fumbling and stumbling through life but celebrating nonetheless.

My brother holding me when I was just a blob of potential.

It’s odd isn’t it?!?! We come from such humble beginnings and the plan is very much laid out for us. “You’re not perfect from the beginning but through trial and error, you will figure things out.” Eventually we tend to forget that formula. We give up on things quickly because we’re “not good” at them. Actually we’re not good at anything in the beginning but we forget that is the modus operandi. We weren’t born ready! We were born horribly, laughably, disgustingly inadequate! But the people around us didn’t chide or berate us. They propped us up and encouraged us along the way. It was a beautiful thing for many years.

Hopefully this year, you can give yourself that same encouragement and support that you received in the early years. Maybe you’re not ready for what’s coming right now either but you can be with time and effort. You used to be a miracle! It stands to reason that some of the miracle remains, no matter how old you are. None of us was born ready. So give up on that story because the truth is much more useful. You were born as a little blob of potential. Now you get to see how much of it you can realize in a lifetime!

Happy birthday to everyone!

Pete

Blogpost

Your Call Cannot Be Completed As Dialed

For those younger readers, the image below is the remnants of a pay phone. Prior to the widespread use of cellphones, these things were all over the place. You could pay a certain amount to make a call. Most of the phone part of this one is gone. My guess would be that it is hanging in someone’s apartment as a decoration. Regardless of what happened to it, there is no chance that any calls are being made from or coming to this unit. Even if the wires still exist inside, the connection just isn’t going to be made.

There used to be a pay phone here.

Despite all of our different formats for connection, people seem to be more disconnected than ever. It is not a question of means for communication. We have more than we know what to do with: text, instant message, Facebook post, Tweet, etc. The issue is not the means. It is the quality and interpretation of the signals that are coming through. Wearing masks seems to have made this even worse. People are generally not sending the signals that they want to put out into the world. It is usually a watered down version of their truest feelings. It has become just a bit too dangerous to put your authentic self out there. It can be misinterpreted. You could be labeled a thousand different things. Or worst of all, you could be heard clearly and no one responds. That might be the scariest of all. Putting yourself completely out there and no one cares enough to hear you.

We’re losing something in these overly cautious half messages. That piece of ourselves that makes us truly human. Other animals travel in packs but the human animal can relate on a level that they cannot. Pack animals travel together for the protection of the individual and the whole. Our society has grown to a point where we no longer need the protection but we still need the connection. We still need the pack, not because of physical danger but emotional connection. The pack could be as few as two people. The blanket of emotional safety that it creates is not so much a want but a need. We need to feel safe emotionally in this crazy world. Our ability to say anything to anyone anywhere has not freed us. It has stifled us because that phone call used to be with one person. Now all that we say and do can be turned from a gift into a weapon regardless of our intent. Unfortunately, the voices of the masses are not truly hateful voices. They are insecure voices. That insecurity is based in a fear that they also won’t be loved, appreciated, praised or even just heard. So it’s easier to send out a half truth that keeps us protected than the whole truth that leaves us exposed. The trivial, trite and mundane becomes the message on everyone’s masked lips. Those masks are not due to COVID. They’re invisible protection from putting one’s self “too far” out there. Because if the real me shows up and no one answer my call, then what does that say about me.

The truth is that it probably says nothing more than most people are disconnected like that phone above. They have all of the wiring to make a true connection but choose to stay separate and protected. Don’t become a rusted out shell of your former self. People were meant for more than the snarky and filtered. We were meant to be raw and imperfect. This is not a call for you to post your “emotionally naked” self online. More than anything, it’s an invitation to be real with one person at a time. Like a pay phone, it’s small investments that over time with make a big difference in the value that you are returned.

Hello! Is there anybody out there?

