Skill vs. Ability…A Tale on Maturing

Hey all. If you frequent this blog then you know that I had to put my inner 8-year-old on punishment after coercing me to walk in the snow and ice to the grocery store to get some daggone brownies. The restriction was supposed to last until Spring but last weekend the mercury rose to the 75 degree point and the inner 8-year-old was bouncing off the walls and I decided to let him out early.

“Let’s go to the park”, he exclaimed. “I want to play soccer at the park.” It wasn’t a bad idea as there’s a pretty big pick up game about a mile from the house and since I’m trying to get back into playing shape it wouldn’t hurt to get out and play some. The inner 8-year-old leapt and swirled as I laced my cleats and grabbed my soccer ball out of the trunk of my car and made my way down to the field. I picked the goal closest to the parking lot as there were two guys on the far end doing passing drills; I stretched for about 10 minutes, jogged from goal line to midfield and back twice and then started kicking around a bit. For about 30-40 minutes I’m lining up shots; some from the penalty spot, a few more from the 18 yard mark, a number from about 30 yards out. My touch on the ball is still pretty good and I impress myself a bit. My last shot sailed about 5 yards high and wide of the goal; just as I was running to retrieve the errant shot one of the gentlemen from the other end of the field jogged down to greet me. If I had to guess he was 27, dark black hair, blue shorts and a white AC Milan jersey. He introduced himself and asked if I wanted to come over and kick around with them which I was happy to do. I grabbed my things and went to the far end of the field to introduce myself to the other guy, about 25, Black dude, kinda goofy looking. After the handshakes we all make a big triangle on the field, each of us a point about 35 yards apart and we play the ball to one another. A couple of passes and I get in a rhythm, all my touches are great. I’m sending the ball right to their feet. I’m trapping the ball perfectly, playing it off the chest, two juggles and a perfectly lobbed ball to the 27 year old 30 yards away. “That was awesome”, I thought to myself as I tried not to smile when the other guy called out “Nice!” from across the field. I just sent him a thumbs up and waited for the ball to be played back my way. “We’re the best player out here! Just like old times”, said my inner 8-year-old after our long pass session.  After that we started one on one drills…here’s where I’m glad I was raised to be humble.

From the age of 6 to about age19 I lived, breathed, ate, and slept soccer. I played it, studied it, and was pretty good at it. I wasn’t world class but there wasn’t much I couldn’t do with a soccer ball. I was a pretty good attacker and could hold my own defensively in a pinch. In short I learned to make a soccer ball an extension of my leg in my younger day far long ago. Since I was the new guy they let me play offense first against the 27 year old, the other guy was in net playing goalkeeper. I was feeling nimble and light on my feet. I took the ball, stepped over with my left foot and pushed the ball right with my right foot, got a little bit of space and let a shot fly, I hit it solid but the ball hit the crossbar, still it was an impressive shot from about 25 yards. “Hell yeah”, exclaimed the inner 8-year-old which surprised me because I didn’t know he cursed. “We shook him out of his shoes that time. Let’s do it again! Do it again!” I got the ball again at my feet, the 27 year old defender is staring me down now knowing that I’m no chump and seems locked in defensively; I start with a slow dribble to the left, then a quick jab step to the right to open his stance a bit and then placed the ball right between his legs, raced around him and then beat the goalkeeper with a solid shot that hit the far post and ricocheted into the net. It was a beauty; one of those goals that I used to score back in the day then sprint fifty yards pumping my fist in the air while screaming applicable rap lyrics and winking at my girlfriend in the stands. The only difference is that I was sucking wind something terrible now so sprinting in celebration was out of the question. One more turn at offense for me, I received the ball and thought of what move I would do next. The inner 8-year-old piped up with a suggestion. “Ooh, do that thing, the spin move thing you used to do!” I hadn’t attempted “the move” in years and the last time I tried it successfully I looked alot like the sexy young guy about to score in this picture.

Hands on knees, breathing heavily, ball at my feet. What I told my body to do was quickly play the ball from right to left foot, spin while rolling the ball with my left foot back to my right, knock the ball about 2 feet in front of me with my right foot and blast a laser past the goalkeeper from about 15 yards out.

It all went horribly wrong when I tried to execute the spin part of the move when something in my left leg said “I don’t wanna go that way” and gave out on me while my right leg continued in the direction I wanted it to go causing a bit of a split to occur.

The inner 8-year-old frowned audibly, “What was that? Why did our leg do that? Our leg never did that before! That hurt a little bit!”

