soccer

Soccer was my music. by Brian Hildenbrand

Recently, in conversation with a friend whose younger years were not spent obsessed with an inflatable ball likely hand-stitched by someone half a world away and half my age, I slipped into a reminiscent profession of my love for the beautiful game, and what I missed so much about it.  More importantly, I found myself defending why I can be such an unforgivable snob when it comes to playing casual, recreational soccer.  The analogy that came to mind was music.  After all, when everything comes together just right...a perfect through-ball, the deftest of touches to fool a defense, or simply calming possession play...it feels like music. Now, I realize this may come across as merely putting a fresh coat of paint on truths we're all well aware of, but I think perspective matters.  It's no enigma that athletes in any sport seek out other talent and strive to play with the best team they can.   The simplest objective in any game is to win, so we might as well give ourselves the best chance to do so.  It's probably even safe to say that playing alongside more talented teammates can make you a better player.   But let's be honest, at this point in my life, my best playing days are far behind me, and I personally am not one to take the rec. league standings all that close to heart.  So if all that's true, why not just strap on my boots and grab a hat-trick each weekend in the local pub league?

Well, firstly because I probably couldn't, let alone want to.  But here's where the analogy came clear to me.   I would never fault a musician for wanting to surround his or herself with others of their own caliber.   You can't exactly expect a novice guitar player to slip into beautifully complex harmonies while you're jamming, or chime in with a nasty little solo when you set him up for it.  But man, isn't it a glorious thing when that does happen?   Try imagining Led Zeppelin without Jimmy Page or Robert Plant, Simon without the Garfunkel, or even Mick Jagger without Keith Richards...chemistry, harmony is what made them the unforgettable artists we love today.

There's a reason the words teamwork and harmony are considered synonyms.  For example, Barcelona has become one of the most popular clubs in the world throughout their recent string of dominance, but not simply due to their success.  They are so loved because when Messi, Xavi, and Iniesta combine, it brings music to our eyes.

Soccer was never just about winning to me; it was about making music.  Granted, my music likely more closely resembled a middle school jam band than U2 or the Rolling Stones, but I could feel the music, and that's what I loved and miss so much about the game.  I'm of course not too much of a snob to jump in a casual pickup game, but sometimes I just wanna play with some folks that can make music on the pitch.

To all those I had the chance to play with in the past: thanks for the music.

Uniquely Beautiful (thoughts of soccer) by Brian Hildenbrand

Until the age of 22, I defined myself as a soccer player.  From the time I first touched a ball, there was seldom a time when I was happier or more comfortable doing anything else.  Looking back now with fresh perspective, I find that rather odd, if not unnatural.  Not that there's anything wrong with the sport we affectionately refer to as "the beautiful game", but because there is no real natural reason for humans to be adept at doing much anything with their feet apart from running (and maybe climbing, but I'll get to that in a later post). Tracing back to the first Olympics, competition was a more direct reflection of practical skills.  Boxing and wrestling for instance, are obvious alpha-male type competitions, while javelin to this day is still a display of hunting superiority.  It was only natural for games to progress, and as cultures longed for more entertainment and activity through sport, creativity knew few limits.   Fast forward to present-day sports like golf, basketball or baseball, and it becomes difficult to see ties to ancient competition.  A common thread prevails however, and that is the fact that the vast majority of these games rely on extremely fine-tuned skills that humans were (arguably) supposed to have.  Golf and baseball for instance, rely on our ability to make and use tools; a 5 iron may be a far cry from a rock used to crack nuts open, but it's a tool nonetheless.  We were of course meant to be able to throw things accurately, so football and basketball make sense, and the list of course goes on.  The only major sport that troubles me in this regard, is soccer.

There are hundreds of theories as to why soccer is the world's most popular game, but perhaps it's because it is uniquely unnatural.  There is no real evolutionary reason for a person to be incredibly gifted and talented at kicking a ball 60 yards, artfully bending its trajectory, or juggling a ball on one's head.  Soccer is a game of great skill, but it is also a game based on training your body to do something it was never meant to do. Practically speaking, any skill developed specifically for soccer, generally does not translate to every day life, now or hundreds of years ago.

Why this unnatural quality of a sport would translate to popularity, I don't know.  Maybe it was just that; the inherent disbelief that an entire sport could essentially be played without your hands was universally intriguing.  Maybe the complete disconnect between a game and every day life was refreshing, particularly in the case of manual laborers who used their hands all day.   Or, perhaps the fact that sheer physical prowess did not necessarily equal success, encouraged the masses to try and defy preconceptions of athletic excellence.

Regardless of the reason for its popularity, the fact remains that at least among other mainstream modern sports, soccer is uniquely not human.

For entertainment's sake, the world's finest example of how non-human "the beautiful game" truly is:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UGjgvHKKrEc]