Tag Archives: soccer

Neat and Tidy Little Boxes

Change comes in a lot of forms.  Sometimes it is the blinding flash of light epiphany like Saul on the road to Damascus, but I think a lot of times, it’s more of a slow build over time.  For me, the latter tends to be true much more often than the former.  It certainly was the case recently when I finally accepted for myself that powerlifting was not the draw it once was for me.

While the change was slow and over time, I can think of two more distinct moments that helped drive this path.

The first was returning to playing indoor soccer a year or two ago (before being driven off by nagging injuries).  I thought I was in fine shape – I was stronger than I had ever been, I had been working back in conditioning and I thought I was ready to roll.  Then, I hit the field and stumbled around, moving with a grace that could be described as “wooden” if we were being highly charitable about it.

The second was when I went out to EliteFTS for a training session and seminar.  I went heavier on deadlifts than I had in a long time… and in the days that followed, my training felt crushed.  My recovery was just not great and I felt beat up for the umpteenth time.

In the days that followed that, I realized that returning to my athletic roots as a focal point moving forward was what I wanted.  I thought I was always training to be a strong athlete and realized I spent a lot of time on the strong and not nearly enough on the athlete portion of that mix.  Maybe I came to this realization because I was older and wiser.  Maybe it was because my body was yelling loud and long at me “Bro…this ain’t working out like you think it is.”  Maybe age was catching up with me (although I fight this notion with every core of my being that age should ever be an acceptable excuse for not doing what you love).

Regardless of the reasoning, I knew that at 44, it was time to change course for myself and get back to what I knew would be enjoyable for me in the long term.

The funny thing about all of this is part of the reason I struggled with making this change over the last year or two was how easy it had become to be too concerned with a neat and tidy label for what I was as a lifter. I was a POWERLIFTER.  That was a distinct classification and readily identified me as part of a community of likeminded folks.  There is comfort and power in that kind of identity – we’re social creatures and community matters.

But what happens when, as the cliché states, the juice is no longer worth the squeeze?  That the enjoyment you derive from that has gone way down for what you get back from the work and sacrifice?

What if I went back to training that did not have that neat and tidy little box that had become so cozy for me?  The opportunity to provide a ready answer when people asked what kind of lifter I was? How would I answer that question?

In the days following that lifting session in Ohio, I smiled and realized exactly how I would answer that question… any damn way I really wanted.  I’m a lifter and an athlete.  No other details needed beyond that.  I lift heavy weights.  I throw things around.  I row.  I do yoga.  I play golf.  I sprint hills.  I push Prowlers.  I will, hopefully, start running again.  I may even play soccer again (if my right knee will stop being an obstinate pain in the ass and get on board with this plan).

Those boxes are tempting for everyone and often we slide into them without even realizing it’s happening – they can be lovely boxes, perhaps velvet-lined and gorgeous.  If you want to be part of that group, that’s clearly not a bad thing at all.  But when you realize it’s more convenience or comfort than conscious choice, that’s when things get interesting (and something I’ve thought about before when I wrote “Your Pathetic Little Box” a few years back).  And that’s why this Churchill quote hits home so much with me:

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I’ve chosen a new path and I must admit the details of a lifting program aren’t terribly interesting to anyone but the person writing it or training under it.  The interesting part is assessing your why and seeing if it’s what you want or just part of a sitting in your neat and tidy little box.

Because the thing about those boxes?  They are a certain shape and a certain size… and you can only grow in them just so much.

And I never want to stop growing.

The Need for Challenge vs. Acceptance of “Reality”

For as long as I can remember, I need a challenge in order to truly bring out the best in myself. Lacking that feels like I’m in a rut or back on my heels in some horribly passive limbo. It’s not a great feeling at all. Perhaps I can explain better by way of example.

My freshman year of high school, I was in English class and doing OK at it, but something was missing. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what exactly it was, but something didn’t seem totally right to me. I came into high school with the very well-intentioned advice from my middle school guidance counselors ringing in my ears to not get in over my head by taking some (but not all) honors classes.

Well, this English class was one step down from honors and it hit me one day: I was bored out of my mind. As a kid who knocked out the Lord of the Rings trilogy in 5th grade, I needed more. I needed to get pushed. So after a few months, I switched to honors… and my grades actually went up. Funny how that works.

I don’t think I ever really lost this trait of needing to see what I could do or where I could take myself. Hell, if I find myself feeling blah or in a rut, this is the most-likely culprit.

With that in mind, I’ve been watching a lot of the World Cup… and sometime during the multitude of matches I watched, the soccer itch crept back into my life. Not surprising either. See, I love weight training, Prowler pushes, golf and all the other physical shenanigans I get myself involved in these days, but the thing they don’t provide me is head-to-head competition in a team environment.

