ChanceBy Raymund Fernandez
Cebu Daily News
It makes perfect sense to use a ball game as metaphor for life. That may well be the underlying purpose for sports and children’s games. The ball field is not merely where we play sports. It is also where we play at life itself.
The young player standing over the ball in front of the soccer goal and his opposing goalkeeper are not thinking these things where they stand. It is called a free kick ordinarily. But in a soccer game that ends in a tie, this is the ritual tie-breaker: 5 designated kickers on each side; last kicker, the goal-keeper himself or herself. If it gets that far.
The kicker is not happy with the way this game has turned out. It is the championship game. He scored the first goal for the game, quite by chance. He stood in front of the goal in a position he practiced with his Papa months ago. He thought the play didn’t work at all. But on this game, somebody did pass the ball to him. He turned around, kicked it without looking into the goal. It bounced off a defender’s knee. But it bounced back at him. And he kicked again without thinking. He did not even see clearly how the ball did it through so many feet and legs in front of the goal but it did. It went into the goal. Quite by chance, or so he believed.
And yet, also quite by chance, the opposing team scored an equalizer just minutes before the game ended. And so it ended into a tie. And quite by chance here he was, standing in front of the goal. And he knew it will be on his kick that the game will be resolved.
And he had practiced the free kick with his Papa. His Papa is not himself a football player. But he has football friends and he does research, googling his questions into the Internet or reading the book about it. He is reliable that way. But he is not God. He makes mistakes.
Pick a point into which you kick your ball. You have only a few choices: upper right corner, lower right corner, left upper corner or left lower corner. Pick one of those and practice it incessantly until you master it.
The goalkeeper absolutely cannot guess where your ball will go. He will take a chance either left or right. He can never guess where you’re aiming at. Will your kick go up or down the goal? The goalkeeper will have to take a chance. And so every free kick will be resolved in the mathematical paradigm of probability, something you might as well call chance. And chance, at least theoretically favors the kicker. But what everybody says is that a game resolved by penalty is always a coin toss. It can go every which way. Nobody can be blamed for how it will turn out.
Well, obviously they were not talking about pre-teen kids living inside the social structure of a soccer team. What do they know about blame? Especially blaming yourself?
It is not the easiest kick to make. What his Papa said was pick the spot on the ball where your foot will go. Keep your eyes on this and the goal. But before you kick, spit on the ball and look into the goalkeeper’s eyes. Just as in those old western movies. His coach’s instructions were more to the point. Kick the ball with the side of your foot like a passing shot. The ball does not have to go fast. It only needs to go where you want it to. All these instructions playing in his head. And everything is supposed to depend on his single kick. And all the adults say its a coin toss? The whole universe depends on his coin toss?
It was at this point when he missed those times when he played this game just for the fun of it. He wondered now if he played only to please his parents. Especially his Papa, who he could see really loved the sport. To be honest, he enjoyed basketball much more. He could play in a neighborhood court. Everybody played it where he lived. He was never alone in a basketball game.
And now here he was, alone, in front of the goal and the goalkeeper. Everybody watching him, kicking for team honor, for school honor, for coach and mama and papa, for the greater glory of God Sweet Jesus On High. And he knew from the very start he was going to miss the shot. Why? Because it was too big for him. He knew he would try his best. And yet, he also knew that while he might master the craft of the kick, what he cannot master in this short time right before the moment of truth was the art of surrendering one’s self to chance and just kicking the ball without caring. He knew he cared too much and it would defeat him.
It was in the stars and they might as well have said: One can care too much it becomes vanity. This lesson he must have to start learning from here on. Inevitably that lesson always starts from failure.