It’s going to happen–that catastrophic rip or crunch. I’m not a graceful person to begin with (ordera drunken moosae) and the statistics don’t work in my favor.
The other day, minutes into my pickup soccer game, I collided with another, more experienced player named Paul. It was nobody’s fault, as we were going for a loose ball. He held up a little bit (it is a pickup game where we don’t even keep score) and I’m grateful that he did. His knee went into my upper shin. That he was a step farther into his run made his body the hitter and mine the “hittee,” I guess. If it had been knee to knee, it could’ve been catastrophic for me. If he’d been going a little faster, as in full sprint, his patella could’ve snapped my tibia in two. It hurts. It happens.
(Ironically, contact took place above where the shin-guard I wasn’t wearing would’ve ended, so there’s no if-onlys regarding a few ounces of molded plastic.)
Keith Jackson was fond of saying football (American) is a game of inches. In truth, all of sports (and much of life) has outcomes depending on tiny distances covered–or not–at a high velocity. Lionel Messi, the absolute wonder, has made a career of juking defenders and squeaking the 22-centimeter ball through with the slightest half-centimeter margins. For someone like him, that’s the difference between an attack interrupted and a keeper thinking obscenities (as he tries to stop what is largely unstoppable).
A teammate named Alex once took a rocket-ball to the face–hard enough to bloody his nose. As a slow-motion camera would’ve shown, if the opponent hadn’t struck it cleanly, or at just that moment, the ball would’ve scraped Alex’s cheek or ear, instead. He was fine, after the leaving the field, but I’m sure all he remembers is the blur coming faster than human perception allows.
For myself, this time, I got lucky. Though I’m not a high-traffic player (people with better skills are suited to that) some unfortunate collision or foot-twist is going to happen. Pain and injury are part of the risks.
The best advice I ever got from someone outside the family was, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” For sports, as I tell my soccer-playing kids, the risk of injury qualifies as small stuff.
When I take the field tonight, like always, I’m going to focus on the fun of the Beautiful Game. It’s a healthy addiction, as guys put it. Amazingly, the second I step onto the field, I won’t be limping or considering the what-could-happens. Sports are sports, and I’m happy there.