Tuesday, June 24, 2014

I could’ve had a baby!

Today is exactly 9 months since the day I ruptured my Achilles!

Funky freak accident, while playing, not soccer, but table tennis. Granted, I was playing a serious game with a state-level player, but “ping pong”?!!! I need a more exciting and more authentic story!

I went to see my doctor today. He was counting the months on his fingers, and he said, “You could’ve had a baby!”

True this!

My “baby” is that I am now walking again without a limp. Baby steps to, hopefully, a full recovery.

It took the first trimester - 6 weeks to get out of my cast, another 6 to get off my crutches,  the second trimester (another 4-6 weeks to get out of the boot, and then, physio, etc.), and finally, the third trimester, still suffering tendonitis and doing a bunch of stretching to get rid of the limp.

I coached my spring soccer team without being able to run around with the kids. That was harsh!

I’ve been patient, and, finally today,  I jumped back and forth and side to side in a crouching position. (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon)

The baby was born today. When this baby is 3 months old, I hope he’s running again!

Achilles was a demi-god!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Soccer is everything!

The World Cup is here…again! In addition to fully immersing yourself to the experience and the excitement of the great sport, you should ask yourself why billions of people on earth are entrenched in this sport.

I thought about this and I think I have the answer – it’s not just a sport. Soccer (football) is everything.

Soccer is joy

A few billion people will watch this world cup. It is the most engaging entertainment you can find.

Soccer, in general, is the cheapest entertainment you will ever find. So much joy - in reality, you need no cleats, no real fancy Brazuca leather ball, no fancy astroturf fields, gloves, bats, wickets … nothing!

Just any field and any ball will do. Right in the middle of the African Serengeti … with Zebras watching like referees and little barefeet kids scurrying around in shorts to impress the munching black and white onlookers and tourists with their binoculars.

That’s when you realize that joy does not have to cost you money!

We often behave otherwise!

Soccer is the world

Everyone loves the game! The world has equalized. With African, Asian and South American players playing in the best leagues in Europe, the result is that anyone can win a game in the world cup. In past world cups, Cameroon upset Argentina, Nigeria almost had Italy, South Korea had a great run and South Africa played wonderfully. Last weekend, Costa Rica beat Uruguay in a shocker.

The crowds wear all colors of the rainbow, the players are from everywhere, and yes, ironically, racism still exists #SayNoToRacism

In Natal in the Amazon, the boisterous crowds in the pouring rain were being flashed advertisements in all languages - Chinese(!) (Yingli Solar?) and Spanish and English and Coca Cola and McDonalds (yes, these are global languages that the whole world understands :-))

Everyone from everywhere is represented in this global microcosm. This is truly and the one and only world cup”!

Soccer is war

I read somewhere that the game was used as a way for 2 tribes to resolve their differences on the field instead of impaling each other with hand-sharpened stakes! If I were a soldier, I’d rather sweat out a kicking match with a non-living spherical object than hope that it didn’t hurt much when a rough-hewn piece of wood lacerated my gut.

Remember the Zidane head-butt? He lost his head, but that’s a kind of war. Maybe a silly war, like a war for weapons of mass destruction, but a war for ego and prestige nonetheless.

During World War II, there was the "Death Match" where soccer was used in defiance by a Ukrainian team in Kiev against the Nazis. Ukrainian players eventually paid for victory with their lives.  

Honor and sovereignty!



Soccer is peace

When England plays Argentina, it could be a way to alter the political landscape. Of course, the Hand of God goal almost escalated to war, but that’s why “War" and "Peace” are only a word apart, and only a white flag or a handled ball separates these two states. When the US played Iran in the 1998 world cup, it could be argued that was a small little proxy war.  I expect all the generals were watching instead of planning military action!

