can you be perfect?


as i walked home from work today, a bunch of peewee football players were running up and down the hill. it made me glad that my elementary school never had any hills. i thought about how the coach would use anything to challenge us, physically exhaust us. and as a kid, i never saw the point. i looked at the faces of the peewee footballers, and they looked red, sweaty, miserable. i wonder if they thought what i thought when i played soccer and basketball and had to go to practice: what is the point?

i didn't see the point then. soccer practice was intense. mr. martin was our coach, and he was a big mexican man with a super mario mustache. he was large and had a big gut, wore glasses and a whistle around his neck. and he made us run laps like i've never run before in my life. there was one exercise in particular that all of us boys dreaded. we would all jog around the soccer field, and each time he blew the whistle, the boy at the front would have to sprint all the way around the field to catch up with the jogging group. and he wouldn't let us stop until each boy had gone around at least, if i remember correctly, twice. on one our two occasions, he was so pissed at us that we ended up doing it for the entire practice.

and then game day would be on saturday morning. i remember being so happy on the few mornings when it rained and the game would get called off. that meant i could just sleep in or maybe watch cartoons. but most of the time, it didn't rain, and my dad would drive us off to some random part of the city, and i would stand on a field in my jersey, cleats, and shin guards for two hours or so. playing a sport i didn't really care for with boys i didn't even really like. the experience didn't instill any sense of being on a team, or build leadership skills, or teach me that hard work paid off, practice makes perfect, and all that shit. all that i really learned from soccer was being disappointed when we lost, and not really feeling like i had contributed anything if we had won. i did, however, learn to hate the other team, to be disgusted with boys i didn't even know.

a few months ago, i got to talking with my parents, and i asked them why they enrolled me in soccer. "i thought you liked it," they said. i told them that i didn't. but i think that, on some level, i must have. i did like running (just not to the point of vomiting) and kicking a soccer ball and bouncing it off my knee. i liked getting new cleats from big 5 each year, and wearing shin guards made me feel like an indestructible robot. i liked getting orange slices and capri suns after a game, and seeing all the hot soccer moms and sisters of teammates. i liked it when it was all over, and coach would say he was proud of us, and you could tell by the look in his eyes that he really, really meant it, and then we'd get an ice cream party and trophies.

it wasn't until i saw friday night lights (both the movie and tv show) that i understood why we play sports, and why they matter. in the movie, coach is always talking about being perfect, and at the end of the movie, he explains that being perfect isn't necessarily about winning. but it's about doing all that you could have done. i think about that final scene a lot, the one that takes place in the locker room where he finally reveals this concept of being perfect. i think that it translates to so many other things in life.

there was this poem that my english professor shared with us once. it wasn't a very good poem, but it pretty much drove home the same point. in the poem, he kept repeating the line: "let it be enough." it was directed to all the perfectionist writing center consultants. the repeated line basically reminded us that there's only so much we can do. there shouldn't be any sense of failure or disappointment if you gave it all you've got.

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