Mediocre Soccer as Stress Reliever

Soccer is often singled out as being “the beautiful game,” an epithet that has always struck me as a bit odd.  Is there something more aesthetically pleasing about the trajectory of the ball as it moves from player to player?  Moving a soccer ball from person to person using only feet, chest, or head is certainly more difficult than transporting a baseball, football, or basketball while using one’s hands, and arguably more difficult than a hockey player moving a puck while his hands use a long curved tool.  Is the grace with which the top professionals perform this more difficult endeavor of ball manipulation responsible for a higher aesthetic component, giving the sport a greater hint of diving, gymnastics, and even ballet, whose core activities are not primarily utilitarian?

The reason I bring this all up is because last week I DVRed the England-France game yesterday, but for various child-care, job-hunting, and wife-argument issues (the latter issue being distinctly related to the unique stresses of the former issues) I didn’t get around to watching it right away.  At some point during the day I gave in to curiosity and checked the score and summary.  England 1 – France 1 in a dull match.   France showed some flair and held most of the possession, while England put two banks of four behind the ball and scored off a set-piece.

And yet, later than night when the kids were sleeping, I wanted to watch soccer.  And so I watched about forty minutes of a game in which I knew the outcome.  Additionally, I knew it would be a game bereft of creative, attacking play due to the defensive nature of England’s tactical approach.  What did I watch then?  I’m not a fan of either team, though I do find the interesting as mix of high-profile, high-quality players.

The answer, to circle back to the ruminations that began this entry, is that I genuinely found aesthetic pleasure in watching the movement of the ball from player to player, and then seeing the progressive movement broken up by a tackle or lapse, only to begin anew by the other team.  It was almost like watching the ocean from the shore, observing waves of different shapes and sizes build, swell, and then crash onto the shore.  Players pass and dribble the ball backwards and sideways to start, and then slowly move forwards as they look for openings in the opposing defense, and if successful progressing through the middle of the field to the opposing goal they make a final ambitious move that most often ends with a goal kick, corner, thow-in, or clearance.  And the wave begins anew.

This holds true especially when I was watching the game after both goals had been scored.  I knew that all of the efforts of the players on both teams were doomed to ultimately fail.  But I watched to enjoy the simple grace of the attempt itself, because there is pleasure and even a calming sense of restorative peace that comes from watching the players control and move the ball so skillfully.  It is not unlike listening to music simply for the comfort of the rhythm or watching the waves as they too build and fall in rhythm.  Pass, pass, dribble, pass, crash.  At the end of a trying day, the movement of the ball brings peace.

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