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Parents Blog

Susan Boyd blogs on USYouthSoccer.org every Monday.  A dedicated mother and wife, Susan offers a truly unique perspective into the world of a "Soccer Mom". 

 

The Eloquence of Losing

Susan Boyd

We’re in the middle of an extended competitive season. The first College Football Playoff Championship ended last Monday and by the time this blog publishes we’ll know the challengers for Super Bowl XLIX. CBS has already begun the Road to March Madness hype. The Golden Globes were last week, the Grammys in two weeks, and Oscar nominees have been announced. We learned the Heisman winner in an announcement that opened the flood of MVP awards destined to last until championship contests end. It’s about winning – dreams of winning, bets on winning, predictions of winning, analysis of winning. And with winning comes its evil twin, losing. We feel the need to explain away our losses with talk about snubs, injuries, lousy coaching decisions and poor officiating. 

Our adulation for winners often clouds other issues. We forgive NFL players for spousal abuse, drug dependencies, and even attempted murder if they can help ensure a win for our team. High schools with strict policies concerning behavior and eligibility will reinstate a student to a team if a teacher expresses the need for the offending student to help win a sports championship or star in the school musical. We end up willing to sell our souls for win, in fact that’s the plot premise of “Damn Yankees.” Our obsession with winning can lead to some unattractive behaviors such as taunting when we win and pouting and blame placing when we lose.

At the recent Golden Globes, George Clooney was honored with the Cecil B. DeMille award for both his extensive work in films and his tireless efforts highlighting and resolving human rights violations around the world. In his speech he addressed the issue of winners and losers. He expressed that he felt it unworthy for anyone in the room to mope about losing, 80 percent of the nominees lose, and any winner to be overly prideful. Even more significantly, those nominees represent such a small percentage of the pool of possible nominees, everyone who made a film or TV show that year. Further, those lucky enough to work in the industry are another small percentage of those who dream of being in their shoes. His point was that everyone who has realized a dream should be grateful, and not regret being singled out for particular notice. The moment of a win will burn brightly like an exploding nova and then just as quickly fade. We can’t halt time and make a win the all-consuming center of our existence. We all must move on. While we can have some warm fuzzy in our memory, we aren’t defined or sustained by any win.

We understand the language of winning – the pride, the humility, the power. Yet, losing likewise has a noteworthy expressiveness we need to learn to embrace. I’m not advocating that we shouldn’t encourage our children to train as hard as they can, to set high goals, to go for a win, and to enjoy a win when they attain it. Rather, I’m arguing that we place so much emphasis on winning that we neglect to teach our children anything about losing other than as a negative to avoid at all costs. The only universally positive connotation of losing that I can think of is losing weight. Yet children will experience more losses than wins, especially big wins. Florida State had 29 straight wins going into the Rose Bowl this year, but they lost in a rout to Oregon. Watching the team melt down pointed out the difficulty of handling loss when you have no experience with it. The quarterback, after a fumble, went to sidelines and screamed at his coach rather than taking responsibility for his error. There was in-fighting on the team, and players began to blame one another for various failings on the field. The loss was made truly ugly by the team’s inability to cope with it. A week later, coming off the high of that win, Oregon found itself being routed by Ohio State. But the team held together fighting to the end with dignity. Despite being down 22 points with less than a minute to go, they went out and played hoping for at least one more score, reinforcing that the game was more about playing than about winning. Quarterback Marcus Mariota, with no time left on the clock, scrambled in the back field chased by OSU players and then heaved a Hail Mary pass down the field that was intercepted by OSU. So, the Heisman Trophy winner ended his college career not only on a loss, but on an extremely rare interception, only his fourth of the entire season. He didn’t need to do that; he could have simply fallen on the ball since the outcome was sealed. But he believed in fighting and playing. 