My leg was fine though luckily enough because it was now my turn to play defense. I squared up against my younger competition and readied myself for his onslaught but fatigue was riding my back. He takes the ball and plays it left and sprints around me. “Catch up!” The inner 8-year-old is screaming at me and I tell my body to go faster but it stays in first gear, I take a good angle on the ball and manage to deflect the shot with my right foot where it sails wide of the goal. He lines back up about 20 yards away and I slog over, hands on knees wondering if I’ll ever breathe normally again, and square up defensively. I noticed earlier that he did nothing with his left foot so I figured I’d do myself a favor and force him left; he knocked the ball left at full speed where I sprinted after him then after ten yards he stopped on a dime, which I would have done 50 pounds ago but momentum is a son-of-a-bitch and it took me about 3 extra yards to stop, by that time the ball was already spinning in the net.

“Okay, Skrap, you gotta get the ball off his foot on the first move. Focus on his hips, quick jab at the ball, take possession”, I said coaching myself up. I took a deep breath which didn’t help because I needed about 4 oxygen masks at this point, squared up, focused on the hips, took a jab at the ball, missed it, and watched him race by me and score an easy goal past the goalkeeper.

I’m in desperate need of excuses. Now I’m thinking of places I have to be. I have to go home and clean up. My mother is sick. I have to feed the cats (I don’t have cats). I have a plane to catch. I’m thinking of everything. I’m winded, I can’t breathe, my back is hurting so much until I can’t feel my legs. But I don’t want to leave on a bad note, it’s bad for my pride to get shaken out of my cleats and then roll out of there with my tail between my legs so I square up again and I ask, no, beg my legs to not wobble, to be solid so I can make a defensive stand. The 27 year old is standing at the top of the 18 yard box, and I face him up trying to mask the fact that if I don’t get oxygen soon I’m going to Heaven  that very day. He placed his right foot on top of the ball and made a play to his right; I was a half step behind but took a good angle to my left and cut him off, he hit the brakes and I managed to stop there in front of him. I know he wanted to go back to his left and when he did I planted my right foot in his planned path for the ball where I took it away and sent it out of bounds. Defensive pride in tact I took a breath and told the guys, “Whew, I’d better run, fellas.” I exchanged handshakes and went over to get my soccer ball. At this point I’ve been running hard for over an hour, my back is screaming and I can’t feel my right leg at all. I couldn’t bend over and get my soccer ball for fear of collapsing so I took a knee, grabbed the ball, and couldn’t get up…

(remind me to see a doctor about this back issue, by the way)

…so there I am on my left knee, ball in hand.

“What’s going on? Why do we feel this way?” My inner 8-year-old is asking questions and starting to panic. I want to get up and go but I can’t move. “We gotta go home! This feels weird, man!”

And I really wanted to go home but my back hurts, I’ve still not caught my breath, and I’m about 120 yards away from my car WAAAAYYYY across the field. I can feel the eyes of the two other guys looking in my direction and I have to make a move and not look like a dilapidated thirty-something. I manage to spring to my feet despite my protesting lower back, soccer ball under my arm, wave to the other guys and then break into a jog across the field to my car. What they saw was the back of a man jogging to his car, luckily it was the front of me that was wincing, grunting, and praying that I didn’t black out and fall into a heap due to pain.

I made it to the driver’s seat and sat there, for about 5 minutes. “Let’s go home, we need to lay down. We need to lay down now!” The inner 8-year-old had the right idea but I had to get the feeling back in my driving leg before I could do anything, luckily the drive to the house was less than a mile.

When I dragged my sweaty pain wracked body into the house I couldn’t think of anything but being horizontal as my legs no longer wanted any parts of being vertical, I was too sweaty and grass stained to lay on the bed, the couch would be fine though, it’s leather, I’ll wipe it down and clean it later. In the space of 90 minutes, my body had revolted and completely malfunctioned; it totally ignored all of the orders that my brain gave it and decided to do its own thing, which was nothing. My body knew what it wanted to do, but couldn’t quite pull it off proving the adage that there is a large gulf between having the skill to do something and the ability to do something.

But that 27-year-old guy went to bed knowing that he gave up the prettiest goal I’ve scored in 20 years so eat it, young fella!

~thanks for reading 🙂

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  1. Well it kinda sounds like an old car. it needs a transmission so it can make all the gear changes it needs to make and it also need some brakes so it can make sudden stops. You’d better put that used to be fined tuned automobile in the shop. Always with love, Mom LOL

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