Soccer is money

The CEOs of soccer do earn a pretty penny pound, based on their own stock. When Real Madrid played Barcelona, it was the most expensive match ever played - £417M pounds worth of smart sinew on the pitch. A few swooshes later, the millions multiply further. The club players have gotten to the point that they leverage their currency and change colors as they evolve from team to team: egos and talent are traded off for loyalty when teams are late to act to appreciate their key playmakers, much like the situation in Silicon Valley or corporate America. This money then creates the talent that translates to passion for the national teams during the world cup.

Soccer is art

When you watch teams  like Barcelona, Brazil or Spain play, you see what I mean – you think it and they do it on the field – it is uncanny and mesmerizing. If you don’t see it, then you don’t appreciate art. There – I said it!

When you watch Maradona’s second goal against England in the 1986 game – it was a showcase of artistry, when, by decimating half of the team in one fluid movement across half the field, he showed that he could do with this feet what he could do with his arm (see below) – kill an entire nation, and stop the breath of the remainder of the earth!

When you watch Messi take the ball horizontally across from the right side of the field to the center, and then duck in through the defence to calmly slot the ball in the net – over and over, predictable, yet unstoppable – a little differently every time – with the ball stuck to his feet like they were magnets, you realize the artistry that is soccer. And, he did it again last weekend, didn't he?

When you watch people do with their feet what artists can do with fine motor control of their hands with brushes, you realize the art that is soccer.

Soccer is inspiration

When you see a team that is down by 2 goals with the season on the line, and 5 minutes to go, and then pull off what is an almost impossible task and take it back in injury time, as Manchester City did in their last 2 minutes of the season in 2012, you realize the will power and inspiration that is soccer.

Enough said. Watch the video!

Soccer is perspiration

Imagine that the average player in an average game is running upwards of 8 kilometers. And making over 80% accurate passes with his feet. And jumping a meter in the air to head the ball. And taking kicks in the shin, and elbows to the face, and knees in the back.  In 74% humidity.

Hey, this is a little more severe than the Spurs just turning off the air-conditioning to turn up the Heat!

A torrential downpour of 5 hours did not stop Mexico playing Cameroon, did it?

Soccer is surprise

Who would have imagined that Spain, reigning world champion, would run into their worst loss in more than 50 years in their first game in defense of the title? Yes it was the Netherlands, but 5-1? Surprised? Would you have bet on this result even knowing that their previous worst defeat happened the last time they played in Brazil?

The first goal of the tournament in Brazil was Brazil’s only own goal in the world cup ever! Could you have written that in the script?

Would you have counted on the Swiss scoring a deadlock-breaking goal in the last 30 seconds of their game with Ecuador?

Would you have expected the US to win knowing that they were out-shot 21-8 in the game?

Would you have counted 44 goals in 14 matches with only 1 draw?
Could you have predicted that in the first 2 matches, there would be 3 referee errors?
Soccer is community

I’ve been coaching for more than a decade. I’ve probably coached about 300 kids over the years, and the kids went from size 4 shoes to adult size 10. From Mitre to Adidas to Nike, from yellow to blue to red, from butterfly-pickers to artists who could coach me instead of the other way around, I’ve seen it all. Kids come in wanting to make their parents happy, and leave as mature teens with a sense of discipline and confidence and unselfishness and the ability to be a part of the whole.
When I walk into a Safeway, and I turn around at the gruff sound of “Hi Coach!” and see a young man 6 inches taller than me, with a wispy mustache covering the face I can recognize as the young boy I’d coached a few years earlier, I realize that I’m a part of the community. We’re a social animal, and our kind of animal needs coaches to help young kids become young adults with a sense of loyalty and belonging.

Soccer is teamwork

When every season starts, there are always upstarts on the team who think they will carry their team, and only they can carry their team with their gift for the game. At the end of the season, they leave, knowing that even if they are a gift from god, they need their teammates to do their job, and no one person carries the team. The team carries everyone – to victory, to defeat, to self respect, to respect.

