Magazine article Psychotherapy Networker

Family Matters, the Oldest Guy on the Team

Magazine article Psychotherapy Networker

Family Matters, the Oldest Guy on the Team

Article excerpt

Family Matters

The Oldest Guy on the Team

Running for Your Life

By Brad Sachs

My teammate, Mara, is the picture of youthful vitality, especially tonight, as the other players maneuver through the rain during our coed soccer league game. Now in my late 50's, I'm the oldest member of the team and surely the only grandparent on the field. Mara, still in her mid-20's I'd guess, is probably the youngest. Swift, fierce, and determined, she tirelessly whips from one end of the field to other, zipping off sharp passes along the way with an uncanny ability to get her foot on the ball, wherever it may be.

I played goalie on my high school team. In fact, my junior year I set a county record with six consecutive shutouts. But while I was good, with quick reflexes and a sure grip, I was never great--and I was never going to be great, because I was never fearless. The thought of taking a cleat in the jaw or a knee in the groin kept me from sprinting out of the box and bravely disrupting developing plays. On more than one occasion, I was a sitting duck, left to watch the ball, untouched by my human hands, whir past me into the back of the net.

I consoled myself by noting that there were advantages to staying put and patiently reading the onrushing action. And often there were: one of my defenders would sweep by to stymie the attacker, or a shot would wind up arriving right where I'd strategically positioned myself. In these moments, with the ball cradled securely to my thumping chest, I'd silently pat myself on the back for my restraint. But deep inside, I knew that self-preservation mattered more to me than heroic self-sacrifice, and not surprisingly, my serious playing career ended after one demoralizing day of college tryouts when I quickly realized that I was out of my league.

Many years later, however, I took deep satisfaction in coaching my two sons and daughter on their youth teams, and I continued coaching until my youngest reached a level of play that surpassed the limits of my instructional aptitude. It was only when she graduated from high school and our nest had emptied of children that I took up playing soccer again, invited by a younger acquaintance to join his team in an over-25 league, almost 40 years after I'd played my final high school game.

My agreement with myself was that I'd play in the field, not in the goal, because one of the main reasons to return to the pitch was to find another way to stay in shape and work up a good sweat. The problem? While my stamina was still solid and my feel for the flow of the game acute, never having developed any foot skills, my moves with the ball were easy to read and my shots unlikely to instill any fear in an opposing keeper. Even now, despite my decent speed, I'm dismayed at how quickly I'm overtaken by opponents on those rare occasions when I find myself breaking into the clear and dribbling downfield. Players seem to appear out of nowhere and strip me of the ball, leaving me to doggedly follow the play back upfield with a hint of anger and some derelict muttering.

Nevertheless, I greatly enjoy the games--the camaraderie, the intensity of the one-on-one encounters with opponents, the grunting impact of occasional collision, the darkening sky that's sometimes penetrated by a white moon, and the opportunity to bear witness to the splendid athleticism of the younger players. It's occurred to me that, approaching the end of my sixth decade of life, I'm not going to get any better at soccer--or much of anything that's physical in nature, for that matter. …

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