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God Doesn't Watch Sports
We had a great run of games going into the play-offs my sophomore season of soccer. We started the season off slowly but ended the regular season in championship form. Our dream of claiming the league championship trophy was becoming more and more tangible everyday.
But the best part about the season was not the results we were getting game after game, but the close-knit friendships that were developed over the course of the season. Perhaps the unity amongst the team was an explanation as to why we were playing so well.
In the last game of the regular season, we were defeated by a team that we would get a second shot at in the play-offs. We played horribly in that final regular season game, turning the ball over endlessly and failing to put a single shot on target. This team was by far the best team we had played all season long. The final score was 2-0 and we went back to the locker room hanging our heads.
The format for the tournament round was single elimination. Our first match-up happened to be against the same team that just defeated us, the only team we felt could challenge us.
This time around, they had more players than us giving them an obvious advantage. They never seemed to grow tired and played effortlessly against us. At half time, with the score still at 0-0, our coach told us we needed to take more shots.
“If you get the ball within 30 yards of the goal, get the shot off,” he told us.
Before I went back out on the field for the second half, my coach stopped me.
“Dan, when you get the ball, I want you to take the shot,” he told me with his hand on my shoulder. I nodded and gave the thumbs up before hustling onto the field.
Five minutes into the second half, someone passed the ball to me. I looked up at the goal; no defenders challenged me so I decided to take a shot from about 30 yards out. I cocked my leg back, brought it forward and struck the ball with all of my might. The ball chipped up into the air, great! A miss hit. The ball soared through the air for what seemed like minutes, finally making its way into the goal over the keeper. I felt the weight of the world lift off of my shoulders. The crowd burst into uproar as the team realized what had just happened. We were up 1-0 in a play-off game against one of the best teams in the league. The dream was so close now and I could feel it within our reach. We played our heart out for the rest of the game. I strategically dropped back to help out the defense. However, the rest of the team kept pushing up, leaving our defense struggling. In the last five minutes of the game, one of the opposing team players, who had been a threat to our team all game long, received a pass to his feet. He beat three of our defenders, taking a shot that blew past the keeper.
The heartbreak began to set in. The team rapidly lost all hope and struggled just to hold on for the tie until overtime. We were already beaten. Regulation time ended and the game went into extra time. Extra time ended and penalty kicks was all that was left to decide the game. I was chosen to take the fourth of the penalty kicks for my team. We made the first penalty but missed the next two. Punahou made all three of their penalty kicks.
I stepped up to the spot when it was my turn to kick, my arm shivering with anxiety. I am ashamed to admit now that I already lost all hope at this point and realized we had lost the game. I knew we needed a miracle in order pull off a win. But I still felt incredible pressure, and the weight of the world was back on my shoulders. I kicked the ball, aiming for the bottom right corner. I looked up to see the ball sailing wide. I fell to my knees as the final whistle blew. I felt like the dream was torn apart right in front of him. The worst part was that I could’ve done more. I should’ve done more. I missed the last shot of the game, of our season.
I turned around and walked back to my team at the halfway line, my heart heavy with shame. When I got back to the team, they looked at me and told me, “It’s not your fault Dan. We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you.”
In that moment I realized that winning is not everything. At the end of the day, my team was there to pick me up. They were my friends and nothing would change that. Sports are activities that are about the journey, not the destination. Sometimes the beauty is in the attempt, even if the result is not a gold medal. The journey molds the athlete into a better person, a stronger person. Some people pray to God every game day, begging Him to guide their team to victory. I say that those people are wasting their time. God doesn’t watch sports.