We need to listen to the lessons losing can teach our children. People who acknowledge their losses as a natural outcome of trying seem to be less affected by them. Instead of looking for excuses, they look for merits. They work to understand what the loss can teach them about improving and overcoming errors.  They accept that losses happen, but don’t have to be repeated. Humility applies to losses as much as it does to wins. Kids need to learn to be humble enough to accept the loss without assigning blame, which may momentarily mitigate personal embarrassment but does nothing to keep team cohesiveness or reinforce self-esteem. If a child loses an individual honor or contest, it’s important to have perspective, just as Clooney pointed out. Getting to the place where you have the opportunity to win or to lose is a victory in and of itself. Certainly the instant devastation of losing can take the wind out of the sails, but the ability to listen to what the loss can tell us will ultimately make each person stronger. Robbie was the Gatorade Player of the Year for Wisconsin and placed on the ESPN Rise second-team in his senior year of high school. It was a wonderful moment for him and naturally for his proud family. I still have the commemorative bottle of Gatorade awarded to him. But so much life has come after. He had two losing seasons in college and after finally making the NCAA College Cup by winning a very difficult game, his team lost in the first round. Every win, every loss has been but one stepping stone in his hopefully very long life. His brother Bryce was sitting on the bench in his high school senior year as his team lost in the quarterfinals of the state tournament. His coach was “saving” him for the semis and the finals that never came. So he ended his high school career watching his team lose. Later at a recruiting meeting, the college coach told him, “So what. You have lots of soccer ahead of you.” And he was right.

Helping our children to keep heads up after a loss will have more significance than all our praise for a win. Adulation is an expected result of a win, but not expected with a loss. Therefore, we need to find the positives and illuminate them. Joining in on the blame game only makes losses seem undeserved and unfair, which they aren’t. They are the natural offshoot of competition. So telling a child that the team would have won with better officiating, or if the coach had played her longer, or if it hadn’t been raining, or any other excuse we can make only reinforces the idea that we shouldn’t have to be the recipients of a loss. Yet think about how often we lose every day. I enter the Home and Garden TV contests to win a house (I even use the two entries a day option). Despite trying for the Dream Home, the Urban Oasis, the Smart Home, and the Blog Cabin every year for the past decade, I haven’t won. Go figure. We buy lottery tickets and lose regularly. If we do win, it’s usually a small prize like getting two more free entries. We don’t get all green lights on that trip to the doctor when we’re ten minutes late. For most of us, the college and pro teams we support end up not making it to the finals. We might have an election year of our candidates winning, and then suffer years of watching our candidates lose. We also lose money, car keys, jewelry, important papers and teeth. Rarely can we claim personal vendettas against us in those circumstance. Things happen. We have to be able to shake it off, move on, and avoid rationalizations. 

When Oregon lost the National Championship, the alumni association sent out an email thanking us for our support, encouraging us to thank our team for a great year, and asserting that heroes aren’t always victors, which I thought was a great statement. Replace the word hero with the word player and you have a wonderful reminder for your kids. The important factor is to be a player with integrity, purpose and dignity. Play games with joy, hope and good sportsmanship, win or lose. Find where improvements can be made, and accept the weaknesses which can’t be resolved. If our kids participate in several sports and after-school activities, they will be in situations where they have strength around them and other times when they will not. Yet in all circumstances we need to move towards the endgame and embrace the results which occur. While our children may need to depend on the abilities of others to secure a win (or a good grade), they have to accept that there will be some factors of victory over which they have no control. They can derive pride from their effort and their contribution to whatever results are achieved. At the very least they should be rewarded with respect for working to help others to do well. A loss doesn’t have to be the language of defeat. It can speak in the language of honor, improvement and perseverance. 

