The Unbeautiful Game

In general, I don’t really mind getting older—people tend to take you more seriously, my experience and world seem to broaden with each passing year, I’ve become more comfortable in my own skin—but nowhere does it suck more to be the oldest than when you play contact sports.

I played quite possibly the worst soccer game I’ve played in decades last Sunday. It was embarrassing. The whole game, my lungs felt like they were on fire. I was slow. I kept losing my balance. I wasn’t communicating to my teammates. My passing was weak and inaccurate. In the few times I did find myself in control of the ball, my confidence would evaporate, and I’d find a chance to get rid of the ball as soon as I could. Ugh. This was not what I had envisioned for myself when I fantasized about making a return to soccer last summer—sprinting hard, winning the ball, and scoring goals. I certainly didn’t expect to be the best player, but I never thought I’d be the worst. I was the worst. And by a pretty wide margin.

It got me thinking, when is the appropriate time to plan a graceful exit from the game? My contribution to the game now is limited at best, and at worst, I just get in the way. It’s too late to pull a Derek Jeter and retire with my dignity still intact. No one’s going to name a sandwich after me, at least not one that’s any good. The closest I’ll ever get to a parade of fans wishing me well after my final exit off the pitch would be Josh, Virginia, and maybe my mom taking me out to lunch at our local Indian buffet. That doesn’t sound so bad, actually. And what would post-soccer-retirement look like? Well, I’ve essentially handed the baton off to Virginia already, who plays soccer in the spring and fall. Watching her play is heaven. I freakin’ love it. She’s not the star of the team, but she holds her own and manages to make smart plays every game. She improves with every game, every season. And the best part is watching how much fun she has out there.

I can see my soccer-playing days are numbered, but in the end, that might be a win for all parties involved. My new role will eventually be restricted to the sidelines, which is already a pretty good fit.

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