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

If You’re Going Through Hell…

I cannot take credit for this quote. The origin may not be from Sylvester Stallone but that’s where I heard it. “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Like so many of the quotes that stick with me, it reframes an idea in such a way that makes me want to take action. The idea of going through hell is overwhelming. It is the place of true suffering and the landlord leaves a lot to be desired. So the quote brings the full picture into focus. If you are in the worst place, keep moving until you get out. Even hell must have some form of boundary and just like New Jersey, you probably have to pay a toll to leave. Regardless, the idea of staying is unthinkable (in hell, not NJ, love the Garden State). So it’s in your best interest to put feet to pavement (or hot coals) and get the hell out of there!

Portion of the album cover to “Number of the Beast” by Iron Maiden. Original painting by Derek Riggs.

“That’s easy for you to say! You don’t know what I’m going through!” You’re absolutely right! Words are cheap but let’s forget that for a moment because that will always be true. Is that what you need? Someone who understands what you’re going through? There are support groups for just about everything under the sun at this point. Chances are that someone out there could understand your situation but would it really help? Or is it just easier to feel badly about the situation? These are legitimate questions that might be worth answering. If you need the understanding, search it out.

Just like so many other situations, an unwanted vacation in hell can be remedied by three words: vision, chunking and reasons. You need to have a vision for where you want to be, not a focus on where you are. The road is most likely going to be long and painful but if you can chunk it down or break it into pieces, progress can be seen more easily. Finally, you need reasons. In Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning, he talks about his experiences in the Nazi concentration camps. People needed to develop reasons to carry on in those inhuman circumstances.

Perhaps the situation that you are in is not exactly hell, the three words still work. Regardless of who you are or what your circumstances, we all run up on hard times. Often, our reaction to them is how we end up defining ourselves.

Safe travels!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

Someone Is Coming After You!

It sounds almost sinister if you put the wrong inflection in your voice when you say it. Horror movies find a way to make this idea last for almost two hours. A series of jump scares and near misses that bring the hairs on our arms to stand up straight. The panic that comes with the idea of some shrouded figure who is following our footsteps is almost palpable. But what if they meant you no harm? What if they didn’t even know that you existed? They were just someone who is coming after you. When you are gone, they will show up and they mean you no ill will. If they are not coming in order to hurt you, would you be willing to do the little things that will keep you from hurting them?

This thought experiment was brought on because I tripped on a dumbbell in our gym yesterday. I was the first person to enter in the morning. The lights were off and the weight was right in front of the door. It ended up ok. I didn’t end up on the ground or impaling myself on any of the nearby metal. The person, who left that weight there, just forgot that “someone is coming after you.” They gave no thought to the fact that I would be there in the early morning and could have gotten truly hurt. No malice, just indifference.

At this point in history, we seem to have forgotten that this moment that we are living in was created by a lot of people who knew someone was coming after them. No doubt mistakes were made and there was carelessness on their part at times. The recognition of the future was key. The future seems to be coming so fast that it has pressed itself directly onto the present. We seem to have trouble remembering the next people who will be here. Are we leaving something behind that they will actually want or be able to use? Or have we decided that our moment is so important that leaving a mess is our right?

More than likely, it is in our best interest to remember the people that are coming after us. We should be leaving them gifts to find rather than messes to clean up. It’s a force multiplier if everyone does it. The good will moving forward allows for others to be “infected” by it. If each of us is able to see the gifts from those before and remember that someone is coming after us, then the world becomes a better place to live on a regular basis. It’s not our moment that is most important. It is just most important to us. Giving a portion of it to the people coming after shows respect to the people who built our present.

They are coming! But it doesn’t need to be scary for either of us.

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

There Was a Time…

There was a time when I didn’t understand my parent’s (and other older people’s) fixation on where they were upon hearing that Kennedy was shot. It was definitely a historical moment, worthy of remembrance but I just didn’t understand. Now that we are twenty years removed from September 11th, I kind of understand. My life basically split into two on that day. Some of that would have happened without the attack but in so many ways, my present life tracks directly back to that day.

It was one of the oddest days of my teaching career. I got called down to the office at one point in early part of the day. In a conference room, they had the TV on where the students wouldn’t see. I was being given a glimpse of events that I needed pretend were not happening for the next several hours. As the day unfolded, parents started picking up their kids and yet I needed to pretend like nothing was wrong. By the last period, few students were left and they all knew something was up. Something was different.

