Month: June 2013

Shark Attack at Austin Tindall

Under an ocean of sun block, fair-skinned, Hall of Fame coach Mike Kemp fielded a familiar five of Braden Kemp, Eric Brody, Randall Congreaves, Asyed Sanchez and Bryson Pink in a tune up event for Nationals in August. It was the first time the Sharks, reigning National and World Champions, have played 3 v 3 since Worlds in January, and due to events this spring these five and Mikey Lynch represent the last vestige of a proud and formidable Central Florida soccer legacy. A legacy I am probably ill-suited to write, but as I am the only one with a blog feel compelled to try.

The Sharks began in Hunter’s Creek under Scott Brody. Blessed with progressive coaching and a fortuitous player pool, the team achieved success disproportionate with their neighborhood origins, and attracted the interest of talented players throughout Central Florida. As change is threatening to the status quo and more specifically those incapable of controlling it, small minded politics pushed the team from Hunter’s Creek to FC America. Success and acclaim followed the team, who rose in state and national rankings.

Inevitably, the arc of player development and the art of player recruitment necessitated a certain percentage of roster turnover from year to year. It is a badge of honor to have been a Shark at some point in one’s playing career. In the spring of 2012, my son Bryson was so honored in what would become the Sharks final season as a full team.

After a largely successful 2012-2013 campaign that featured three tournament titles, two league titles and a final four run in the State Cup, the Sharks all, but vanished. The seventeen man team was absorbed in parts into Developmental Academies and rival clubs. It was tumultuous, sad and ultimately unavoidable. Within three days of our semifinal State Cup loss, all that remained were the photographs of team manager Hal Katz, the memories and hopefully the bonds of friendship forged by hours spent under the sun on bleachers and soccer chairs.

Always within the umbrella of the Sharks, there was 3 v 3, a sort inner circle that embodies the core values of the whole….first touch, ball rolling on the grass from one shark’s foot to another, friendship and fun. Now it is all that remains, but know that it remains vibrant and sacred.

Today’s tournament was a competitive farce. We won the opener 7-1 against what turned out to be the second best team at the event. The second game finished 15-3, the third 10-0 by halftime, and the third 10-0 thirty seconds into the second half. We got a cheap medal and a t-shirt to take home. More importantly for four and half hours we shared a tent, sandwiches and laughter as our boy’s played “good soccer”, and for about twelve minutes three forty-plus fathers played 3 v 3 against their sons, the Sharks, and damn near beat em before falling 5-4 in the most competitive match of the day.

42 Thoughts on the Occaision of My 42nd Birthday

In the last seven months I have been fired twice, hired twice, maintained my weight and made it to June 22, 2013 marking the completion of my 42nd year. Along the way, I have gathered some thoughts and here they are:

1. Search for your passion in life. The thing you spring out of bed to do everyday for free. The thing you think about as you sit on the toilet or when you are stuck in traffic. Pursue that passion because it is the fuel of greatness.

2. Read everyday. Books, blogs, magazines, the Holy Bible. Exercise the mind and expand it’s capacity.

3. Work out. Run, lift, hoop, kick a ball, throw a ball. Do something that gets the heart rate up and burns calories. It is cathartic and relieves the stress of life.

4. Connect with people. Make friends and build bonds. Most of the jobs and opportunities you will have in life will come through a relationship you have build along the way.

5. Believe in yourself. All the faith of others means nothing if you don’t have it in yourself. Conversely, all the doubt of others can’t topple the belief you carry within yourself.

6. People are best motivated by their own self-interest and all motivational ploys should be keenly aware of this truth.

7. Enforcement of speed limits is an absurd, arbitrary cancer on society.

8. Children are your greatest source of pride, and the biggest challenge of your life.

9. Tupac is dead, but incredibly prolific during his lifetime.

10. Smoking is foul, pointless and financially wasteful habit.

11. Pick up basketball is an underrated window into the soul of a man revealing his level of functionality versus selfishness.

12. Be wary of the man or woman who dramatically shifts their purpose life.

13. The Big Ten conference is an evil, ponderous, and criminally-overrated sloth.

14. Enjoy dynasties in sport as they are the embodiment of what all teams strive to be.

15. Be honest in your self assessment, and attack your weaknesses. Growth and improvement comes at the edges of your current abilities.

16. The Sopranos ending was genius.

17. Bill Simmons changed sports writing.

18. Robin Thicke blows, but I enjoy the singing of Sam Cooke, Usher, Beres Hammond, Bob Marley, Javier Colon, Young Elvis, Bruno Mars, Whitney Houston, Luther Vandross, Garth Brooks, Boys to Men and Stevie Wonder.

