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Never EVER Give Up

The Washington Post headline read ‘US Stuns Brazil’, citing ‘enough twists and turns to fill an entire tournament.’

Sporting News called it the ‘Improbable US Victory’.

In Sports Illustrated, Swedish coach of the US Team Pia Sundhage spoke of ‘this American attitude, pulling everything together and bringing out the best performance in each other, that is contagious’.

My family sat transfixed throughout the entire game, and for good reason.

Despite playing down one player in a tough, fast-paced game for the majority of the second half due to a highly controversial call and call-back of a beautiful penalty kick save, then seeing five-time FIFA player of the year Marta score again early in the 30-minute overtime period to take the lead 2-1, the US team refused to give up.

I’m not going to comment on the officiating other than to share Husband’s assessment: ‘Well, at least the referee is consistent; consistently missing the calls for both sides.’ Yellow cards were given out like candy, while other fouls went unnoticed.

That’s okay. These things happen, and it’s part of the game. You either learn early on to suck it up and get on with it, just keep playing your game, or else you’ll focus on the wrong details and devolve into frustration, anger and increasingly harried play.

It’s much harder to do than it sounds. Over the years I’ve observed enough games, matches and meets to see what it looks like when one opponent has the air taken out of them. Often they crumple. It isn’t pleasant to watch, seeing someone look defeated before the whistle blows.

Daughter reported that at one school tournament last year they had their backs against the wall: they had to win their last game or risk being relegated to a lower division. They came from behind to tie the score in a tough match, only to have the other team score on a defensive bobble with only a few minutes left. She said that many of the girls just seemed to wilt, not so much due to heat or exhaustion, but because they felt defeated.

It’s a slippery slope, because once you feel you’re going to be beaten, it’s extremely hard to get your head back in the game. Sports has always been as much about the mental aspects of the game as the physical.

That was what was so impressive. No one in yesterday’s World Cup quarter-final match got caught up in the drama of the moment. Not one player. They didn’t panic, and they didn’t whine. Instead, they kept playing with focus, intensity, urgency and passion.

Play was tough and tight, but by overtime no one could afford to be called for a silly foul. It was 100% business. Not one iota less.

Despite the clock winding down and some frustrating antics (those giving Oscar-worthy performances know who they are) the US kept up the pressure and pace. Did I mention that they were down one player?!

I remember turning to Son and Daughter and saying ‘THAT’s what it means to never give up.’ Win or lose, I was proud of how the US Women’s National Team continued to play despite the odds.

When Abby Wambach nailed a header off a gorgeous set-up by Megan Rapinoe with less than two minutes left, the improbable had happened.

They had scrapped their way back to force penalty kicks. At that point it didn’t matter what had occurred in the previous 120 minutes. It was a clean slate. High pressure, to be sure, but a clean slate nonetheless. What cowboy western movie fans would term ‘a shoot-out at the OK corral’.

Plenty of high drama, and in the end keeper Hope Solo stopped the third Brazilian kick, and all five Americans converted their penalty kicks. Improbable win indeed.

The jubilation was contagious, yet even in celebration you couldn’t help but feel for the Brazilian team. They were a formidable adversary, and they played with grit and skill. They, too, had given their all.

I’m not writing this post as pro-US bragging, nationalistic propaganda or any such nonsense. I’m writing this to honor two tough teams who slugged it out to the bitter end, and delivered a thrilling match that will be long remembered.

But even more, I’m writing this because of the message displayed by the tenacity and determination of the players.

Do. Not. Quit.

Give it your all.

Everything you’ve got, right up to the final buzzer.

Never give up. Not ever.

Don’t tell me there aren’t great life lessons to be learned from sporting events. They are there if you look for them.

The same holds true for whatever you choose to give your time, energy, effort and attention. Regardless of whether it’s mastering a musical instrument or a foreign language, struggling with high school mathematics or a troublesome quarterly report at work, slogging through endless meetings or slaving over a manuscript, dealing with a life-threatening illness or making a life-changing decision.

Until time is called on this one life we have to live and we draw our last breath, we’d do well to remember that.

Never EVER Give Up.

[Image credit: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP]

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