More Than a Game

Over the last year Elisa and I have been able to use this blog of ours as a platform primarily for story telling. We’ve used stories to encourage, inspire, and simply enjoy the feeling of connection that comes from relaying our experience to another.

What makes stories so special is that they cannot be rushed. Stories unfold in their own time. Sometimes an eventful afternoon can produce two, three, or even four different stories for you to tell to friends or family at the dinner table. Other times though, stories take their sweet time, playing themselves out over months or years. Often with those stories you don’t even realize that they were happening until after they’ve been developing for quite awhile.

Today I’d like to tell you one of those long view stories.

For the duration of my childhood, soccer was an afterthought sport to me. I grew up in Oklahoma, where football was reigning king. Basketball and baseball, although distant runners up, were also celebrated pass times

But soccer? Soccer was a joke. No proper Oklahoman plays soccer past the age of six. I lumped soccer in with other sub-sports like poker, darts, and bowling. At least I did until July 6th, 2010.

On 7/6/10 my family and I were enjoying the holiday weekend with our church small group at our friends’ lake house. The World Cup was playing on the tv that morning, but I hardly cared. I had stayed up late the night before and was just sitting down to my breakfast. Soccer was on the TV and I was going to watch TV as I ate, so I was going to watch some soccer. I asked my dad who was playing and decided I was rooting for the Netherlands because they were orange. Not two minutes into watching, I just happened to witness one of the all-time-great goals ever scored at a World Cup. The Dutch captain put a knuckleball in the top corner from 40 yards out, and I can still hear the commentator loudly shouting “AN ab-so-lute FIRECRACKER from GIOVANNI VAN BRONCKHORST!”

I couldn’t believe that a human being could do that with their foot. In that moment, I decided that soccer was a real sport.

However, I didn’t think much more about soccer until I went to college. My dorm floor was obsessed with the FIFA soccer franchise of video games. They taught me to play and we all, arbitrarily, chose teams to support. I had one friend who knew how to watch European soccer online and, as only a dorm floor can, all 20 or so of us jumped head-first into the sport. This was great because, as any college kid would tell you, adding a new hobby to your schedule already filled with school, family, friends, work and sleep mid-semester is a great idea! I quickly became obsessed with soccer. I spent countless hours learning about the history, tactics, and culture of the sport. I started playing pick-up soccer at every opportunity and asked my friends on our school’s team to show me how to get better as a player.

The entire time this was happening, I was open and honest about how big a waste of time soccer was for me. I was 19. I couldn’t go back and play high school soccer, and I wasn’t going to make a college team, considering that I hadn’t played any organized sport since 9th grade. But something kept driving me to learn and improve, feeling guilty for it all the while.

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In the spring of my sophomore year I went to spring soccer camp at the invitation of my best friend on the team. It was more laid back and was open to anyone who wanted to play and get a workout in. I had a blast, and the summer before my junior year of college, my friends on the soccer team convinced me to tryout. I agreed, deciding that at worst I would get into better shape and spend time with friends. Who knows? Maybe I would make the team as the last man on the bench/cheerleader! I showed up with no idea what I was getting into. It was the most physically demanding week of my life. All in all, I puked five times and lost five pounds. But best of all was the sense that maybe I could do something worthwhile after wasting all that time on soccer. It all would have been for something!

On the final day, I was told I wasn’t going to make the team. I was definitely disappointed and embarrassed, but I was even more crushed to have to say that all that time was, indeed, for nothing. Then, a few hours later I found out that all was not lost! I was told that the team needed someone to come to practice once a week and scrimmage with them and they wanted me to be the one to do it! I happily accepted and for that season I got to show up and play in almost every position on the field, wherever they needed me. Left back, center forward, midfielder, goal keeper, I had the chance to play and learn about them all! I reveled in it! I came to know the game, at least a little bit, from all perspectives and I took joy in the simple thrill of playing soccer with my friends.

At the end of the season I was content to close the book on being around soccer. From now on, I’d just be a fan. After all, the next semester I started dating this beautiful girl and quickly shifted my focus and priorities toward other things like saving up so I could afford to get married and graduating college with a respectable GPA. I thought my story with soccer had reached its resolution. It would serve as a good anecdote from my college days and maybe I’d coach kiddy soccer if I had children with an interest in it. But that’s not the end of the story.

On May 1st of last year, after living through a couple more crazy stories, Elisa and I agreed to move to New England and join the team at Movement Christian Church. It was on our first phone call with Josh and Mark when I realized that I was actually right in the middle of one of those long stories. While we were dreaming about what God might be doing in Merrimack, out of the blue, Mark asked me if I liked soccer. After I enthusiastically answered in the affirmative, he told me the story of how God had moved in wild ways and given them the chance to coach the middle school team here. They wanted me to be an  assistant coach! But God still wasn’t done! Just a few weeks later, Mark called me up again with the news that he had accepted the job of Merrimack High School’s head soccer coach and he wanted to offer me the position of freshman team head coach. I was able to say “YES!” to that offer because I was qualified. I had spent the last four years preparing for this job without even knowing it.

I’m now just a few weeks away from wrapping up my s
econd season as a coach. I’ve had the chance to move closer to and pour into the lives of almost 40 kids through coaching. I’ve been able to have conversations about life, give advice, mentor them, and teach them about the game. I’ve been able to speak worth into them, speak truth into them, and speak life into them. Best of all, they sometimes ask me questions because I’m “a priest or whatever” and I’ve had the opportunity to talk to them about faith, Jesus, and the Church and hopefully give them a glimpse of a life that is surrendered to the goodness of Jesus Christ.

In summary, I just so happened to witness a goal that captured my imagination, just so happened to make friends with soccer fans, just so happened to get experience at every position, just so happened to move to Merrimack, New Hampshire, and just so happened to get a coaching job I didn’t apply for.

I’ve learned my lesson about calling stories over too quickly and I’m happy to let this one take all the time it needs. Here’s to stories and the God that writes them best. To Him be the glory and honor forever and ever, amen!

Until next time,

Coach Rhett

Note: Over the next couple of weeks Elisa and I will be sharing more stories of how God is moving. Thanks for following along and be sure to stay tuned!

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