Scoring the goal to win the perfect 'game'

Originally Appeared in : 9724-11/23/17

Heading into this year’s soccer season, I made it clear to Simon that the only person standing between himself and his personal best was one Simon A. Halcombe.


A head taller than nearly every other player, built like a storm shelter in Iowa, and with a foot like that of U.S. Soccer stud Clint Dempsey, Simon can be almost unstoppable when he puts his mind to it (High emphasis on, “When he puts his mind to it”).


Simon’s team entered the fourth game of the season undefeated, facing the only other unbeaten team in a battle for first place. Simon’s squad gave up a pair of uncharacteristic goals to go down 2-0, before Simon booted one home early in the second half to close the gap. Unfortunately, the opponent was able to notch another goal to stretch their advantage to 3-1 and, even with a second goal from Simon, his team eventually fell 4-2.


As his coach, I spent most of the game yelling in Simon’s direction, but it wasn’t the words of an overzealous adult trying to live vicariously through his child.


“Stop being so hard on yourself,” I said, trying to fend off his regularly clenched fists following a near-miss goal. “Stop trying to be perfect. Just play how you know how to play.”


After the game I spotted Simon crying, and I asked him rhetorically why he was so upset.


“It’s just that I wanted to win,” he said.


“Simon, we’re not meant to win all of the games we play,” I replied. “Sometimes we learn more from losing. Now let’s dry it up, and remember, we play them again at the end of the season.”


As the year progressed, our team continued to notch win after win and, entering the final week of the season, we stood poised to square off in a rematch with the title on the line.


Simon’s team caught a break in that the once unbeatable team had unexpectedly lost to a middle-of-the-pack squad, meaning that the Saturday morning rematch would be for all the marbles.


“Simon, you just go out and play like you know how to play,” I said, “and know that no matter the outcome I’m proud of you.”


The game was a pure stalemate for most of the first half, but a handball inside the 18-yard box gave Simon a penalty kick try and an opportunity to give his team the lead. 


“Keep your head down and drive through the ball,” I said. “You’ve got this.”


Simon ran up to the ball, booted it with all his might was blocked by the goalie. Instead of clenching his fists and turning away, like he had done in the past, he stayed focused, collected the rebound and put it back home to give his team a 1-0 lead.


That score held until midway through the second half, when the opposing team broke through the defensive line and scored to even the game at 1-1.


“Stay focused,” I yelled in Simon’s direction. “Let’s just get us another goal. We’ve got this.”


On the ensuing kickoff, the ball squirreled around in the middle of the field before Simon gathered it at the center stripe and sent a strike that went past the goalie, bounced off the inside of the goalpost and rolled into the back of the net.


Five minutes later, the referee blew his whistle three times to signal the end of the game, and Simon’s team had won the league title.


I gave Simon a hug and told him I was proud of him, but not for what you might think.


“Yes, I’m proud of you for winning but I’m more proud of you for learning not to be so hard on yourself and allowing yourself to play instead of looking for perfection. See what you can do when you relax and enjoy yourself?”


“Yes sir,” and a smile is all I got in reply, but it said enough to further satisfy this proud papa.


We come into this world imperfect, therefore, it is unrealistic to think that perfection is attainable except through Christ. By admitting that “all of us make many mistakes” (James 3:2-4), and by learning to “forget what is in the past and try(ing) as hard as I can to reach the goal before me” (Philippians 3:13), we allow ourselves a clearer view of God’s purpose for our lives.


Following that mantra on the soccer field, or on the many fields of life, will guarantee Simon and all of us the best chance to score and win in the biggest game of all: the game of salvation.


Jason Halcombe has five sons and a daughter. He and his wife, Magan, are members of Immaculate Conception Church, Dublin.

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