We Don’t Have to Be the Best at Everything

Last weekend, I went to a Galaxy soccer game with one of my classmates. It was, apparently, the playoffs. And, the Galaxy won 5-0. It was all very exciting.

So much soccer.

It was also pretty full. And, soccer crowds, for all that they tend to be small, are scrappy. They make up for their lack of numbers with volume and enthusiasm. I know that everyone is always worrying about how to make soccer happen in the U.S. When, oh, when, is soccer going to become big here?? But, I got news: I think it already is.

I was thinking about this when I was at the USC-Cal game on Thursday night. The Coliseum holds over four times as many people as the Galaxy stadium. (The Galaxy stadium, StubHub Center, actually sits on the campus of Cal State University, amid industrial-looking office complexes, and we got mildly lost wandering around the infinite number of drab buildings trying to find our car.) Yet, the Coliseum didn’t feel that full on Thursday night. It was sort of a low-key game. Sure, they had a horse and Miley Cyrus, but the stands didn’t shake with everyone stomping. No one tried to do the wave and the screaming didn’t overpower my ability to hear. I know there were more people in the semi-empty Coliseum than at the mostly full StubHub Center. But, maybe the number of people at the Galaxy game was enough people.

At the USC game.

IM Kona aired today on NBC. Triathlon will never attract the fans or the money of football, or probably even of soccer. Ironman races will never have live TV coverage. (There’s only a few of us who will watch a whole eight-hour broadcast of a race.) That doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of money to made in triathlon — if there wasn’t then there wouldn’t be so many private equity and venture capital firms trying — and plenty of people who love the sport. NBC broadcasts an hour-and-a-half of highlights for the mainstream and maybe that’s fine for them.

Why do we need to be the most, the best at everything? The U.S. is very good at a lot of sports. Logistically, though, there has to be a limit. We can’t win at football and basketball and soccer and triathlon. Not getting into the whole inevitable decline of America thing, but we won’t be the best forever at everything. No one can be. And, there’s no reason we have to be.

The soccer game was still fun, even though Miley Cyrus wasn’t in attendance. The professional ultimate frisbee players I’m interviewing for a story will still play disc, even though they only make about $50/game. I still like racing triathlon, even though the sport may never happen in the U.S. Maybe I like it a little more because it hasn’t happened, because you have to be there because you want to be there. Maybe part of the appeal is not automatically being the biggest or the best.

Forgetting and Then Remembering How to Play Soccer as a Metaphor for Something

Yesterday, as one of the wedding activities, we played soccer. Except, it turns out there’s a pick-up soccer game every Saturday morning, so the game started out as a wedding activity — with 30 people wandering around the fields and players switching teams with abandon — and ended up as more of a soccer game — as most everyone else lost interest or stamina.

I used to play soccer. Pretty nearly constantly for 12 years as a kid. I probably hit my peak in skillz around age 13 or 14, when I was playing indoor winter soccer with the high school girls and select traveling team with my age group and a handful of rec games and tournaments and attending soccer camp over the summer. Then, I stopped. I didn’t go out for the high school team, deciding to do cross-country and track instead. And, even when I played rec AYSO soccer after that, I skipped practices or games based on my running schedule.

Since then, ten years ago, with the exception of one half-season of adult women’s rec league and six intramural games in college, including the one where my teeth got knocked in, I haven’t played. 

So, yesterday, I wasn’t sure what I’d remember.

It turns out, I remember exactly HOW to play. I instinctively knew where to be and when to run towards the net and when to stay open up the side and where to intercept the ball before it got there. Twelve years of playing meant that, without thinking too hard, my body knew what to do. The only problem was, then, it didn’t have the skills to execute what it knew how to do. After I’d run to the right spot and grab the ball from some guy on the other team and turn to the open side and line up for a perfect pass to my teammate, I’d whiff or I’d kick it to the wrong person or I’d pass hella weak. I remembered what to do. I just didn’t remember how to do it.

Also, it turns out, I now fear getting my teeth knocked out and adding another concussion to my list and breaking a leg and, generally, getting hurt. It’s hard to play when you’ve learned to be scared. Some things it might be better to forget.