Oh sure, you can play in golf scrambles and teams from various gyms will compete together in a Crossfit competition or powerlifting meet… but there is something about a collective whole being greater than the sum of its parts as it faces over against (hopefully) equally-matched competition. It’s one of my favorite athletic highs. You and your teammates staring down an opponent on the field and launching yourself into the game with an unspoken “Get some…” amongst all of you.

But lest you think it’s only about my wanting to hang out with peeps and knock heads against our foe, there is another challenge in the midst of all of this:

The reality that… one day… playing these kinds of sports at a healthy level of competition will pass me by, never to return.

At age 41, I’m sure a lot of people would think playing soccer against 25 year old punks who played in college might be a silly endeavor. Hell, maybe it’s exactly that.

HOWEVER… and yeah, I just all-capped that business right there… the process of working towards being ready to play against competition younger, faster and more skilled is something I actually enjoy. The challenge isn’t just the being on the field and playing. The challenge that may be just as satisfying is what I need to do to myself ready in the first place.

Hence, in an 85 degree gym, I got at it:

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Even more interesting was as spent as I was at the end? A few minutes later, all smiles and feeling good. Because I pushed hard. Because I kept going. Because I took steps towards getting my 41 year old, incredibly good-looking self ready to run down 24 younger punks on crisp Fall mornings.

If you feel an inevitable creeping rut or, worse yet, you are looking up from the bottom of rut and wondering how the hell you got there… find your challenge. That thing that will get you fired up and the blood moving. Physical. Mental. Spiritual. Whatever venue that calls unto you most strongly.

Just get to it. Get at it. And feel that bit of victory for your soul that will follow from a good, determined fight. You’re worth at least that and likely much more.

Present Pain. Future Payoff.

A little slice of personal joy

A funny thing happened on the way to my soccer game this past Sunday.  Not like literally during the drive over, but in the time leading up to the game and it all happened without me specifically noticing it.

As I mentioned a little bit in my post yesterday on potential, my experience at Tough Mudder really opened my eyes a bit to what I can and cannot do.  Going through such an unbelievably challenging event like that (probably the hardest physical thing I have ever done) made me reflective in the weeks that followed.  If you asked “How so, you charming devil?”, well… then (1) thank you for the compliment you kind and observant soul; and (2) let me tell you.

Between work busy-ness and life busy-ness and all the lifting and physical training I do anyway, I’ve sometimes been concerned about overdoing it.  As Saint Mom Kuzia has always said about me, I tend to be either all-in or all-out.  I’m not terribly good at finding that smooth, even-keeled middle that some other people tend to have as they navigate the waves of life.  I’ve gotten a little better in this regard, but certainly not great.  So I have had times where I felt rundown or tired or unmotivated as I pushed through my training sessions.  I would chalk this up to life catching up with me and just being way, way, waaaaay too overstretched.

After Tough Mudder, I suddenly wasn’t so sure.  I certainly have more stress than I would care for, but was that really what was limiting me?  Or, as I wrote yesterday, had I created an artificial boundary around my own potential?  I decided to say “Screw it” and see if I couldn’t get a little more juice going for myself by pushing a little harder in each training session I had.

Lo and behold!  I play soccer this past Sunday, switch to more of a midfield position versus my typical backfield defender position… I need to run a ton more… and probably played the best game I have had in YEARS.  I am no by NO MEANS some kind of talented soccer wiz – quite the contrary.  I picked up the game seriously 10 years ago at 29 and have loved it ever since, but I will never be the guy to dazzle you with my deft footwork and majestic shots on goal.  I’m a worker.  A scrapper.  A hustler… and boy did I hustle this past week and had a ton of fun doing it.

None of this would have happened if I didn’t get myself out of that preconceived notion of my own boundaries.  That’s the beauty of finding moments to really get out of your own comfort zone – the time in that awkward experience is likely terribly unpleasant, but in many ways, you aren’t doing it for that moment, but for ones that follow.

Present pain.  Future payoff.  An excellent personal transaction.

Fighting For A Noble Purpose… Or Just A Sucker?

This past Sunday marked the end of the outdoor soccer season for me with the next season not starting until the week after Labor Day in September.  Over the past… hmm… 5 or 6 years I have been the captain of this particular merry band of soccer players.  My ascension to this role was not one borne out of a brilliant level of play or a transcendent mind for soccer strategy.  Ohhh no… it was all about organization.  Pretty inspirational, right?

When I first joined the team, I was just doing my best to play my best and not embarrass myself horribly.  I only picked up soccer in earnest around age 30 and that was comprised of playing indoor with some co-workers.  The move to outdoor when a friend’s team needed someone felt more official.  I mean, hell… that’s real soccer.  No walls to bail you out when you just kick the bejeezus out of a ball instead of laying down a crisp pass directly to the feet of your streaking midfielder.