19. Value money in life, but don’t be it’s slave.

20. Take time to do those things in life that bring you joy.

21. Spend as little time in hospitals and graveyards as possible.

22. The events of 9/11 cast a pall over my life that lasted for several years.

23. Attending a body building event was not as uncomfortable as I thought it would be.

24. Life is incomplete if you do not attend a college football rivalry game in the Deep South, a Nascar restrictor plate race, Mons Venus and a concert of your favorite artist.

25. Coaching and playing sports are my passion, and I regret not coming to this realization sooner in life and taking action on it.

26. Having a toenail removed was the most painful experience in my life, followed closely by Bryson punching me in the b…. during the not so glorious summer of 2007.

27. I enjoyed riding motorcycles, but was too fearful to ride seriously. When you are fearful of something it is important to identify the source of the fear and attack it. You limit yourself unnecessarily, if your actions are controlled by fear more than hope.

28. Chocolate milk is the greatest drink in the history of mankind.

29. I believe in the death penalty and gun control, and accept that mistakes will occur.

30. Ball movement and team defense are beautiful things.

31. Juan Bernal is the most loyal guy I know.

32. Laugh hard every day.

33. I am glad I saw the following athletes play: Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Lebron James, Walter Payton, Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lot, Terrell Davis, Brett Favre, Charlie Ward, RG III, Reggie Jackson, Derek Jeter, Dwight Gooden, Mike Tyson, Sugar Ray Leonard, Kenny Roberts, Ayrton Senna, Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, Travis Pastrana, James Stewart, Maradona, Zidane, Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, Deion Sanders, Ray Lewis, Kobe Bryant, Bobby Hurley, Jason Kidd, Scottie Pippen, LT, Xavi, Iniesta, Roberto Baggio, Thierry Henry, Usain Bolt, Lance Armstrong, David Cone, and Mariano Rivera.

34. Racism is a disgrace.

35. People have an innate need to belong to something. It gives them a sense of identity and purpose.

36. I didn’t lose any weight during the year I drank water instead of coke, and I am bitter.

37. Language including foul language is a canvas of self-expression.

38. All words are better if spoken by an accomplished actor.

39. I am definitely in the second half of life.

40. Despite my railings against organized religion, I pray daily and hold close the quote, “Pray as though everything depends on God. Work as though everything depends on man.”

41. It is probably a better practice to let those around you know how much they mean to you than I have throughout my life.

42. Farting is always funny.

The Burden of Greatness

“So it’s a terrible burden, but for one guy, he has to make sure that he always keeps the energy and that positivity flowing in the right direction.”  – Ray Allen on Lebron James

True greatness is to be better than everyone else all the time.  No excuses.  No caveats.  It is unrelentingly unforgiving.  It is the burden of being LeBron James.

As good as they are, Dwyane Wade, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are given a leeway that James is not afforded.  When they play well it is a revival of past glory, and when they don’t,  it is age or injury.  Even Tony Parker can hide behind the well-oiled machinery of the Spurs team conception, or simply acknowledge he is and always will be French.

Lebron James is the best player in the world.  He is healthy and at the height of his powers.  For that he is scrutinized for his minute to minute performance, the outcome of every game and against the legacy of the game itself.  This scrutiny stands on top of the burden he carries for his team as scorer,  facilitator, rebounder, lock down defender, and as Ray Allen alludes to carrier of energy for himself and others.

Life is many things, but fair isn’t one of them.  I don’t know how tomorrow night’s game will play out, but I am pulling for Lebron because I respect the burden of greatness.

The Craftsman

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“I made 119/200 three’s today before I left for soccer.”

(Pause)

“You counted?  How old are you?”

I will be 42 next Saturday.  I play pick up three days a week, and Friday my loaded team went 2-1 when the only acceptable result was 3-0 in large part because I shot poorly.  I was mad at myself.  I expect, nay demand more of myself so on Saturday morning I was at Moss Park shooting.  As I shot, I thought of something I heard my friend tell his team at practice last Wednesday.

“Make 65% of your unguarded jump shots before I will give you the green light to shoot one in a game.  It is your craft.  Work on your craft.”

I made 60 of my first 100, and 59 of my next on a crooked rim in stifling heat to a chorus of crickets chirping.  I failed to get my green light, but I worked on my craft and the shots came out of my hand so much more comfortably than during Friday’s fiasco.

It is in some sense fashionable to refer to shooting as a lost art.  It isn’t lost.  It is there, ever available to anyone willing to work on it.  It is a singular skill that every player has complete control over their level of mastery.  It is, as the NBA finals have shown us, a game, and legacy, changer. 

Game one was sealed with Tony Parker’s bank shot at the end of the shot clock.  Despite the preceding chaos, the release and angle off the glass, an impeccably executed exercise of practiced muscle memory.  

