Throughout history, the fall solstice has signaled athletic bliss. Ah, autumn. All leaves and cider and groundskeepers chalking out the perimeters of the soccer pitch. Sweater weather and back-to-school and orange cones for dribbling drills. Bonfires and a calendar of -ber months and hexagonally spotted leather. Autumn, crisper than spring, is more than a beginning: it smells of vitality, of life being lived. It offers up the harvest, encourages us to buckle down and study, and finds our misplaced cleats. Fall is soccer season.
Soccer means dynamism and pleasure, and it's a shame that these athletic-emotional side effects seem confined, like pumpkin pie, to the autumnal season. When the snow gets too thick on the turf to play, we pack away our jerseys and camaraderie and ACL muscles and go back to living life with full use of our hands.
Even if you've never toed a size five ball, this is a travesty. There's no reason why soccer shouldn't or can't transform the other three seasons of the year, or inform our lives as a whole. October reminds us to study pre-Columbian history: the ancient Maya gave their ball game cosmological and political significance, and we can borrow that in addition to their invention of the zero. Soccer has enjoyed great longevity and prosperity the world over--what better sport to emulate? Coaches of the game of life would do well to take a gander at the rules and customs of soccer, for even the most basic tenets of the game are rich mines of social and professional advice. Why don't we take some cues from a world where whistles mean authority, shin guards are essential and there are orange slices for the hungry at half time?
Let's begin with temporality. Soccer is a long game and requires endurance. There are very few substitutions, so you have to stick to your commitments. This lesson holds for things like marriage and parenthood. If you're not performing well, you wouldn't necessarily want to be switched out for a fresh set of legs. It is better to pace yourself--not to put all your energy into scoring early on.
Soccer simulates time in its continuity. Unlike football or basketball, the clock doesn't stop. Time keeps moving, even if the players don't, but with an advantageous catch. The referee adds an extra few minutes (usually between two and four) to the playing time at the end of each half to make up for the time lost for penalties, injuries, or out-of-bounds balls. These extra minutes are called 'stoppage time' and are unique to soccer.
Imagine if we could implement the stoppage time principle in other areas of life. You have to write a paper that's due Tuesday, but just when you think you've run out of time, stoppage time kicks in and you recover all the hours you wasted procrastinating. Or say you commit a petty crime and get locked up for a while. Upon release, you learn that you will in fact get to recover those 90 days; all of a sudden, it's not too late to plot that big heist. Even little things like getting stuck in traffic would be a lot less inconvenient if we knew we could somehow make up the time.
The soccer paradigm can apply to your social life as well. An on-field team consists of 11 players. If you consider yourself part of the team, eleven players means you have a 10-person posse. You're rolling deep enough to look tough and popular, but not so deep that you forget anyone's name. As on the pitch, you and your ten friends occupy strategic positions. You've got two wide midfield wingmen scoping the scene and feeding you action in front of the goal, at least three defenders looking after your interests and a goalie in the back who would dive in the dirt just to protect your reputation.
Soccer also has built-in behavior governance. The rules regarding contact are fairly simple: you can't slide-tackle an opponent from behind, just as you shouldn't intentionally rear-end another driver's car or booty-grind a dance partner without permission. The referee has the power to punish or pardon, like your parents or a judge, and the foul system is even color-coded. Imagine if a yellow card were threatened if you cut in line or insulted your grandmother. Everyone would be more polite. Red cards--ejection--of course, should be reserved for the most egregious violations. There's no death penalty in soccer, but perhaps war-hawks and speculators of sub-prime mortgages deserve a serious time out.
The biggest problem with the sports-as-life metaphor is the greater competition it might breed in our everyday interactions. Here, it is best to show some restraint and good judgment. Soccer is not a high-scoring game; each goal is hard-won, and games often end in a nil-nil tie. This is not to say that soccer players aren't competitive--cleat-shaped bruises and grass-stained shorts attest otherwise. But sometimes 90 minutes of tough play just don't produce a goal, and that's okay. In soccer, as in life, winning isn't everything. The sprinter who wins a meet is the one who finishes first, but we would not so quickly congratulate the first one to the grave.
So stretch out your calves and pump up your balls. The refs might even give our team a couple minutes of stoppage time come 2012, the year of the Mayan apocalypse.
SIMONE LANDON B'10.5 is on sabbatical.