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Not Molded but Unfolded

Susan Boyd

Among the clutter on my dryer door, among photos, magnets, and to-do lists, sits a quotation from author Lisa T. Shepherd:  “In raising my children I have lost my mind but found my soul.” I keep it front and center and read it at least once a day. It reminds me on the good days how important my children are to me, and it reminds me in the bad days how important my children are to me. Some might argue that I had early evidence of losing my mind because I have four offspring spread out over 22 years. That means I’ve had at least one child living at home for the past 40 years. Many of you would agree that becoming a soccer parent could be judged as another sign of a lost mind, given how much of our lives end up being dictated by the time, travel and economics of youth soccer. Yet it is exactly these moments of mental lapses that provides us with our souls. We have given of ourselves so that our children could find joy. Nevertheless, we need to proceed with caution when we think we are acting in our children’s best interests. While we may feel that we are giving them the gift of accomplishment, pride and a future, we need to be sure that we aren’t trying to mold our children into what we value as success but they don’t want. The siren song of socially revered examples of success can blur the line between enforcing and endorsing. American author, Samuel Griswold Goodrich saw this dilemma even in the early 1800s, “How many hopes and fears, how many ardent wishes and anxious apprehensions are twisted together in the threads that connect the parent with the child.” He cannily presaged what runs through the minds of present-day parents on the sidelines of a youth game.

It’s difficult for us to segue into the role of assisting the unfolding of our children’s legacy because our first job is molding their lives. When they are pre-school, we must teach them the basics of becoming self-sustaining children — walking, feeding themselves, potty training and pre-language skills. We know there are benchmark moments in their development, so we judge how well we are doing as parents if our children beat those marks. We love to share how accomplished our little tots are – Amanda walked at nine months, Ethan said his first word at six months, Julio was out of diapers at 16 months. When they get to school, we measure success by how advanced they are in reading, writing, math and science. We continue our role as hands on shapers – helping with homework, deciding courses and schools, training them to handle the demands of life. As they age, we add activities into the mix, proud of our kids who do well in sports or acting or art. Transitioning from parenting that molds our children into functioning people to parents who provide the environment where those people can evolve into adults who have happy, fulfilling lives. We naturally hope that we will be the remarkable parents with remarkable children so it’s easy to forget that in fact we do have remarkable children without having to adhere to the measuring stick of public achievement. Harry Truman said, “I have found the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it.” That’s a difficult standard to achieve because we believe that we can shape our children through expectations, instruction, demands and sheer will. We are convinced we know what’s best for our offspring, but we may need to listen better. Therein lies the soul we find when we are parents. We open up our hearts and accept unconditionally the path our children decide to follow. It can be difficult when we make ourselves vulnerable to what society defines as greatness. But a parent’s greatness lies in supporting our child’s definition of her own greatness. 

I recently re-watched the movie, “Magnolia,” which focuses on nine people in Los Angeles whose lives intersect. It’s a powerful film addressing primarily issues of parents and children, illustrating Laurens Van der Post’s argument that “children tend to live what is unlived in the parents, so it’s vital that parents should be aware of their inferior…side.” Two characters are Stanley, a child prodigy on a quiz show, and his adult predecessor, Donny, who enjoyed the same adulation twenty years previously. It’s an interesting view of what a child goes through in trying to meet the lofty expectations of the adults around him and the emptiness of his life once he matures and his peers’ skills catch up. Because Stanley is so successful as a quiz kid, his father, who has status by association, assumes and therefore expects he wants to continue. He doesn’t listen to what his child really wants, which is to read quietly in the library with his beloved books. Adults stifling Stanley’s free will is detailed allegorically when in the middle of the show he asks the producer to go to the bathroom. She tells him to hold it until the next commercial break. Stanley can’t and wets himself. Even though he’s clearly the brightest member of his team, he refuses to come forward to take on an opponent. He knows his accident will be discovered by the audience. However he is “outed” by his teammate, prompting giggles from everyone, and again they demand he come up. Forced by circumstances he finally expresses his pain to the host and the audience, “This isn’t funny, this isn’t cute…because I’m not a toy, I’m not a doll…because I can answer questions.” Near the end of the film he enters his father’s bedroom, wakes him up, and says, “Dad you need to be nicer to me. Did you hear me?  You need to be nicer.” He’s begging his father to listen to his needs.  Meanwhile, Donny, the once brilliant child star and now living on faded glory, survives frustrated by the normality of his present life. He never had a chance to unfold as he wanted, left in a childhood of adulation but minimal satisfaction. He did it because he believed his parents loved him, but quickly learned that his parents loved his success, having spent all the money he won. He yearns for the notoriety that he equated with love, but he’s smart enough to recognize that there is a difference between reverence and love. As he says, “I have so much love to give.  I just need someone to love me.”  It’s an important reminder that our job isn’t to create major players but to be sure that our children develop into adults who have a strong base of love.