Perhaps everyone who lived through the Kennedy assassination feels the same way. As if that one horrific event had changed their entire existence. Or maybe it was just the period of my life that caused the splitting. Regardless, it’s there. A scar from a cut that I wish never happened but it did. So what do we with an unwanted past? Do we run from it? Forget it? Or leverage it?

One of the beautiful things that seems to happen around many tragedies is that people come together. Differences that seemed important yesterday are cast aside. Humans have an amazing ability to be the best versions of themselves when things are at their worst. Not because we are special or supernatural but rather it is who we are deep inside. We are born literally through adversity. Any mother will tell you that it is called “labor” for a reason. Unfortunately we tend to shield ourselves from adversity because comfort feels better.

My life before September 11th was largely filled with comfort. This second life has had a lot more struggle and difficulty but it’s made me who I am now. This is not a call for tragedy. It is a call for embracing those hard things that instruct. Not pain for pain’s sake but pain for progress! There was a time when I was afraid of difficult periods, I’m not afraid anymore. Hopefully we’ll meet on that other side!

Never forget! You’re stronger than you realize!

Pete

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Would You Know a Good Ref If You Saw One?

refereeToday my son’s game had an extremely good referee group.  The center referee and his two linesmen called the game very well.  Despite the fact that they did a great job and got the majority of the calls right (even the ones that went against my son’s team), there were still complaints from parents.  Which made me wonder if people really have any idea what makes for a good referee or if they just want calls to go in their team’s favor?  Here are some thoughts to consider.

The level matters – Recognize that the job of a referee changes as the age and the level of play changes.  At the lowest levels, the referee is part of a learning process.  Their job is more about managing the understanding of the game rather than calling “fouls”.  Often the sidelines are complaining about things that are poor body control and not actually a foul.  The higher levels require much more reading of the flow of the game.  A good referee will identify possible problems developing in the play.  Their use of cards, advantage, player discussions and fouls called/not called will depend largely upon their reading of the game and individual’s roles within in it.  So as you are watching a game, give some thought as to the level of soccer being played and what the referee’s role truly is at that level.

Perspective matters – By design, referees are intended to be a neutral third party at the game.  So they are not carrying the bias that most of us bring to the game.  Their decisions are based upon what they see and not what they feel.  This creates another issue for most fans because their vantage point is completely different from that of the referee’s.  So it is not only possible but actually completely accurate to say that fans and referees have seen a different game.  Most of the time this is done with no instant replay, no VAR with different camera angles.  This is done live with twenty two players running in all directions and possibly screening the view.  Despite these major obstacles, perfection is the standard that many expect.

The Laws are the Laws – A good referee will call the game based on the laws of the game, not public perception of what the laws are.  There are many things that are commonly shouted from fans or even coaches about things that do not apply to the Laws of the game.  “Winning the ball” for example does not make a player immune from having a foul called against them.  If the play is deemed to be reckless, then a foul is appropriate regardless of who won the ball.  A large number of players, fans and coaches have only a cursory knowledge of the Laws that are based more on hearsay rather than actual study.

Obviously this is just a small sample but each is worth considering.  The game requires referees and the good ones need to be identified, praised and promoted.  I fear that many people involved in the soccer world would not be able to identify a good referee if they saw one.  That is unfortunate because that means that people are unable to see past their own desires.  Most of the soccer played in this country is youth soccer.  Therefore the majority of children are getting a skewed view of right and wrong.  Right means in my favor and wrong means anything else.  The ability to be objective could be lost.

