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Your Cheating Heart

Sometimes you can be going along, living life and suddenly something occurs that completely alters your view of the world. Turns it upside down.

It’s as if you’ve received a karmic slap in the face.

You know what I mean. We’ve all experienced this.

You realize immediately that you’ve encountered a defining moment, one that will remain with you the rest of your days.

For Daughter, it was the other night.

I’m glad I witnessed it. And even though I’d learned this lesson long ago, I must confess that I’m still a bit surprised myself. 

I also want to say upfront that what happened is NOT at all representative of our experience here in Nederland. But for those of you who think there is nothing to be learned by playing or watching sports, think again.

Daughter’s Dutch voetbal team was playing one of its final division games of the year, against a weaker opponent they’d defeated 6-2 earlier in the season.

The referee is arranged locally by the home club, but the responsibilities of the two linesmen are often handled by one representative from each team. It’s usually an assistant coach or a knowledgeable parent.

In this case, the other team was using a player. That’s highly unusual in that it’s expected to be an adult. But you give the linesmen the benefit of the doubt, and assume that they’ll generally call things as they see them. Besides, the referee can always overrule iffy or flagrantly erroneous calls by the linesmen.

The other team was older, taller, heftier and in some instances stronger, but that is nothing new. Daughter’s team is comprised of younger girls playing up in the 16-18 year old age bracket. They play in the hoofd klasse, the highest level for that age in the Netherlands.

Her team uses foot skills, speed, change of pace, field vision, space and creativity to great success. They do not shrink from physical play, but they know their advantages lie elsewhere and play to them.

Better yet, if other players commit cheap or flagrant fouls against them, they don’t sink to that level. They know to trust their skills, teamwork and style of play; they stand them in good stead.

Like any team, or anyone for that matter, they have their moments of intense focus and times when they lose concentration. Last year they were near the top of the heap against same-aged opponents; this year they have relished playing stiffer, more experienced competition, and have a mixed record.

They win the same way they lose: gracefully.

But the other night was a whole new life lesson in 90 minutes of play.

Daughter’s team was controlling the game, moving the ball well, pressing hard, passing crisply and creating space as they repeatedly bore down on goal.

For those not familiar with or interested in the athletic analogy, the point is that they were working well together, making good use of all team members and the collective skill set, focused on their objectives.

But it was not to be.

Not because they gave up a goal during a moment of defensive collapse. The other team’s goal was both well earned and surprising, as told by the incredulous look on their players’ faces.

They deserved their goal.

No, it became apparent the die was cast against them early on. After raining shots on the opponent’s talented keeper, Daughter’s team scored. But the goal was called back (nullified) as offsides when the linesman raised the flag.

Except that it wasn’t offsides.

Now I know what you’re thinking, mistakes happen. It’s part of the game. Perhaps the linesman (or in this case, lineswoman) had a better angle, keener eyesight, etc.

And I agree with all of that. Good coaches try to teach early on that you have little control over calls made by the official. (Animated ‘discussion’, immature pleading and award-winning theatrics of some professional athletes notwithstanding.)

Good coaches encourage players to not get caught up in the individual call, to let it go and move on. Developing the ability to stay ‘in the moment’ and not get angry or frustrated is key.

Ditto for remaining focused and not panicking, not giving up. Anyone who’s watched a lot of team sporting events will tell you that it’s easy to spot when individual players (and sometimes the entire team) give up. It’s there in the body language, mannerisms and facial expressions. 

But none of that was the case. You see, the lineswoman had deliberately called the goal offsides to nullify the goal. In other words, she’d cheated.

Aside from the fact that it was obvious to all in attendance (the coach and other parents remained strangely quiet while the other team celebrated their good fortune), it was there in the linesman’s knowing glances over to the coach. The sly smiles, the thumbs up sign and the wink.

I’m not kidding. It was that transparent, she’d been coached to call everything in favor of her team. She was too caught up in the important role she was playing and how she was the team hero (heroine) to rein in her excitement. Poor kid couldn’t act nonchalant if she’d tried.

It was there in the way the referee suddenly looked up at the sky as if studying the early evening cloud patterns rather than make eye contact with Daughter’s coach as he made the expected objections.

It was there when he continually looked the other way during the deliberate pushing, hard shoving, arm-holding, kicking, tripping, egregious shirt-grabbing and late hits displayed by several of the other team’s panting players. 

And it was there when he allowed two of the other team’s defenders to hit Daughter’s team’s keeper simultaneously from both sides a full two seconds after she’d caught a shot. She was in full possession of the ball: no bobble, no hesitation on her part, ball pulled in tightly to her body.

Given their vulnerability, a deliberate late hit to the goalie is one of the biggest no-no’s in voetbal. She went down hard, yelping in pain. Not surprisingly, the ball popped out of her hands and the other team scored. Once again, the official chose to studiously inspect his fingernails. 

Daughter’s team is used to playing hard right to the very last second; they always believe they can score and continually seek ways to do so until the whistle blows and the game is over.

But they and their coach knew that there was no way they would be allowed to win this game. That they continued to push hard until the very end, without lowering themselves to the unsportsmanlike conduct of their opponent, is a testament to their character, pride and competitive spirit.

They did score one goal, and the shrug of the shoulders by the official as he looked over at the other team’s coach clearly conveyed ‘hey, there’s no way I can nullify that one’.

In the car ride home, Daughter was incredulous. ‘I cannot believe they cheated like that, so openly!’ she marveled. She was too stunned to be angry.

‘It’s not that we lost. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. I don’t mind losing when it’s to a better team. But they cheated, and they didn’t even act embarrassed. That was crazy. They had absolutely no shame!’

Which is incredibly sad, if you consider that adults are actively teaching these other girls that’s it’s okay to cheat. Lacking in skills? Out-of-shape, with poor conditioning? Not interested in investing time to better yourself? Don’t worry, there’s an easy out. Despite how it makes you feel deep down inside, where you know you didn’t earn it.

Ignore that little nagging voice, it’s just your conscience. Enjoy the ‘win at any cost’.

Even as a teenager, Daughter knew she’d witnessed something on a whole other level. Then she said something that made my already proud heart swell even more:

‘And I’ve got to give props to their keeper. She was amazing, she had such great hands. She was really hard to score against.’

That she could still give credit where credit is due after the spectacle she’d just witnessed? Priceless.

I think good ole Hank Williams sang it best:

Your cheatin’ heart will make you weep. You’ll cry and cry, and try to sleep. But sleep won’t come the whole night through. Your cheatin’ heart will tell on you…

[Image credit: Luigi Diamanti 879 freedigitalphotos.net]

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