It’s difficult to relinquish the job of molding our children. We begin our journey with them by teaching them how to do the basics of life. Then if we have more children we return again and again to that process with each one. So our habit has been established to decide what they need to do and how they need to do it. No definitive moment occurs declaring that now we need to give the reins over to the kids so they can unfold in their own manner and time schedule. That’s because we must still set boundaries, help with decision-making, maintain expectations for behaviors, and set examples for how to proceed in life. Kids need instruction, but they don’t need us to determine which activities, dreams, and careers they will enjoy. John Fischer, musician and author, reminds us, “The essence of our effort to see that every child has a chance must be to assure each an equal opportunity, not to become equal, but to become different – to realize whatever unique potential of mind, body, and spirit he or she possesses.” 

We actually wield a tremendous amount of power naturally.  Our children want to please us, so more often than not they will make choices that they know will please us even if they are not totally comfortable with those choices.  We need to be sure to listen and to quickly let them know that they don’t need to follow in our footsteps or live up to our dreams for us to love them and be proud of them.  In our own small way we can send messages of disappointment. We can create expectations without even realizing it. With the best of intentions we might state, “You’re the best player on the team.  They’d be in trouble if you ever quit” placing a child in a position of not wanting to disappoint our faith in him and the team’s need for him. Even though he doesn’t want to play soccer anymore he feels compelled to continue. Therefore we need to be willing to give our children permission to unfold outside of our own blueprint for their lives.  We naturally want our kids to do well and be happy, and with the benefit of experience we believe we know what’s best for them as they move forward. Yet we may be missing the opportunity to expand those choices if we don’t include our kids in the discussion and remain willing to compromise and be flexible. We had a rule that the boys had to meet their commitments completely, but then they could stop an activity. We would have a discussion when each sports season started, reminding the boys that if they signed up, they had to finish, but if they had any doubts, then maybe they shouldn’t sign up at all. There were choices they made that were difficult for me to accept, but I had to leave my disappointment out of the discussion (easier said than done). They both had musical talent. I supported myself through college by playing guitar and singing in coffee houses (before Starbucks) and Bruce played piano. We gave them lessons, but it became obvious that neither of them wanted to continue despite having ability. I knew they could be successful, but I had to admit they weren’t happy. Interestingly much later Robbie took up guitar on his own, and now has a strong interest in music, giving me a tiny bit of satisfaction. 