Well, as one of our weekend games approached, I noticed a change in the schedule on the league Web site and promptly sent a note to the team to let them know.  Simple stuff.  I get to the field that Sunday and the current captain takes me aside and says,”Dude… that was a GREAT e-mail… do you want to be the captain in the Fall?”  I cannot even imagine the look that crossed my face at that point.  Me?  Captain of a soccer team?  I guess my expression of blank horror seemed to suggest a yes and then the words just fell out of my mouth of, “Sure… why not.”

Over these past few years, the role of captain has had its ups and downs.  Overall it has been a positive for sure.  My team is a great bunch and I love them all to pieces.  I feel very fortunate to be a part of this squad, let alone be their captain.

But here’s the thing… honestly?  Being captain is just not fun.  It’s a hassle.  You get to go to the league meetings which can be fine (I give a ton of credit to our league board members for all they do), but often there is an inordinate amount of debate about items that just don’t matter.  I want to get in, chat about a few things, pay for the season and get the hell out as fast as possible.  Then there is the matter of chasing your friends for money.  I can assure you that is decidedly less than good times.  Add to that making sure everyone shows up to games on Sunday mornings which usually involves multiple text messages the morning of the game to give directions, tell people what jersey colors to wear, etc.  To top it all off, trying to be the leader can be a no-win situation too.  If I am too quiet, I get people on me for not speaking up.  When I yell, I get told to shut up.  It’s really a lot of fun.

Now before this entire post to degrades into a complete diatribe of crying and moaning by me, let’s put this all back into context for a moment.  The fact I am still healthy enough to play competitive soccer with a great group of friends on Sunday morning is pretty awesome.  Period.  I know I’ve got it pretty good.

My point is simply this: being the captain of the team is just a pretty good example of how I find myself doing the least wanted job or role because no one else wants to and I tend to be eager to please.  Sometimes I get a lot of satisfaction out of this.  To me, it can be a mark of character to get in, take on the tough task that no one else wants and do it well.  I think that can be a mark of integrity.

I feel your pain, Captain.

What I am struggling a bit with is my tendency to take on things that I know I am not going to like (or even continuing with something I am really not liking) because I convince myself either no one else will do it or no one else will do it right.  It’s an odd kind of mindset: it’s both a combination of being a bit egotistical (“Well I obviously need to do it because NO ONE else will do it right.”) and a bit of an enabler (if I keep stepping up to do these things, no one else will ever feel like they need to).

At some level, we all need to do things we don’t like.  That’s a given and something in life to be accepted.  But what about beyond that?  How does one properly keep the balance between taking things on that might be less-than-joy-inducing, but that are important/needed to do and you own personal self-interest?  I can say from my own standpoint that it’s tough because I will always lean toward taking it on and then feeling like pulling out a Jean-Luc Picard facepalm when I realize, “Good Lord… what have I gotten myself into again?”

In the end, I think it’s a matter of finding your own sweet spot on the continuum of importance.  You will need to and probably should take on those things that either you are best-suited for or that are just more important, even if they are not something to make you fire up a happy dance while doing.  The other stuff?  Sometimes you just need to let it go and get comfortable with the simple “No thanks.”

So where does being a soccer captain fall for me?  I honestly am not sure.  I do love my team, but this past year was a tough one for me personally.  I know it’s for fun and all… but still… kind of a bleah session and I put a big chunk of the blame on me (since that’s what captains must do).  I will likely be back in this role in the Fall, but it’s also getting close to some young buck to step up and inject some fresh blood into things.

Although I would feel bad for anyone who becomes captain after me.  I mean, if nothing else… they are not going to top my handsomeness.  For real.

Foundations First and Pretty Stuff After

When I was growing up, there was a decent chunk of time where I really wanted to be an architect.  Building things held a real fascination for me and the genesis of this was likely my complete and utter Lego obsession (something I’m really happy to see has been taken up by my nephews).

My Saturday mornings often fit a very neat pattern in those simpler days.  I would get up, go downstairs and pull out of the family room closet a good-sized draw string denim bag that was chock full of those magical plastic bricks.  I would open the bag up and gently spread the pieces in front of me on the floor so I could build while engaging in my other favorite Saturday activity: watching cartoons (especially the Super Friends).

wallpaper_10rittpourLegos taught me an important early lesson, although I did not truly appreciate that teaching until many years later: anything of substance you wish to build first requires a strong, consistent foundation.  Without that foundation on which to rely, you’re just setting yourself up for some kind of collapse and with it all the pretty things you built upon that weak foundation.

What I love about the analogy is how well it works in several contexts.  It applies for buildings (as in this photo for a 33 story tower as it was being built in Philadelphia) or sports teams or relationships or just that little corner of the world you call your own life.  If you don’t have some goals or guiding principles or common understanding or shared values, you will find little success or what success you do achieve is only eked out through pure strenuous effort and bullheadedness.  Not exactly the best use of time or energy, methinks.