Game two’s decisive moments were defined by Lebron’s passing and the spot up shooting of Mike Miller and Ray Allen.  Game three,  of course, featured Danny Green and Gary Neal hitting 13 of 19 threes.  Game four turned as much by the Heat’s improved midrange shooting as their imperious defense.

It is difficult to fathom someone referring to themself as a basketball player when they haven’t honed the craft of shooting.   They are mislabled and without excuse as the mirror is where they will find this perpetrator of crimes against the game.

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This morning I counted my shots.  75 makes in 100 attempts.   GREEN LIGHT!

Our Super Start to Super Y

We are three games into our ten game Super Y season and have outscored our opponents on aggregate 16-1.  The one goal against came by way of a rather soft penalty that concluded Clay County’s only penetration into our box for the game earlier this afternoon.  Three of our remaining seven games will be against the same three teams we just undressed.  Truth be told, we are not even playing that well, our ball movement is frequently constipated and we have left four or five goals on the field in each game. 

The games are boring, uncompetitive and somehow completely necessary to our return to Super Y Nationals in December.  A return that will hinge on the results of the four other games that at least ostensibly promise to demand more from us than has thus far been required.  Our challenge is to defeat complacency and remain sharp for the battles that lie ahead.  To avoid the fate of Tokyo Mike Tyson and fulfill our promise as the Greatest Super Y Team Ever Assembled.

A Super Y Team is a collection of talent, and this is particularly true of our team.  We have twenty-six players from at least five different clubs.  The core of the team from FC America will be playing for Orlando City next year, but doing so on three different teams.  We have practiced once as a team, and may or may not do so again.  It is a strange and disconnected existence.

Soccer is a fluid game, a player’s game.  Our coach of last season would frequently bellow, “sort it out”, when things looked bleak.  There really wasn’t much more he could do as there are no plays to call, or defenses to change.  Just eleven guys trying to control and move a ball better than the other eleven guys.  Hours of touches, running and finding their way on a pitch linked by vision and trust. 

Our vision and trust are thus far untested, but how they respond to their test at the moment it occurs will define our season.

All That We Can Be

They trained in a small Hungarian studio amongst rats and garbage. Something bereft of pretense and somehow filled with hope brought them to that place, and kept them there day after day, hour after hour as their individual stories became a common vision, but not common in the sense we have seen it before because we haven’t. It is ostensibly a simple and familiar story of love and a tragic death. We have seen that part before, but not how it is told this time and that is the genius. The telling is so pure, so compelling, so deeply moving that our mouths open without words, our eyes well and we FEEL an overwhelming inadequecy that we individually are so incapable of producing something so beautiful and pride in equal measure that someone, like us, can.

Thoughts on the Finals

The Miami Heat have been a prohibitive favorite since lifting the trophy last June, and the Spurs regarded as an aging afterthought after being overrun by the Thunder last Spring.  Tomorrow they play in the NBA Finals, and recent history has spun this story line considerably.  The Spurs rolled into the final and appear as healthy as they have in years, while the Heat had to dig deep to outlast the Pacers with Wade and Bosh performing poorly.  Both teams played each other at reduced strength during the regular season meaning their is no recent sampling of how these teams will match up.

First off, neither team matches up well with the other’s best player.  The Spurs will defend Lebron with Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green neither will come close to what Paul George offered.  A peripheral effect is that defending Lebron could effect the offensive contribution of two critical role players for the Spurs.  The Heat will throw Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole at Tony Parker, and while both are athletic, they lack the savvy and offensive role to trouble Parker.  To effectively contain these stars each team will have to tweek it’s defense.  I think the Heat are at an advantage here as their propensity to blitz ball screens will naturally get the ball out of Parker’s hands and force other players to make decisions at high speed.

The Spurs are healthier and this is big.  The Heat’s aggressive defense is fueled by their exceptional athleticism, but with Wade and Bosh unfit this advantage is negated.  Against the Pacers, the Heat could only play elite level defense in spurts, and this will not be enough to unbalance the Spurs as the Thunder did a year ago.   As evidenced by Russell Westbrook’s injury against the Rockets,  health is an unpredictable,  but series altering factor.

Exceptional performance by rotation players is a game-changer.  Udonis Haslem turned two games against the Pacers with exceptional mid-range shooting.  When teams are as good as these two are, decisions are made to concede certain shots or decisions to offbrand players, and their response can and will determine the outcome.

The weight of history will undoubtedly burden the Heat more.  The Spurs have four titles in the bank, and no particular expectation of having reached this final let alone win it.  Miami has one, and aspires to be a dynasty.   Should the tide of the series go against them, pressure will build to extraordinary levels.

I favor the Heat winning in six.