I might have mentioned I play soccer. It was a passion that began when I was eight years-old. My next door neighbor in Virginia, a Marine Corps major who went on to become a general, encouraged my brother and I to sign up with his kids. I’ve been hooked ever since.
Hooked might be an understatement. I’ve pretty much played steadily ever since, reffed from time to time and coached for about ten years. And I watch a little. My wife would say I watch a lot. Pah! It’s only Bundesliga, English Premier League, Spanish La Liga, a bit of Italian soccer, Champions League, and some MLS. Naturally I never miss the World Cup or the Euro. She may be right, but what is life without a few vices?
Anyway, if I’ve learned anything watching, playing, referring, and coaching, it’s that scoring a goal is hard. Not touchdown hard. Scoring a goal is like winning a football game. That’s why not many of them get scored. And I managed to put one in the other day.
To be fair, it isn’t an incredibly competitive league – the MARS League on Redstone Arsenal, affiliated with NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. But there are some good players and it’s a lot of fun. We were better than the other team, too, at least on that day. That always helps. And only a few minutes into the match I’d noticed the keeper was drifting off his line. Waay off his line. I knew what I had to do. About ten minutes later I did it. Out on the right side about forty yards from goal I beat the two defenders who were trying to box me in. I glanced up and sure enough, the keeper was at least 15 yards off the goal line. A gentle push into the soft, springy turf set the ball up just right, and as soon as my foot struck, I knew it was going in. But watching was fun. It arced low, but high enough, right over the keepers outstretched hands, and into the net. No other feeling like it.
The description makes it sound easy. It wasn’t. I had to notice the weakness and get myself in a position to exploit it. Then I had to execute. Strike a rolling ball with a curved foot and get it going in the right direction at the right height with just the proper speed. A lot can go wrong and it rarely works. That’s why American’s prefer football. Touchdowns are easy. And if you can’t get one, you can settle for less. In soccer you either score or you don’t. And you usually don’t. To enjoy the game you have to understand it and appreciate the ebb and flow of the match as opposed to constant increments. I enjoy football for what it is – a game that’s evolved to excite spectators. I enjoy soccer because it is pure. And because scoring just one goal is huge. Getting one called back for a foul is mentally devastating. Scores are regularly 1-0. Or 3-2. It is as unlike football as Formula-1 is unlike Nascar.
Getting published, I realized, is a lot like soccer. Either you do or you don’t. There is no field goal. No way to gauge your progress in incremental steps. Getting close and coming away empty handed is emotionally challenging. You have to hone, hone, hone your skills. You must notice where opportunities begin to present. You must get yourself into position to take advantage of them. When they do appear, the foot, the ball, the mind, must work together to send that ball along an incredibly narrow trajectory, through the defense and past the keeper. And the only way you’re ever going to do it is to simply enjoy the game.
And of course, no goal is scored without a team. I did most of my writing without a team – endlessly trying to dribble the defense and becoming deathly exhausted. Now I have a team around me and suddenly I’m getting these wonderful through balls. And My team mates are making these incredible, beautiful, glorious runs into space, and encouraging me on. I can feel the ebb of the match as surely as I know Bayern Munich is about to stick one in. It’s coming. I can feel it. I don’t care who scores it.
Yes, writing is very much like soccer and I enjoy this game more than I ever believed I would.