As a child I spent what felt like every Saturday at a soccer field. My older brother played. I played. My younger sister played for one season.
Anna and I played on the same team for her one season. She did not love it like the rest of us. The fact that one game I passed her the perfect cross right in front of the goal and it did not go well may attribute to her just playing for that one season. All she needed to do, head the ball into the goal from that beautiful cross. Instead, it nailed her right in the face knocking her to the ground as the ball rolled out of bounds with no change in score. I still remember my exact reaction. Me, the ever compassionate older sister who never lets competition cloud her better judgement, ran up and said, “How could you not score that goal?” She then burst into a dramatic pain filled cry exclaiming through sobs, “I quit.” My parents, of course did not let her quite. She finished the season out, but never played again.
Needless to say, I grew up around many a soccer complexes. We lived by the household proverb, “it’s always colder at the soccer field” because our home soccer field sat adjacent to the river. Orange slices, Capri Sun and zebra cakes splatter memories of my past. I learned more than just how to play soccer. I gained the skills of how to work with a team as a soccer player. I gathered courage and persistence. I learned how to lose, or at least started the process of learning such a skill. But it was not until recently I was reminded of a phrase we often uttered that I started to more fully understand soccer’s echoing impact on my life beyond the field.
“Soccer is about time and space.”
Coaches of any sport always say things, and sometimes they stick with you. My brother had a coach from Ireland who much to the dismay of parents used rather vulgar language with a bunch of eleven and twelve year old boys. When approached, in his incredible accent he replied, “if you’re going to play a man’s sport you’ve got to learn to talk like a man.” I believe he began to tone it down, but I still giggle at that story.
There are times when I play a pickup game or watch a high school game of soccer and I still hear phrases I heard years ago from coaches. Things like “CLEAR the ball”, “TIME, time, TIME”, and “find your mark” reverberate in my mind with the exact pitches and tones of past coaches. As I watched a rougher soccer game from a budding local high school team I recalled a very specific phrase a coach said, “Soccer is about time and space” to a group of maybe eight year old kids.
Now, this coach spoke truth. But this somewhat existential idea got lost on the kids picking weeds and wondering what halftime snack awaited them in the red Coleman coolers on the sideline. In soccer, you must create space by spreading the field out, using the sidelines, switching the ball from side to side. Sometimes, much to my dismay, you even pass the ball backwards in order to go forward with time. I just get nervous when this happens because I was a slower defender, and I never wanted the responsibility of somehow screwing this strategy up. Plus, who wants to go backwards when the ultimate goal is to move forwards.
Players in soccer take their time to posses the ball, run the other team around, and then strike for the goal when the opponent is weakened and an opening is created. Soccer is a beautiful sport, but it is more of a long play than a quick payoff. Soccer is the board game Risk while something like basketball would be akin to the card game Spoons. Both sports take talent, effort and are beautiful, but soccer just takes a little bit more patience and a different finesse.
Recalling this coach’s phrase at this point in my life made me reflect on it with a new perspective. “Soccer is about time and space.” I feel it could also say, “Life is about time and space.”
Just like soccer, life requires time and space. In soccer you move the ball down the field with time and space with the goal of creating the opportunity to score. Movement in life also takes time and space. Things do not always fall into place in an instant. Life does not always look like you want it to right away. Sometimes life seems to go backwards before it moves forwards. But eventually you move forward.
Life often looks different than the plans we conjure up in our minds. Our lives take different forms and modes than planned. Sometimes we feel our progress forward come to a standstill, and we must pass the ball backwards. But we must give ourselves grace. We must create the time and the space to walk in who God calls us to be, not who we or others think we should be.
Take some space to reflect on how distance from a past season can shed new light on your current season. See how the time and space opens your eyes and heart. I do not mean to refashion the cliche “it gets better with time”, but instead hope to open our hearts to God’s timing and plan as opposed to our self-imposed expectations.
Lean into the time and space you find yourself. Create the time and space to push and challenge yourself. Reflect back on where you came from and how the distance from that space opens you to see God’s faithfulness in new ways. And don’t live in fear of passing the ball back to eventually move the ball forwards.