Back at it

I don’t make new year’s resolutions. I simply decide I’m going to do things and do them. I’ve been planning to get back to two things, one of which lends itself to a third.
First, I’ve put on some weight over the last year. Not a lot in the grand scheme of things, but enough that I’m not happy with my appearance…and that’s really my impetus. I don’t look at the scale as other than a device that can provide a measurable metric. I base my goal on my appearance and whether I’m happy with myself. Right now, I’m not.
How’d I get here? Some is work interfering in my ability to get a full match of lunchtime soccer in regularly. Mostly, though, that’s just one of a number of excuses, along with needing to make sure my daughter got off to catch her ride to school in the morning, then making sure she got off in time to drive herself once she got her license, and making sure I was available if she called because something happened while she drove to school. So I had good reasons to not head to the gym before work, but they were still excuses. I could have tried to find time during the day or gone after work, so…an excuse.

Now, I’m back at it. I pack two sets of clothes on soccer days. If I don’t get in a full match, I can hit the gym after work and I’ve started going on Tuesdays and Thursdays after work. Worst case, I can always use the treadmill at home.

Second, the need, yes, need to write has been niggling at me again. I can’t recall the last time I wrote something not for work. I’ve had a few story ideas pop into my melon, one may have been from a dream. I’ve started laying them out in yWriter, but haven’t really tried writing any parts of them. I’m also fairly sure it’s been three years or so since I wrote a poem. Sad, I know. As I said, though, I’ve found an urge to write. Such an urge that during some goofy “game” around Christmas, I told my wife and the others that my goal (game term) for this year is to start writing again. I suppose this post will serve as my first step toward that goal. One post. It’s a start.
Which leads into the third: blogging. Much like my poetry writong, all of my blogs have been sorely neglected. I have no reason, again, other than excuses so I won’t waste my time trying to enumerate them. They’d just sound trite and overused.
So…here I am. No more excuses. It’s writing time. Fiction, poems, blog posts, and writing prompts. Hope you enjoy some of them. They are coming anyway.

We’ve Won the WWC Again…Let’s build on it

U.S. Women hoist 2015 Women's World Cup

Awesome! Not only did U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) bring home the FIFA Women’s World Cup, but they set records for number of viewers each game from about the round of 16 on…each game had more than the last. Women’s World Cup Final seen by 26.7 million  in U.S.

Now, let’s see if we can keep momentum/interest in the women’s game going this time. The last time they won it, in 1999, the WUSA formed up and failed, followed by a couple more attempts to have a league. The latest league, the NWSL is based on a different structure that should be more sustainable, but it takes fans. It takes fans going to games and campaigning to have the league’s games broadcast on channels that aren’t hidden away in the bowels of the cable-only lineup.

I have high hopes for the growth, the enduring growth of soccer in the USA, especially in the women’s game.

The Courage of a Referee

For those who aren’t aware, The Women’s World Cup 2015 kicked off yesterday.

This morning I was listening to the repeat of last night’s “World Cup Tonight” and it’s apparent that Alexi Lalas truly has no understanding of how referees call a game. He also marked himself as the kind of idiot who helps turn crowds against referees.

To his questioning of someone labeling that referee courageous:  Of course it took guts for the referee to make that PK call in the Canada/China game. Why?  Because she knew stoppage time was running out and that making that call would likely change the outcome of the game. She also knew that blowhards like Lalas would be jumping out of their chairs complaining.  BUT, she made the call anyway…because it was absolutely a foul and clearly in the box.

Lalas argued that there’s a bigger picture to look at.  There’s really not.  It doesn’t matter if a team sucks all game long, finally manages to get into the opponents penalty area, gets taken down (fouled), scores the PK, and wins the game.  You can argue that they didn’t “deserve” it…that the other team was the better team.  Referees don’t take that into account.  They make the calls based on each situation, each incident, each foul.

The referees for the World Cup have been working their trade for years, assessed over and over, and almost assuredly have more games under their belts than Lalas has TV appearances showing his ass.  These referees have proven themselves over and over to be of the highest quality, and to be afraid to apply the Laws of the Game because “it’s the World Cup” would not only be a disservice to the players in that game, but to the game itself.

Will controversial calls make headlines and give fidiots like Lalas things to talk about to fill air time?  Sure.  Will some players be called offside who weren’t and some offside calls get missed?  I’d bet on it.  Will there be cards shown to players that some will cheer while others boo?  Of course.  Will referees make more favorable calls for the “home team”?  I certainly hope not.  Does it take courage to make the right call that (probably) directly affects the outcome of the game?  Absolutely!

Deflategate: Does the punishment fit the crime?