I know that I made mistakes, we all will, but we have to try to resist the urge to mold our children’s future into some image that feeds our needs, instead letting the children’s needs unfold within our love and support. Hindu philosopher, Krishnamurti, asserted “If the parents and teachers are really concerned that the [child] should discover what he is, they won’t compel him; they will create an environment in which he will come to know himself.”   Keeping our distance while maintaining the close bonds of love seems like an oxymoron.  It’s love that drives us to want the best for our kids and convinces us that we need to intervene.  The real issue becomes are we addressing the right aspects.  Instead of micro-managing playing time on their team, signing them up for every possible lesson in which they express even the slightest interest, getting them special training so they can advance ahead of their peers in sports and academics, and cleaning up every mistake they make, we would do better to give them the skills to make strong, positive choices, expect them to take responsibility for their actions, and not make praise and love contingent on doing what we want them to do.  Henry James express 100 years ago sentiments which hold even more power today as our world becomes more globally connected.  “To believe in a child is to believe in the future. Through their aspirations they will save the world.  With their combined knowledge the turbulent seas of hate and injustice will be calmed. They will champion the causes of life’s underdogs, forging a society with class discrimination. They will supply humanity with music and beauty as it has never known. They will endure. Toward these ends I pledge my life’s work. I will supply the children with tools and knowledge to overcome the obstacles. I will pass on the wisdom of my years and temper it with patience. I shall impact in each child the desire to fulfill his or her dream.” If we know our children are happily and ethically pursuing a path they have chosen, we can’t ask for much more in terms of being a successful parent.

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Tempus Fugit

Susan Boyd

Remember when we wrote our first check of the New Year by scribbling out the previous year we inserted by mistake? That was concrete evidence that we had passed over to a new block of time. But we don’t really write checks any more. Debit cards and e-bills make checks obsolete. In fact when someone ahead of me at the cashier brings out the check book, I feel like an archeologist discovering the Rosetta Stone. I’m compelled to point out the anomaly to my grandchildren. Calendars have also become a thing of the past since now we keep reminders on our cell phones – no days or years, just dings that tell us we have a dentist appointment tomorrow and we should pick up the dry cleaning on the way home. We don’t even have to remember birthdays or anniversaries because once we input them to our phones they automatically reappear when needed. Time passes without any context for exactly what time it is.

Time affects so much of what we do. Bills are due on a certain date. Our children must meet birthdate requirements to enter school or to be on a sports team. We can’t get a driving license or register to vote before the legal age. Coupons and food have expiration dates. Stores have operating hours. Stock markets, banks, post offices, and government agencies aren’t open for business on specific holidays. Airlines don’t wait for late passengers. Life is filled with schedules whether for entertainment, travel, school, work, vacation, or transportation. We have little control over these external demands, although digital video recorders do let us watch TV whenever – a small, but significant tool. Otherwise we either march to the drum of imposed time signatures or miss out.

Therefore, it’s not surprising that we don’t see time in a positive light. The exception would be New Year’s when we take a moment to create an optimistic outline of what we want to accomplish the next year. Unfortunately, for most of us, that enthusiasm disintegrates in the face of reality. We buoyantly declare that this year will be the time to lose weight, stop smoking, develop closer family ties, be more productive at work, get our closets organized, go to the gym, and/or meditate. Then the crush of time steals our resolve abbreviating our plans. Instead of proper weight management, we end up at fast food restaurants because family scheduling conflicts require easy meals, we have to leave work undone to get to the school play, we can’t seem to find a block of time to focus on those closets, and who can meditate regularly when we aren’t home except to sleep. We curse our inability to corral time and bounce along on the moving sidewalk of demands.

Time is life’s odometer. It constantly rolls onward bulldozing us while we scramble to get things done. We can’t pause or stop the movement. We may declare that 50 is the new 30, but there’s no mistaking that when we turn 50, we’ve ticked off 50 years no matter how we feel. We aren’t Benjamin Button. We make lists, check off items, and feel as if we are somehow controlling the movement. But actually we are still captive to the current. Our time has boundaries even though time itself has none. So we have to decide how we will use that time. When it comes to children, we find ourselves donating much of our time to enriching their time, which may include their participation in sports. The amount of time devoted to practices, games, tournaments, equipment shopping, and watching the professional games of the sport with our kids can be extensive and may explain why parents get so invested in their children’s participation. After all, we want our limited time to pay off in some way. If parents aren’t achieving during that period, we certainly want our kids to be successful. Rather than considering the time as something shared with our kids, we look upon it as an outlay requiring a tangible return. I used to drive Robbie three hours to practice during rush hour and two hours home. One day we drove down to practice only to discover when we got there that it had been canceled and no one bothered to call us. I burst into tears. When Robbie asked why I was crying, I blubbered out, “This is a piece of my life gone.” He was 15 and I’m sure thought his mother was crazy. Someday he may remember that moment and go “ah ha.” I only valued the drive when it yielded something, while I should have valued it for the time we got to spend together talking and connecting.

