I am not an early bird.
I’m an insomniac night owl forced to live in an early-bird world.
That said, there are some things I will get up for: Work (although it’s debatable whether I stay awake once there), an outbound flight, and the smell of breakfast cooking.
There is one thing I will get up for without the motivation of a paycheck, a small bag of peanuts and bacon. And that’s women’s soccer.
And since the FIFA Women’s World Cup has kicked off, it’s that time of year.
But since Australia and New Zealand are the hosts (hostesses?) for the 2023 Women’s World Cup, my circadian circus is 3 rings to the wind.
I’m not good company during the Women’s World Cup. My attention is fully invested in the game. I will pace in front of my TV. I will tell players where to go when I see an opening—I will definitely tell the refs where to go when they make a poor call.
If you try to have a conversation with me during a game, I will start sentences and never finish them. I will nod along with your words, but, I assure you, I am not listening. I’m too busy mimicking the leg motions of the athletes on my TV, at the risk of making actual contact with my living room furniture or unsuspecting pets.
I invest deeply in the tournament every 4 years because soccer is my primary sport. Correction: was. I started playing soccer when I was 8 years old. I played as an adult. I played for the Air Force. But even in my wildest visualizations, I am, at best, a third-string benchwarmer for the local community pick-up team.
I’ve always been a participant in team sports. Part of it is a lack of skill and/or lack of confidence in my individual abilities. Most of it is because I love the connection in a larger team, community, or club. (I accept also that some of it comes down to the orange slices at halftime and the Capri Sun after the final whistle.)
Now that I’ve traded the turf of the field for the hardwood floors of my home, I’m realizing the true reason I admire the sport (specifically the way the women play it at the World Cup).
Together, each woman, a master in her own right (and left), creates a symphony of life lessons with other talented maestros.
World Cup players’ “day jobs” may be on rosters of a college team, the National Women’s Soccer League team or the Women’s Super League. Every 4 years, college colors and team loyalties are superseded by national identity.
World Cup players band together under their nation’s flag and anthem. Their opponents every 4 years are often the players they call “teammates” on any other day.
Just like in the real world, passions and rivalries clash.
That, in and of itself, is a valuable life lesson played out on our TV, Jumbotron, or smartphone.
A few days ago, I watched another beautiful display of doing-life-right play out.
Brazil’s Ary Borges, was wearing her country’s signature yellow, blue and bright green at the World Cup—usually, she’s wearing the lavender and midnight violet (with a splash of mint) as a member of the Racing Louisville Football Club in the National Women’s Soccer League team. This is the Kentuckian Louisville, which explains the mint. It would be a whiskey mistake if you thought this was Louisville in Missouri.
Ary made her World Cup debut this year. Stepping onto the prestigious pitch of such a tournament is a dream many will never fulfill.
In her first World Cup game, she scored a goal. Scoring a goal in a once-every-4-year series is an accomplishment many top-level athletes will never satisfy.
Then, in that same game, Ary scored a second goal.
A debut like that has every reason to go to someone’s head. Hell, I was feeling a little proud on her behalf and I’ll be honest, I gave myself a pretty aggressive high five.
Then the ball is with Ary right in front of the Panamanian goal. The opportunity for a hat trick third goal is literally at her feet. (I imagine this moment happened in slow motion for her.)
I put myself in her cleats and pictured it: Country pride in the pinnacle event of my sport. Already scored two goals for my nation. I’ve more than proved my mettle as a first-string, first-timer. Now, at my feet lies the very real chance of joining a very elite group of women who have scored a hat trick at the World Cup. In more than 270 FIFA Women’s World Cup matches, 24 hat tricks have been scored. Number 25 is for the taking. For me. (And yeah, for my country and whatnot blah, blah, blah.) But a hat trick as a first-timer? Come on! That’s hero stuff. That is about to be me!
Yeah, that’s what I would have done.
But that’s not what Ary did in that moment. In that moment, something within her transcended the mere pursuit of personal glory.
It might have been a calculated altruistic step away from the spotlight, or a truly strategic decision based on angles and open players. Ary casually flicked the ball backward with her heel, putting the ball in front of her teammate, Bia. Bia did have a better angle on goal, was open for the pass, but probably not expecting it. That said, she was still ready.
So when that ball that could have been Ary’s hat trick was presented to Bia, Bia nudged it on into the net, securing Brazil’s third point.
Ary’s selfless act benefitted her team, their score, and her teammate’s stats.
No one would have faulted Ary for continuing on to the goal and trying to get the point and glory for herself. Instead, Ary chose teamwork over individual triumph.
In that fleeting moment of contemplation, she made a choice that scored more points than her assist was worth.
She passed off the opportunity to score a hat trick because of her profound understanding of the power of teamwork.
She prioritized the collective good over personal glory. Her teammates over herself. Sportsmanship over selfishness.
With Borges being the 664th most common surname in the world, I don’t know if Ary Borges is related to Jorge Luis Borges (this isn’t a genealogy piece). Uncle Jorge said, “Any life is made up of a single moment, the moment in which a man finds out, once and for all, who he is.” Call in some pronoun subs off the bench and this is a powerful point that applies to that very moment when Ary either found out, verified, or proved to everyone that she puts the team before herself.
It was the moment when I realized that this game called soccer (or fútbol) is just like the game of life. It isn’t just the goals we score for ourselves but the goals we help others achieve.
Now go get your orange slices. This was only the first half.