That’s the one reality of the world, and of corporate life as well – the team is larger than the individual.
Messi is better in Barcelona than in Argentina – it’s the team that carries him. Portugal is better with Christiano Ronaldo, but he often struggles on his national team without his Real Madrid teammates, as he did during the recent German rout.
This is true of most team sports – which is why a majority of inspirational speakers are athletes who learned discipline and sacrifice for the greater team good instead of just individual goals.

Soccer is deception

When the first game of the world cup was done between Brazil and Croatia, it was a relief for the nation that Brazil had won. The metallic taste that left in the mouth was not because Croatia gave Brazil a run for their money with their tight marking and physical gameplay, but because of the Fred Flop. No foul, but the penalty awarded showed that humans will always deceive when the stakes are high. They will do it in Banks, in Corporations, in schools, in churches, and … on the field.

Don’t blame Fred. It is human nature and it is in our system. You will never root it out. You will always have the world’s best take what they can, even with flip-flopping.
After all, it's the "Hand of God".

Soccer is death

When Marcelo put in Brazil’s only own-goal in world cup history, a colleague of mine said he was dead. He was using those words for effect, but I cautioned him against it, because I had done exactly this a few years back when Colombia had lost a game due to an Andres Escobar  own-goal, and I’d commented to friends that the defender was "dead"! Two weeks after the world cup, he’d indeed been killed after an argument in a bar. I felt terrible for a few days, like I’d foretold his death.

If you hear about the beheading of the referee after a local game in Brazil after the referee stabbed, in self-defence, a player who attacked him after a decision he’d made, you’d realize the implication of the emotional balance in hold through a game.

Soccer is war – soccer is death.

Soccer is life
Right now, the world cup is on! It excites me in the morning and my days are brighter.  My palms are colder and sweaty, but the heart pounds and pulses, and the blood flows.
Soccer is life itself. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

How I eliminated my son from the National Debate Championships!

The National Speech and Debate Championships for 2014 starts today. Last year, I was responsible for eliminating my son from it.

This is a true story about how a child had to tell an adult the right thing to do :-(

I'm a Bengali (from the same place as  Bengal tigers come from). We're known to love art, soccer, music, and fish, and are known to be straight shooters - I usually tell it like it is.

Mostly to my own detriment...

Once last year … to my son's detriment …

This story shows how life deals the unfair card at a young age, and how, sometimes, an adult has to be slapped on the wrist by a child - to do the right thing!

If you've had the opportunity to see state-level and national-level debaters in the Bay Area, you'll realize very quickly that more often than not, the speakers know more than the parents judging them. That's ok! They are expected to know how to convince "regular" people with their argumentation. The message early in life is that you'll have less competent (sometimes incompetent) people judging you and evaluating you in life. Deal with it.  Life ain't fair!

It’s more unfair when the parent judging you can hardly speak English, and shouldn't even be there. Especially not judging a round between two good debaters that determines whether they qualify to go to the State or the National tournament. Debaters spend weeks preparing for these tournaments - sacrificing their academics, gathering evidence, preparing appropriate rebuttals to each and every possible argument. Ok, but there aren't enough parent judges, so … tough! Deal with it!

Now - there are rules - a parent cannot judge a student from their own child's school (obvious)  or judge a speaker they know - they are expected to recuse themselves. I've done it 3 times over the last 2 years, even when I only vaguely knew who the student was, and I knew I could still be objective.

During a league tournament earlier in the year, a parent I know from the local competing school brings up an issue with me - that one of the kids from my son's school apparently grabbed her daughter's hand to point to evidence during a round, rattling her and causing her great distress (she's a good debater herself, but had thought she'd lost the round and was upset).

"Is that allowed?" she asks me meekly. I told her it was not acceptable and she should take it up with her team's coach. In fact, debaters are told not to even make direct eye contact during a round, and the boys from my son's school are specifically told to be extra nice in rounds with girls due to perception issues (even if the girls are pretty aggressive, which they often are - yup, it's a reality! (And that ain’t fair either.))

