Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Things Have Changed

When I was a kid and wanted to play soccer, I would pump a little air into the beat up old ball in my garage and just start walking to the local park. By the time I got to the playground I would have picked up a few other kids along the way, and joined in with whatever crowd was hanging around and got a game going. Maybe it would be 6 players on a team, or maybe 15, but we worked it all out, without referees.

Now we have organization. Now there are lots of people that work behind the scenes in order to get soccer games played. For every organized game you see there are probably more people not playing than playing. From local volunteers who may line the fields, to the trainers, coaches and referees, to the administrators who make out the schedules, on and on it goes. There are layers of people who work at the game in state, regional and national levels, all trying to get the games played.

All of these people are just as passionate about the game as are the players themselves.

And so it was that I found myself in Philadelphia over the last three days, surrounded by about 200 of these dedicated people, who were there to discuss such weighty issues as secondary insurance coverage and whether two or four people should be added to their Board of Directors.

There was not much talk about soccer. In fact, if it were not for the predominance of soccer-logo apparel being worn, a casual observer would have never imagined this was a meeting of the leaders in a sports organization. It sounded more like a general shareholder meeting of a Fortune 500 company.

Don’t get me wrong, the discussions were heated and at one or two times, downright contentious. These are passionate people, as I mentioned. But, just like after a hard-fought game at the local park, when the boardroom battles were over we were all able to go to the bar and drink a few pints together. (Well, maybe we did not go have a few pints when I was a kid, but substitute a can of tonic and you get the idea.)

Sometimes I don’t know if organization is always the best thing for sports. The games look nicer; the fields are more evenly laid out than the makeshift patches of ground we staked out as children, when two well-placed trees often served as goalposts. The uniforms are definitely classier, since we had none. There are lots of people that play soccer now, so I guess that means things are better.

But somehow I find myself lamenting the passing of a time when all of the extraneous BS surrounding a game did not exist, and we could just walk down to the park and play.

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