There are probably not many folks who know me who don’t know that I don’t like Tom Brady, but if I’m being honest, this is a crock of crap.  They found nothing concrete, nothing specific, that said “Tom Brady said to deflate the balls” or “Tom Brady saw the balls being deflated and gave a thumbs up” or anything of the sort.  They inferred from texts, not his, that he likely had a general idea that something wasn’t right…and from this he gets a 4 game suspension.  I have no problem with the fine for the team or the loss of draft picks.  I hope the basis for the suspension was heavily on the side of not cooperating with the investigation and much less due to it being “‘more probable than not’ that Brady was ‘at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities'”.

The article:  Patriots’ Tom Brady suspended 4 games

It’s Not a Hand Ball…or my beef with what coaches teach our young soccer players

I love soccer.  I think we’ve established that through previous posts over the past few years.  I’ve played most of my life, coached for about ten years, and reffed for about eight months now. Recently, I agreed to get back into coaching club (travel/select) soccer.  As you can see, I’ve seen the sport from many perspectives.

Playing and coaching have led to a number of the observations to follow, but reffing has really brought clarity to how widespread some of these are.

The biggest misnomer in the sport has got to be the “hand ball.”  Everytime the ball makes contact with a hand, the players, coaches, and fans of the opposing team cry out “hand ball” and expect the referee to blow the whistle and award them a free kick.  First, the free kick is for “handling”.  This means there’s more to it than hand and ball making contact.  The position of the hand in respect to the body is a big factor, including motion of the hand after contact.  Another factor is the play itself.  Did the player have time, in the opinion of the referee, to move his hand out of the ball’s path.  Intentionally handling the ball, obviously, is a violation.  Yelling “hand ball” isn’t going to make a referee call it.  Play until you hear a whistle.

“I got the/all ball!”  This is another of those cries that’s supposed to make a ref not award a free kick to the fouled player’s team and, hopefully, prevent receiving a caution or send off from the referee.  Whether the player actually gets the ball or makes first contact with the ball may be a factor in the referee’s decision to simply award a free kick or to caution or send off the offending player, but it isn’t the deciding factor.  The direction from which the tackle came, the force used in the tackle, and the follow through weigh heavily on the decision.  The player can make what she thinks is a clean tackle that gets the ball, and then watch the rest of the game from the parking lot if the referee thinks the tackle was reckless.

Another cautionable offense that is actually taught by some coaches is standing in front of the ball to prevent the team awarded a free kick from taking a quick restart.  The Laws of the Game provide a 10 yard radius from the spot of the ball which defenders are to vacate and not enter until the ball is back in play.  Nowhere does it say that the kicking team must ask for the 10 yards.  If a defender plants himself in front of the ball to “direct his teammates” or tie her shoe, the ref can caution the player.  Do yourselves a favor and move back from the ball and coaches, don’t tell your players to get in front of it.  Some refs are real sticklers for this and will caution a player with little or no warning.

There are, of course, other fouls and violations that players and coaches often don’t quite understand.  Maybe I’ll talk about some of them later. For today, though, just remember that the referee is the authority on the pitch and different referees have different aspects of the game that they enforce more tightly than others.  Play within the laws of the game, show good sportsmanship, and respect the referees and their decisions.

Play to the whistle!

Too stupid to stop

I’m a soccer nut, as I’ve written about before.  Play it, coach it, watch it, and now ref it.  And I don’t let minor injuries get in my way.  I strained my hamstring back in March/April.  I might have skipped one or two of the lunchtime games before I was back on the pitch.  I tried to keep my work rate lower.  I didn’t go full speed after balls…mostly.  I didn’t try to explode away from folks or chase them down…mostly.  Gradually, my hammy has gotten better.  It’s still not one hundred percent.  If I hadn’t been too stupid to properly rest it, I’d likely be at full strength by now.

Last week, in the gym, I made the mistake of doing the Nautilus overhead press. Now, I know that my body doesn’t like that machine so I used light weight on it.  Didn’t matter.  Something about that motion on that machine pinches something or forces my muscles to work harder than they should.  Walked away from one set with a pain in my left trapezius.  Because I didn’t push it, though, the pain faded by the end of the day.  Monday, I skipped soccer due to a bruise on the bottom of my foot and hit the gym.  I got into the Nautilus upright bench press and craned my head around to the right when the guy at the desk said something to me. Ow!  Left trap screamed at me.  I wasn’t even pushing anything at that time.  I finished my workout, mostly cardio.  Too stupid to stop…yep.

It’s Wednesday now and the pain is less and I can move my neck more without pain, but here I am, back at the gym.  Not smart enough to stop, but I avoided any exercises that would have any work for the trap…well, except seated rows…and I went light.  Trap actually feels a bit better after the light work and getting warmed up.

Note that I’m composing this from a stationary bike, which means I was smart enough to skip soccer today.