We may capture time for a moment or two. We take photos which are each 1/64 of a second in our lives. Or we take videos laying captive to longer segments of the past. We can manipulate those products, but we can’t regain the time. Then there are memories. We create a curious amalgam of truth and revision when we delve into our past. We either purposefully or accidently reshape our memories revealing a history to represents us. It’s not lying, because we don’t do it to deceive. We do it to elucidate our personality – to present a picture that can adequately explain how we came to be who we are now. Nevertheless the bygone time is simply that – gone.  Its remnants remain, but those are only the shells in which the time lived.  Whether we produce picture proof of an event or relate it in a story, we are doing so in a new frame of time that also speeds by. No matter how much time we remember and how much time we take to relive it, that constant drumbeat continues.

Just before Christmas I attended a lecture by Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist who has stepped into the popular science shoes of Carl Sagan. His enthusiasm for his discipline and his ability to make it understandable to the general public has made him an important voice for science. He talks often about time because that’s the package in which we all live. Stars died millennia ago, but their death is just discovered due to the huge expanse of the universe. The changes in our world took billions of years – a number we can’t really comprehend. If the life of the world to date would be equated to a day, the time of mammals would be the last 1.5 minutes of that day with most human history in just the last few seconds. He told about a probe that was launched Jan. 19, 2006 to send back information about Pluto and its moons. It will make its closest pass to Pluto on July 14, 2015 and will return just a few minutes of data during that pass. It has been sending information and photos during the entire journey, but the goal is close ups of Pluto that the Hubble telescope couldn’t even capture. So after 9.5 years we will get a few minutes of close-ups before the probe speeds out further into space. This journey certainly puts into perspective that two-hour wait in line for Splash Mountain’s five-minute ride. Think about what your kids were doing in 2006 and what they are doing now to realize how much time it took to reach the outer limits of our solar system. We won’t know how much the time was worth until we get the data back.

That’s the crux of dealing with time – what is it worth? The old chestnut “Time is Money” seems misleading. No one is paid just for his or her time. We are paid for our talents or contributions. These take time to deliver, but everything takes time. The ticking of the clock is merely the universal backdrop to life. Time is not a commodity we can purchase. We can’t bank time to withdraw later to extend a pleasant vacation without missing work or to add some much wished for moments when life is approaching its close. Each of us has a different amount of time to work with, but the pace of that time is equal for everyone. So the worth of any period has to be measured not just quantifiably, but also subjectively. Certainly the time spent negotiating a peace treaty is worth plenty, but so is the time we spend supporting our children at their soccer games. Even time that on the face of it seems wasted can be worth something. Recharging our psychological batteries watching reruns of “Three’s Company” has a value not readily apparent to others, but definitely obvious to some.

For time to have significance it needn’t be attached to some lofty accomplishment. We each attribute our own value to our own time. It’s a new year, but really that’s just an arbitrary tick mark on the range of our lives. Someone long ago created the structure of time measurement and gave it names. But time is fluid. We can look at any moment as an opportunity to make a change, try a new adventure, transform walls into doors, and alter our pathway. I think resolutions serve a purpose because, if nothing else, they encourage us to take stock of our time and what we plan to do with it. But truthfully that’s something we should be doing reflexively every day, maybe even every hour. How will we use this time to make our lives and the lives of others better than they were moments ago? It doesn’t require some idealized super goal like losing weight or building a dream house. It can be simple like deciding to give more hugs, biting our tongues when we want to offer advice after a match, playing a board game, taking a walk with the entire family, picking up trash in your neighborhood, shoveling a neighbor’s sidewalk, reading a book for an hour a day, watching the sunset, or building a fire for the evening.  What we do with the time we have may have grandiose moments, even moments that we will be celebrated for, but for most of us our time will be valuable because it will have a value for our friends and our family, as well as for ourselves.  Since technically every second starts a new year, we needn’t have some arbitrary benchmark for change during our journey on the all too fleeting continuum.  We just need new eyes to see possibilities.

