“Dad, why is he holding that yellow card? And why is he writing something in a tiny notebook? Why does that guy have a yellow shirt but the others have white ones?”
It was the first day of Euro 2020, the second most important international soccer tournament, which due to COVID-19 is taking place now in 2021. My whole family was in the basement watching Italy play Turkey. The questions were coming hard and fast from the kids. They wanted to know everything. Why does the grass look weird (patterned from the way they cut it). Why do some players have tattoos (they like the way they look). Most importantly they wanted to know “which team is our team?” which is a hard question to answer when the US isn’t playing.
I’ve always loved soccer. It’s a game I’ve played all my life. When I wasn’t playing, I would watch. Way back in the early 90s we somehow had figured out how to get English Premier League games on our basic cable. Our backyard had goals. My wardrobe was stocked with jerseys including a bright yellow Brazil #11 Romario and a baby blue USA Cobi Jones away kit. When we were visiting Anna’s family in Serbia during the Brazilian-held 2014 World Cup, I stayed up till 3 AM watching the US play Ghana in our opener.
Among the many great things about the beautiful game is the simplicity. Wherever you have a ball or something remotely shaped like a ball, you can play. Yet for such a simple game, it has an incredible depth and emotion. Eleven players working together to achieve a seemingly impossible task: to put the ball into the back of the net against the will of the eleven on the other side. There are moments of individual genius and team brilliance.
Another attribute I always loved is the true global nature of the game. It’s no exaggeration when I say I’ve learned more about geography, culture, and national flags from international soccer than any classroom. Whenever I meet people from outside the US, soccer is usually our first bond.
But I know my real love of soccer comes from somewhere else. It’s not the simplicity, globalness, or flashy jerseys. It’s not even how fun it is to play. My love of soccer comes from my dad. He taught us the game in the backyard while we were still in diapers. He taught us about offsides, underdogs and upsets. He taught us how to break down film by analyzing the player who we could model our games on. As we got older, he coached our club teams and still continued playing himself well into his forties.
One of life’s great joys is bringing another person into your world. I’ve learned that sharing worlds with other adults is often hard because it takes time. Adults are usually busy. Too busy to develop deep relationships where you can feel comfortable enough to share your passion.
Kids on the other hand have time. They have time to explore their own worlds and the curiosity to learn about other ones. I’m extremely grateful that my dad shared his world of soccer with me and I won’t miss my opportunity to do the same with my own kids. Perhaps someday, if I am lucky and have earned their trust, they might even share their world with me. Happy Father’s Day.
Love and ⚽️,