“I Have Faith” – A quote by James Brown

I found the following quote on my Starbucks cup years ago and liked it so much that I copied it down on a little note paper.  The other day, while cleaning out junk in the garage, I found the little piece of paper and decided to share the quote.

I have faith.  Faith in our wondrous capacity for hope and good, love and trust, healing and forgiveness.  Faith in the blessings of our infinite ability to wonder, question, pray, feel, think and learn.  I have faith.  Faith in the infinite possibilities of the human spirit.  -James Brown, sportscaster

I think it’s interesting that I came across this quote again during the Olympics, a world-wide sporting event that brings together nations and their athletes to showcase not just the athletic prowess of the individuals and teams, but also the ability of people who may not get along to behave in a civil manner toward each other, to live and compete respectfully, humanely, for a couple of weeks every four years.

Sporting events provide great insight into the human spirit.  They provide a look at the level of dedication it takes to train, grueling hours spent practicing, perfecting.  They provide a look at perseverance, pushing forward when there is almost no chance of winning, when the first instinct is to quit…yet we continue on with a never say die attitude.  Sports also show us that two or more people can struggle against each other for extended periods, sometimes pounding on one another to try to knock each other out, yet embrace once the final bell rings or whistle blows in mutual respect for each other.

Sometimes we see those who go against the spirit of competition and respect, willfully trying to injure or ridicule others, before, during or after the event.  Frequently, those individuals are called out by others in their sport, sometimes on their team, and told that such behavior is not acceptable.  Unfortunately, in this day and age, as long as the bad behavior makes the event exciting, there are too many fans who turn a blind eye or who cheer the player on, allowing them to continue to feel good about themselves when they really need admonishment.

I too have faith, James Brown.  Faith that the majority of humans still have most of their humanity left.  Faith that we will get through the difficult times facing the world.  Faith that, one day, mankind will decide we are, collectively, more interested in helping our fellow man than we are in advancing our own cause.

Okay…that last one may have been pushing it a little, but you get my point….here’s Get Together by The Youngbloods

Put It All On The Line – Olympic Memories

The 27th Olympic Summer Games officially opens tomorrow night.  That’s almost assuredly going to be a star-studded, grand affair in the competition to see if the host nation, England, can out-celebrate the athletes.

While that’s the official Opening Ceremony, many athletes have already started competing.  For instance, the United States Women’s National [Soccer] Team (USWNT) already beat France 4-2 in their Olympic opener.  I’m hoping they can restart the championship era for US women’s soccer that brought about the best womens professional soccer league in the world.  Let’s bring home the gold, ladies.  We’re behind you.

Thinking back on their gold medals, brings other great summer games olympians, some controversial, most beloved.  [I may be a bit biased so most of these names will be Americans.] Track & Field giants like Jesse Owens, Michael Johnson (and his gold shoes), Bruce JennerCarl Lewis, and Tommie Smith and John Carlos,  diver Greg Louganis, gymnasts Nadia Comaneci and Mary Lou Retton, and the “Dream Team” of 1992.

One of the most amazing stories still going is that of Michael Phelps.  Over the past two Summer Games, he has totaled 16 medals, 14 of them gold, and 8 of those coming in the 2008 games, where he won every event in which he competed.  One, by just one one-hundredth of a second.  A win used in one of my favorite Visa ads.  Let’s see if he can increase that gold medal count in London.  Swim hard, Michael!

Now, to my favorite Olympic moment ever.  Maybe it’s because I was sitting on my couch, watching the live broadcast of the women’s gymnastics team all-around competition when it happened, but probably not.  Maybe it was the suspense because the first Team All-around gold for the US Women came down to one last vault…that’s part of it.  Watch the clip, then I’ll tell you the full reason.

What made this moment so special?  Kerri Strug, known really only to those in the gymnastics world and maybe folks who follow Olympic gymnastics, with the pressure of the gold medal riding on her vault, injured her foot in the first vault.  She could have quit there and most people wouldn’t have given her grief.  She had just suffered a legitimate injury.  But Kerri Strug showed us what makes a true champion…it wasn’t that she landed the gold-winning vault on her second vault.  It was that she fought through the pain, sprinted down the mat, potentially doing more damage to herself, and did her second vault.  She put it all on the line!  She showed the heart of a lion.  I had tears in my eyes as she stuck the landing, picking her injured foot up while raising her arms, then collapsing to the mat.  Awesome!!

I could ramble on for another paragraph or so about why that moment was so special, but this clip from Vision Quest sums it up very succinctly.
To all the olympians out there, not just the Americans, whatever your sport, I wish you good luck.  This may be your only “six minutes” so put it all on the line.  You’ve worked hard to get where you are and we’re celebrating you, even as we cheer for your competitors.

Drogba is a Class Act

I know there are plenty of folks who don’t like Didier Drogba…and there may be plenty of Chelsea fans who don’t like that he’s retiring and many who really won’t like it if he ends up with a club playing against them, but all things considered, he’s proven himself to be a class act.

