“Do you have a little brother over there?” asked the young coach, walking to retrieve the cones on my end of the soccer field.
To tell the truth, I just came out here for some practice.
“No…to tell the truth, I just came out here for some practice,” I replied glancing more than casually in the direction he had motioned, toward the youth league match taking place on the adjoining field.
The exchange was simple, but sparked thoughts of games gone by, practices where I felt I could run forever, as long as my water cooler awaited me at the end. At sixteen years of age I made the decision to cease pursuing club-level soccer. Close to a decade later, with only a handful of scrimmages to fill those years, there is still magic in this simple game. It can not be explained, but anyone, who has given his or her heart to a sport, any sport, knows exactly how I feel. It’s so much more than a simple love of the game, deeper than the enjoyment of a pastime. There is a brotherhood that exists here on these fields, on any field, from the pristine pitch of a German Stadium to a dirt street of Venezuela.
During my first year of college, I took refuge in the gym with my well-worn soccer ball, figuring that the cinder block walls would be sufficient teammates. One evening, I met a fellow soccer player. He simply said something like, “Here you go,” and indicated that he was ready for a pass. Unquestioning, I offered a simple, in-step pass, received by a simple, one-touch stop that, like the delivery, spoke of not a few years of training and hard work. It was in that one interaction that a bond was formed.
The connection is not solely between those of us who have played with and against one another. It binds us no matter our nationality, our abilities, our age. It is the passion, the intensity, and the appreciation of this sport that brings us together. It manifests when you witness a perfectly executed play even without a goal to show for it and you still let the words, “How magnificent!” escape your lips. More than a game, beyond a sport, you recognize it as an art.
In the present day, my physical condition is not what it was, and my skills have lost the edge that kept at tight reign on the defensive half of more than one premier or classic level team. The boys nearby show promise, putting their hearts into the game despite the rain puddles and uneven field. I watch and clap and shout encouraging words to players on both sides.
In my mind’s eye, the coach presents me once more with the question, “Do you have a little brother over there?”
As the game ends and I make my way off the field, I reply aloud, “Yeah, coach. Twenty-two of ‘em.”