yours, tiramisu

playing football with my head for a change

I've played soccer for the last three days straight, which is slightly unusual, but it fits in with the general trend of me getting out on the field more frequently, out of both boredom and enjoyment. I'm playing more than usual this week because I have surgery scheduled for Friday morning. It should be a relatively minor operation, but after the stitches go in I'm not supposed to exercise strenuously for a few weeks. (I suppose that prohibition extends to soccer and calisthenics, so please include my mental health in your prayers next month.)

Playing more frequently has done wonders not just for my mental health, but for my skills on the pitch as well. I'm consistently scoring three, four goals or more each game and growing more comfortable with the ball at my feet. That being said, I'm striving to evaluate my performance each game more holistically, rather than fixating on goals scored as the only metric. For one, most of the people I play with are old enough to be my parents, so bagging oodles of goals against them is not exactly brag-worthy. More importantly, there are so many crucial aspects to the game outside of scoring, even for strikers, like shot accuracy (what percentage of the shots that you take actually end up on target?), chance creation (how many good opportunities are you making for your teammates?), and pass completion (what percentage of your passes make it to a teammate?), to name a few. When I take all these into consideration, it's quite rare I feel I actually play a good game, even if I've scored nine goals; there's always something to improve.

Since I learned to play soccer informally, without any professional guidance, I haven't learned many of the important habits kids who grow up with good coaching have ingrained in them from an early age. The biggest skill I lack is good field awareness, which you primarily develop by scanning (5 min video, a fascinating watch), or constantly looking around to understand your surroundings. Scanning is deceptively difficult. For starters, you not only have to look over your shoulder, but you have to do it with the right timing: you have to watch the ball when it is being touched, and look away only when it is in motion. Neither the action of scanning nor the timing come naturally (at least not in my experience). Imagine trying to get a dog to take its eyes off a ball during fetch! Once you develop this habit, you have to not only process the information that's around you, but also use it to inform your decisions. This is really hard! It's one thing to remember to turn your head at the right time without losing the ball when you're under pressure, but using the snapshots you gather to your advantage to avoid incoming players and find open teammates is another challenge entirely.

This is what Johan Cruyff meant when he famously said,

"You play football with your head, and your legs are there to help you."

As a player, I don't do many things well. I have awful awareness, poor instincts, and nonexistent defensive skills. My only redeeming trait is that I'm fast: if given enough room, I can usually punt the ball into space and get there before anybody else. A lot of people tell me I'm lucky to be so fast, and while I'm grateful, I also recognize it for both the blessing and curse that it is. Depending on my speed to get out of trouble has made me a very one-dimensional player, and now whenever I play with faster players or in small spaces I quickly get found out. I've been thinking about this a lot recently, how talent can spoil its beholder, how your biggest gift can also be your worst curse.

#english #journal #life #soccer #wordvomit