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The Myth of Soccer

Susan Boyd

This is the season that we become both reflective and generous.  A crush of holidays make us acutely aware of and attentive to family and friends as well as focusing on the needs of the world. Whether we have religious or altruistic motivations or both, we tend to hope for peace, cleave to family, and generously donate to causes. Because we are at the end of a year, we also contemplate what we failed to accomplish in the preceding year and make new commitments for the coming year.  As TV shows run retrospectives (biggest news stories of the year, deaths, political changes), we can watch an abbreviation of our past experiences. All too often it seems that every news report assaults us with images of violence, unrest, inhumanity, and anger. The juxtaposition of the joy of the season against the gloom of the broadcasts can in its own way deflate our spirit. Nevertheless, we continue to reach out in the atmosphere of peace, forgiveness, and giving to advocate for and help our fellow man.   Perhaps to create a small flicker of light in the dark, dark news, CBS reported a story on the centennial remembrance of the start of WW I. This story involved peace, hope, and soccer.

In a lull during the conflict on a battlefield in Belgium, German and British troops stopped their skirmish in a Christmas truce and met in no man’s land to celebrate the season. As the story goes, at some point a soldier produced a ball and a soccer game erupted with all the exuberance we associate with the sport. This Christmas game has become so iconic that it is still celebrated today with a yearly “rematch” between English and German lads on a muddy pitch in Belgium. A statue and plaque commemorates the moment. While there is ample proof both written and photographic that this truce did occur, there is no proof that it included a soccer game. Yet it is the game that represents the power of a peaceful skirmish.

It’s easy to understand why people cling to what is probably a myth. First of all, it’s heartwarming to think that enemies could use a shared experience to celebrate differences in a way that didn’t bring harm. Second, we recognize the universal language of soccer that can bridge misunderstandings and unite people in a common purpose. Whether you travel to the slums of Rio de Janeiro, the contested lands of the West Bank, the Ebola-stricken towns of West Africa, or the worn-torn areas of Syria you’ll find people playing soccer. You don’t need to know the language, customs, religion, or politics of the group you face – you only need to know the rules of the game which are the same any place on Earth.  Those British and German soldiers may have been able to communicate in one another’s language, but they didn’t need to so long as soccer brought them together to celebrate a season based on peace.

While we can be really intense on the sidelines or the pitch, fighting for wins, we also can leave the field without the need to extract dangerously violent revenge.  Competitors may play dirty, may express racist or anti-religious opinions, and may refuse to engage in basic good sportsmanship, yet it is rare that a soccer match between teams of great opposing political or religious differences ends up in violence.  The match is played, the results recorded, the teams shake hands, and everyone moves on to the next match.  This is a sport that can represent the best way to resolve conflicts where sharp differences exist and where players can exhibit remarkable tolerance even as they struggle to overcome their opponents.  It represents the model we wish the whole world would follow in all aspects of disagreement:  Fight with integrity, without violence, and accept the outcome with grace. 

As we celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, or Arba’een (the largest peaceful pilgrimage in the world) in this month, we are mindful of the overriding themes of love, peace, charity, and hope.  The story of a soccer game in the midst of a battlefield supports those themes.  Whether myth or not, it points out how much we want to believe because the belief, just like Santa Claus or Elf on a Shelf, gives us joy and hope. With that I wish all of you a new year with sorrows which have been soothed by joyfulness, fears which have been drowned in hope, and hardship that has been served by charity.

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