What is the International Language of Sport?
Maybe you say/spell it “football”. Whether you say “cleats”, “studs” or “football boots”, whether it’s a “game” or “match”, “field” or “pitch”…however you express it, the passion for the sport is the same. Everywhere.
Travel the world over, and just about anywhere you go…there is football. Not American football, but what we would call soccer, of course. It is incredible how much the sport is loved and how it bonds people together. Kids who have next to nothing, not even shoes to wear on their feet, are brothers in the neighborhood game playing for hours in the center of town. Adults are unified and as devout about supporting their country in international matches as your pastor, rabbi or priest might be about their religious faith. And then there’s the Premier League.
One of my players once asked me, “who do you support in the Premier League?” I looked at him confused by the way he used “support” and unfamiliar with what he meant by the Premier League. So I turned the question back on him and he said, “Manchester.” When I realized he was asking what professional soccer team I cheered for I added, “Cool, and who’s your favorite player?” To which he replied, “Beckham”. I had heard of those two so we were able to move forward as I chimed in, “Oh yeah, me too.” Close call where I nearly lost some street-cred for not knowing the sport I coach. Premier League is serious stuff. Think of college and pro football in the US or perhaps the pride we have for our respective baseball teams. That’s how English soccer is…but not just in the UK. It’s the most watched league worldwide, because no matter where you’re from…it’s the big time and a lot of people in a lot of countries are following it. Maybe not in the US (we have the World Series, SuperBowl, March Madness and College Bowls to keep up with plus much, much more.)
The simplicity of the sport is its brilliance. Jenny, who has never played or even watched the game, came to one of my team’s matches recently. After the game she bluntly shared, “I’m sorry…I wanted to be into it but I just couldn’t follow it. I mean, it’s kind of boring…like it’s just a bunch of dudes kicking a ball around.” Exactly. That’s it. You just need a round object (a true ball is even better but not required) and something to kick it at. Actual goals are especially nice and with nets are a luxury, but it can be anything. The open space on which the game is played can be concrete, hard packed dirt or the rough makings of a field. Grass and astro turf are a treat! And so you go from there…if I can get this round object past you and into the “goal”, I win. If you do it, you win. Simple. Brilliant.
So, while I am still very much a novice at coaching the sport, I have renewed appreciation for what was once my favorite sport (before being replaced by crew). I also am amazed at how the sport unites so many people around the globe of different colors, cultures, languages, beliefs, and social-economic status. Anyone can play the game, and when you do…it doesn’t matter who you are off the field because on “the pitch” you are on a level playing field. Everyone speaks the same “language”, shares the same desire to excel and respects those who do it well.
We recently traveled to Bali and visited the town of Ubud, their cultural capital of the small island. At the hotel we received a walking map of essentially 3-4 blocks in either direction that comprised the “city center” and the bulk of where all the shopping, dining and lodging would be. Right smack dab in the middle of our map…was an image labeled “football field”.
Everytime we walked by the field for 4 days (except at dark), there were kids playing. Sometimes there were even bikes, multiple games going on and dogs running around. No matter what, there was a ball (or two) and kids chasing it. Most did not have shoes and couldn’t have cared less that the grass was way too tall (where there was grass), mud puddles were everywhere and there were no boundary lines, no nets, no clocks or scoreboards and no referees. Just football.
At our first hotel in Bali, a little Dutch boy was kicking the ball around by himself at a small net next to the beach. So one of the staff staying playing against him. Soon there was another member of the staff and a Dutch sibling involved, and they were really good! It’s simply a contagious sport that creates an instant connection beyond borders. I don’t think it will replace crew as my favorite, but while we are here it’s pretty cool to get reacquainted.
So, what’s your favorite sport and why?