It may have warranted an eye roll when he announced earlier this year that he was pretty much willing to go wherever he was offered the most money this summer when his contract with Chelsea is up, but he made his announcement and that was that.  He didn’t expect Chelsea to be the highest bidder and since the announcement of looking for the money, I’ve not seen an article about his departure until this week…after putting in the equalizer and then the winning goal in the shootout for the UEFA Champions League final.  Now his departure is all over the news.

Back to being a class act, though.  When asked about leaving after helping Chelsea win the Champions League title and receiving the Man of the Match, he blew off the question and had nothing but praise and joy for his team…that they’d endured a long season, a tough season where they changed managers midway through, that they’d turned things around with the new manager, that they accomplished the unexpected in beating defending Champions League champs FC Barcelona and then taken the title when considered the underdogs.  There was no me in his words or his manner, because he’s still a Blue.

Need more proof, here’s a quote from his interview with the BBC on the subject of Fernando Torres:

“It’s been difficult for him [Torres], but he has showed he is the man.  Next season is going to be his season and I will try to speak to him. We have a good relationship. We don’t understand why we didn’t play together more, but that’s the past. Torres is the future.”

Still no “I’m the man and they’re going to have a tough time replacing me.”  It’s about what the club means to him and how the much maligned Torres is coming along and needs to be supported and that he expects good things from him.

I can’t say I’ve not seen games where he seemed to be ‘diving’ or where he’s committed some overly aggressive fouls, but for the most part, he played hard, but fair for Chelsea for the whole eight years he was there.  He’ll be missed by the Blues!

The UEFA Champions League 2012 Champions

Aside from a high score, the 2012 UEFA Champions League final had everything a soccer fan could want:  lots of attacking action, 30 minutes of extra time, and the champions determined by Shots from the Mark.

Prior to the first goal being scored by Bayern Munich, the had possessed the ball nearly 60% to Chelsea’s 40% and they had 26 attempts on goal to Chelsea’s 5.  Not even a minute after the boradcast showed the comparison of “attempts on goal,” Bayern Munich sent a cross to the far post where Thomas Muller put a powerful header on it, directed downward toward the feet of Petr Cech, who’d been fantastic all game.  Somehow Cech misplayed the bounce and it sailed up over his shoulder and into the net, giving Bayern Munich the lead with seven minutes to go in regulation.

Chelsea, who’d had a few periods of attack throughout the game, now ramped up the pressure with time expiring, and earned their first corner kick of the game.  The ball was served in to just outside the six on the near post side where Didier Drogba put a solid header on it into the near post corner, equalizing the game.

Regulation and then stoppage time expired with the game still drawn, so they went to Extra time…two fifteen minute periods.  Early into the first extra time preiod, Drogba clipped Franck Ribery’s heel inside the penalty box, drawing a yellow card and giving Bayern Munich a penalty shot.  Arjen Robben took the PK for Bayern Munich and Petr Cech made a fantastic save, firing Chelsea up, giving them a spark to get back on the attack, but at the end of Extra time, the score was still 1-1, meaning the 2012 UEFA Champions would be determined by Shots from the Mark…essentially penalty kicks.

Bayern Munich’s Philip Lahm scored their first shot, followed by Chelsea’s Juan Mata who’s shot was saved by Neuer.  The next two shots for each team were made, Mario Gomez and Manuel Neuer for Bayern and David Luiz and Frank Lampard for Chelsea.  Bayern Munich’s next shot by Ivica Olic was saved beautifully by a diving Petr Cech who batted the ball away with a hand, and Chelsea’s Ashley Cole scored to even the shoot out at three a piece. Bastian Schweinsteiger hit a hard low shot that just got past Cech to hit the post and bounce out, setting up Chelsea’s Man of the Match, Didier Drogba, who buried the goal in the net, giving Chelsea their first UEFA Champions League title.

While the game was low scoring, it was far from exciting.  Most of the action was with Bayern Munich in attack mode, interspersed with periods of Chelsea going on the attack, which made for plenty of suspenseful minutes wondering when Bayern Munich would eventually find the back of the net.  Chelsea played outstanding team defense and Ashley Cole provided a clinic on how to play left fullback.  Aside from the one shocking moment when the savable header bounced passed Petr Cech, he played a phenomenal game.  Even on the Shots from the Mark that he didn’t save, he was inches from stopping them.  He’s actually who I’d pick for the Man of the Match.

By winning the Champions League, Chelsea has earned themselves a spot in next year’s competition, knocking Tottenham out.

It will be interesting to see if Di Matteo gets to stay on as manager of Chelsea after not only turning the team around, but also bringing home their first ever Champions League title.

Congratulations, Chelsea!

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