I started thinking about foundations the other day because I’ve been in a bit of a funk of late.  Nothing incredibly extreme, mind you, but not a ton of fun any way you slice that bad boy.  Part of the reason you can tell I’ve been in a funk is the utter dearth of blog postings popping up here.  I’ve not been feeling (or probably acting) all that fierce or mighty.  So, the other night I tried to settle in for a bit of thinking time without distraction… and uhh… that’s actually a bit hard.  Anyone with a Droid, iPhone or Blackberry will know the feeling – it’s like you are just so damn connected, you’ve forgotten how to disconnect yourself, even for a little while (unless you are asleep and even then you’re probably having dreams of apps and snarky text messages).

Often when life feels funky, I need to find myself something to pour my heart and efforts into.  Maybe some of that is just pure distraction from whatever is truly bothering me, but a lot of it gets back to the foundational values or principles I’ve set up for myself to live by.  If I can find one thing that is a core value for me and I can really focus my efforts on it for a while, slowly but surely the rut begins to fade and just becomes an unpleasant memory that also dissolves like morning mist in the sun’s heat.

While some who know me well may laugh at what I’m about to write, I think this is what I might do: get myself re-dedicated to my exercise and health plans.  I know… I know… I’m the guy with the gym in his basement and who posts videos of himself on YouTube of doing all sort of funky training.  I hear ya people – really I do.  The hard thing is that even that has taken a hit of late where it feels too much like a chore to get myself lifting or doing my stretching as I should or really being good much more often about what I eat or getting a good night’s rest every night.  I think if I give myself an extra push in this area, I will begin to enjoy it again as I should and get some momentum going… and that momentum?  It tends to have a positive carry over into other areas (at least that’s my sincere hope).

Today was a good start to all of this with the first outdoor soccer game of the season, a 5-2 win for Maniacs FC (the team I am the captain of).  I felt focused and in good shape all game long… but most importantly, I just had fun.  Isn’t that the point anyway?

So onward I go and the blogging will be much more consistent (as my next post will illustrate).  Here’s to getting back to the foundations on which we build our lives… because with their strength, we can build beautifully.

The Aging Athlete and Fighting the Inevitable

Last night was the third game of the basketball league I just got involved in after not playing at all for several years.  While I have been in some of the best shape of my life of late… well… let’s just say my hoop skills are not what they once were.  I mean, not even within the same ZIP code.  It’s not that I was amazing at any time in my life, but I was a solid outside shooter, played good defense and could push the ball decently well on a fast break.

Now? Hoo boy.  It’s not just the skills being rusty, but the lack of confidence in not playing in such a long time.  Well, that and the fact that I really don’t want to put my team in a bad spot… which probably just makes me more tentative. Kind of a vicious cycle.2009_10_cleats

After I subbed out with a few minutes left to play and watched the rest of the game  from the sidelines, I had a strange moment of reflection.  I had to make a choice: (a) work harder on my game; (b) accept the state of my game as it is; or (c) or hang up the sneakers entirely.

I had a moment like this playing soccer this past Fall.  I found myself not keeping up with the forwards I had to cover or getting winded too easily.  I am someone who has a lot of athletic pride, so the notion of just accepting things as they were was simply untenable to me… at least in soccer.  Also, I really was not ready to go gentle into that good night by playing in a less competitive league… so the decision there was to get myself in better shape or stop all together.  I went with a personal ass-kicking and the results (at least for the indoor soccer I have been playing) have been great.

But these moments I experienced are likely not going to be passing things.  At the delightful age of 37, they will only return and likely with shorter and shorter intervals between them.  While I certainly do not feel like I am 37 in terms of my outlook or how I feel, I know that there is a certain inevitably that comes with the wisdom of years.

Part of this is a matter of life getting in the way.  We get older and have more job and family responsibilities… we get a little bit more sedentary… play our sports just a little bit less… and then the years slip by and you end up standing on the sidelines of your rec basketball league wondering what in the name of all that’s holy happened to your jump shot.

In fact, I am stubborn about the notion that the problem with aging and athletics is really a lot less about the physical changes from time and more about the reduction in total activity.  Of course, it’s totally possible I view it this way because this is a philosophy whereby renewed effort should be able to return some of the sparkle of former glory… and I want my sparkle back.

So for the foreseeable future, I will not go gentle into that good night and will rage, rage against the dying of the light.  I have no reason to give up… no reason to quit… and truth be told, few things stir my blood like a good challenge.

And this challenge?  Oh this challenge is a good one for me.

And this will be my anthem:

Everybody gets knocked down. How quick are you gonna get up?