A week ago, as I was leaving soccer training, one of the younger kids, a senior in high school, asked me if I could stay for some time to practice long ball passing drills with him. He was desperate to improve. Me being the charitable man that I am, I obliged. The kids are the future and the least I can do is leave my mark with him so that one day, if he happens to become famous, he can name me as one of his influences and I can live off that associative fame forever. Foresight is key.
We worked out for an hour and a half. That was in addition the two hours of group training and 5-v-5 scrimmaging we had just finished prior. My legs were numb. At about the hour mark, I was just passing the ball off instinct. I was tired and hungry. I'm sure I managed to beam one of the passes off the head of a toddler who kept trying to play with us. For the sake of my reputation, we'll just say that the little kid deserved it. I can barely remember him now: short and chubby, running around holding onto a ball that was almost as big as him. Being cute and all, like I wouldn't send a 30-yard pass to his cranium to topple him over.
That's beside the point, though. After we were done and I had apologized to the child's mother, my practice partner thanked me and then said something that stunned me. I had to ask him to repeat himself at least three times since I was sure that I was losing my mind but he assured me that he did indeed say, "You inspire me."
All I could do was laugh awkwardly and dart my eyes around like Pinocchio during a truth-or-dare game.
Now, I'm not a man of low confidence. Some might even venture so far as to say that I'm vain or narcissistic. I would disagree of course, I'm just someone who knows his worth. I wake up in the mornings to see a dark, tall and handsome man with a sexy stubble -- which I shave because, come on -- in the mirror. Then I'm either off to the gym to take care of a body carved out of marble or I go to the track/practice field to work on the skills that pay the bills. After that is done, I come home to read and write because nothing is sexier than intelligence. Five days out of the week I go to training after reading. The other days I either go out or finally text back people who live in my phone.
I change it up every once in a while by not texting back at all.
Still, the kid saying that I inspired him was weird. I had never intended to. You could even say that I've actively tried not to inspire anyone. Or that I try my best to demoralize people that I play against. That as a superstar winger, my whole life and career has been about making people, defenders mostly, feel bad about themselves. The look of despair in their eyes as they futilely sprint back after I have beaten them, the shame that engulfs them when I either assist the subsequent goal or go for glory myself, the fear that compels them to resort to petty fouls after, these things are what nourishes my soul.
The next day, he showed me why I was so skeptical of his words.
I was supposed to work out alone, but I had come early so I could train again with his group -- the high school/college group. I was trying to get more touches on the ball, as any good player should. It was an innocent venture. I had just finished talking and giving advice to some at-risk youths and since I was already in the area, I figured that more practice couldn't hurt.
So I joined their group and we went through several drills. I stayed last in line for every one of them and kept quiet out of a dignified respect for their training. When it was time to get water, I made sure that they all drank first before me. And when it was time to collect the cones, I did it alone so that they all could have more time to rest.
The scrimmage that we have after every training started. I asked to be on the team with the less talented kids so that I would be forced to work harder. Admirable, if I do say so myself. Anyway, I stayed in the back so that my teammates would enjoy the fruits of my pinpoint passes and, since it was their practice, that they would get the most out of it.
Fate conspired that the one who I inspired would be on the other team. And that a few minutes into the scrimmage he would beat my teammates and engage me one-on-one a few yards before our pug goal. Now, I don't like defending. Not that I'm bad at it, but I'm bad at it because I don't like it. Defending's for ugly, untalented players, the industrial past to the creative present of the western workforce.
And maybe it was that I had expended too much energy helping those youths earlier in the day, but as he was heading towards me at full speed, I felt a terrible heaviness in my stomach. Nonetheless, I stepped up to meet him in battle. That's when he cut to his right. I knew that not only was I quicker but that my legs were longer than his. I saw the ball, and I saw my opportunity to dispossess him.
As I turned my hips to my left, his right, I had a small out of body experience, as if my soul had left my body preemptively. That's when I realized my mistake. I reached for the ball with my left foot. He cut back inside, across me, leaving me staggering to regain my balance. I fell. In front of the watching world, I fell.
That alone is tragic enough but the fact is, that move is one that I've used against him numerous times. He's never done it before. He's a midfielder. He doesn't even run at players.
He was mocking me with my own skill.
He went on to score and then asked me if I was alright. Incredible. Adding insult to injury in a way that I would have. I was beside myself. The players, the trainers, children, birds and even the facility itself was shaking with laughter. He had made a fool of me.
I picked myself up and started play again. In soccer there is joy, pain and then another chance.
I left the defense to score a few goals but the pain was still present. Goals are just ineffective coping mechanisms. I knew I had to do something else. We played for a few more minutes and once the trainer announced that the last goal would win, the iconic golden goal rule, I went back to the defense to wait for him.
Surely enough, he came through. Speeding again, eyes full of greed and legs moving like a centipede; he was ready to sacrifice me for the last goal to show me that he was now the alpha male. This time though, as he cut outside I didn't follow. No. Instead, I turned my body slightly, bent my knees and put my shoulder straight into his chin before raising my hands up to signify that no foul was committed. It was a tactic straight out of the Sergio Ramos handbook.
He just laid there writhing in pain as we went on to score the winning goal. I celebrated with my teammates -- excessively and obnoxiously -- before going to get water.
A few minutes later as everyone was packing to leave, he asked me if I could stay and help him with some skills. I told him no and stared at him till he went away. We haven't spoken since.