Blogpost

Steam Is Contagious

Huryk-LukeIt was many years ago but I’ve still not encountered a better example.  I was the field marshal at a youth tournament in Pennsylvania.  The players were under twelve years old and engaged in a very back and forth game.  One team was extremely adept at the offside trap.  Late in the game, there was a corner kick.  The cross was cleared out of the penalty box and the defense pushed up.  The ball fell to the foot of a offensive player about 30 yards from goal.  He shot.  The ball rocketed toward the goal and hit the post.  The rebound fell to a forward who was slow getting back onside and he scored.  The referee instantly called offside and awarded a free kick to the defense.  The coach of the team that had the goal disallowed went ballistic.  He screamed about how “ridiculous” the call was and asked about the referees sight, etc.  As the field marshal I felt that it was my job to diffuse the situation in order to avoid it interfering with the game.  I said, “Coach, if you’d like, I can explain to you why that was the right call.”  He responded, “I know it was the right call!  I’m just blowing off some steam.”

In most cases, soccer is not a life or death situation.  It’s a passion, diversion, recreation, fun or even a teacher.  The game has the possibility to do so many things because it garners the emotions of the people around it.  There is nothing inherently wrong with emotion.  We need them to live and color our lives.  However emotion without any sense of reason is problematic.  The word was chosen very deliberately.  REASON!  The reason why we’re there in the first place gets lost when we cannot control our emotions.  Referees become demons.  Opponents become enemies and sense of our self-interest overrides the judgment that we use elsewhere.  This is not so much of a problem when it is a single person.  However it seems to have become a societal norm.

The steam that so many people are letting off is clouding our vision.  The ability to see what is right in front of our faces.  Children.  Children who are looking at us for how to act.  Not just on a soccer field on Saturdays or Sundays but in their daily lives.  When something doesn’t go their way, they’re supposed to have an emotion freak out session because that’s what you do.  You don’t take a breath and refocus on the task at hand.  You don’t see the bigger picture.  You don’t recognize that human error is part of life and needs to be coped with.  Those things aren’t done because they’re hard.  They require effort, judgement and self-control.  These skills are difficult to develop, especially when you’re a child, watching the adults act like children.

So don’t breathe in the steam, just breathe!  Recognize that the children on the field have spent hours this week trying to improve their skills in order to perform for you.  Put your focus on that.  Double, triple or quadruple your focus on the fact that these are kids, trying to do something that is difficult.  AND DIFFICULT THINGS ARE THE ONLY ONES WORTH PURSUING!  So don’t produce steam, produce esteem for what everyone on that field is trying to do.

See you on the field!

Pete

 

Blogpost, self-reliance

You’re Prehistoric!

cavemanWe live in a modern world but humans are prehistoric creatures.  Obviously we have acquired skills and knowledge that our ancestors did not have.  So I am not suggesting that we are on their level in that respect but I do want to point out that we are using the same hardware.  The same brain structure that caused us to run from saber-toothed tigers is now tasked with managing a world that moves faster than we were intended to go.  We’re overwhelmed and stressed because we created an environment that stresses and overwhelms our prehistoric brains.  This is not a blog to suggest that we go back to living in caves.  Rather it is intended to point out the fact that there are limits on our bandwidth, therefore we must manage ourselves so the prehistoric brain does not go into overload.

The odd irony to our situation is actually that in a modern world, very few things are trying to kill you.  This is an important thing to realize.  Our prehistoric brain’s major functions were centered around keeping the self and the species alive.  So things like fear and sex were major priorities, while general happiness was farther down the list.  The world that we live in requires very little self/species preservation.  Despite this fact, the “wiring” for the old world is still intact.  So a modern “threat” feels very much like a situation of life or death without any of the true peril.  The signals will continue to be sent in this fashion, until we are willing to “re-wire” ourselves.

This process is not like the re-wiring of house.  It doesn’t require a professional or a lot of money but it does require time.  Humans generally don’t change without time and/or major incentives.  A methodical approach to managing your mind can go a long way to creating a better life for you.  Regular practice at calming your prehistoric brain will go a long way.  Taking the time to recognize that your response to situations is not based on what will help but rather things that are pre-programmed will help you to re-program those responses.  Remember that you don’t have to act like a caveman even if you have the same operating system as one.

Go make history by reprogramming your prehistoric systems!

Pete