On pressing her, I was told who it was - it was a boy I knew very well.  I assured her that I would tell my son, one of the captains, to deal with the issue. Assuming this account was true, since it came from an adult, I was furious that such an experienced debater would do this, jeopardizing his own chances of winning. I asked him. The boy involved protested that nothing of the sort happened, but I took it upon myself (as a parent of his friend and teammate) to berate him. My son took it up with the opposing school's captain to find out from the girl what had  transpired; according to her, nothing of the sort had happened. The girl was, in fact, embarrassed that her mother would have brought something like this up with me, a parent from a competing school, instead of going to her own coach. Ironically, she’d won the round.

I was furious and apologized to the boy involved, feeling embarrassed and stupid for believing the parent over a student I knew.

That weekend, I received a phone call from said mother, who'd discovered that I had followed up on my word - trying to "clarify". Still trying to convince me that something had actually taken place, and asking why I took this up with the team’s captain, the daughter's reputation, etc. etc.

You kidding me? Reputation? Imagine the impact on the boy's reputation. If she could bring this up with a competing school’s parent, imagine the stories she was capable of weaving to parents from her own school!  Why did she not take this up with her coach if it did happen?

I was not kind - I gave her a piece (lots of pieces) of my mind, and told her never to ever do this again. I did not hold back. Frankly, I’d never spoken to someone in my life in such an abrasive fashion. I was pissed!

Fast Forward:
National qualifiers for Lincoln Douglas (LD) debate in 2013. My son is in a "go round" i.e., he goes to the National tournament if he wins that round, as expected. He arrives at his round to see that the same girl's dad is one of the judges! My son assumes he'd recuse himself - first, they know us well, second, there's too much bad blood here between our families …

Nope! He stays put in his seat!

He's a parent. Surely he'll  be able to put aside personal issues and rule objectively! The man makes no eye-contact throughout the round. He rules against my son; knocks him out of the Nationals.

My son is confident he won the debate. Why do I believe him? He's been quarter-finalist in California State in 2 consecutive years as sophomore and junior, top 30 in the nation as a junior. As a senior, he has the best LD debate record in the state. He knows when he wins and he knows when he loses!

He won and he lost.

The turn of the unfriendly card! My actions effectively cost him a chance to go the Nationals to try to win the title. The eventual 2013 National Champ has never beaten him head-to-head.

Fast Forward:
My son is participating in the semi-final (last 16) round at the 2013 California State tournament for impromptu speech (not debate). He walks into a classroom with 60-70 of his peers, and who does he see in the judges panel?

The mom!!  Again!!!

"Okay, she's going to recuse herself."

Madam sits tight - she's not going anywhere!

This is not happening again!

"Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." - his exact words to me later. He knows his proverbs!

He's seething - the elimination from National Qualifiers still a fresh wound! The same thing is going to happen again. He can feel it in his bones!

If I were him, I'd walk to my coach to protest! He's a Bengali!! He should be outraged and he should protest.

"Aaamader dabi mante hobe, mante hobe, mante hobe ….."

He's only 17 with all the ongoing stress of an important competition.

My son does the most non-Bengali and mature thing ever….

"Aunty," he says loudly in front of all his peers and his fellow contestants. "Our families have known each other very well for a long time, and I feel it would be unfair to my fellow speakers if you judge this round. Would you please recuse yourself from judging this round?"

She's history, and his fellow competitors are impressed with his magnanimity!

A Bengali with that kind of maturity and acumen? Impossible!

He made it to the final round and took fourth in California State. Had he not done what I described, I'll wager he'd have at least one negative vote on the panel, and would’ve been eliminated from the final round.

Why am I sure?  Seriously! You're going to ask me this question?

He recused her!  When a parent does not know the right thing to do, it's not bad manners to slap her on the wrist, and tell her that her place is outside the classroom!