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Thursday, August 26, 2010

2009-2010 with the ABC Lions

Each year, during the first week of practice, there are a few things that I like to stress:

1) We are a team that values hard work, technical ability, team ethic, and Christian character.

2) We will be fit, so be prepared to suffer through long runs, sprints, plyometrics and strength training.

3) We will compete against each other but when we leave the field, be quick to give and ask for forgiveness for any wrongs done to each other.

4) We need to have a purpose for our time out here beyond fun, exercise, and winning. It needs to be about character development as Christian, sharing Christ with our opponents, discipline and self-control, and mutual encouragement through our shared fellowship.

Okay, so that's more than a few. If guys don't pick up on these right away, they do later on through our training, our games, and our talks.

Spending 8-10 hours a week with the college guys playing soccer is an absolute privilege. Ever since I was 5, and slipped on my first pair of soccer cleats, I have loved the game. Pretty cool that my parents signed me up for it when they didn't even know the rules. Then they drove me to all those practices and tournaments, and came to watch all of our games at USD in college. Soccer's a big part of how God brought me here to Malawi. It's a joy to share this passion for soccer with the guys at ABC. The great thing is that it goes deeper than just soccer too. We're friends and we're brothers in Christ who will encourage and challenge each other to be more like Jesus as we play.

This past year was probably the most successful that ABC soccer has ever had. Since I've been here, just five years, I've never had such a talented team. Two years ago, we were good, but this year we just got better. Out of our 20 plus games, we lost just two. We play teams from all over; other colles, social teams, village teams, and even professional teams. Since we're not in a league, we set up friendly games for Friday or Saturday and go from there. Though our matches always start late and we never have a good ref, our guys maintain a great attitude and respond well to my very limited attempts at coaching.

Highlights from the year:

1) Going to Bunda College (who have a reputation for being very good and very obnoxious) and hammering them 5-2 on their field.

2) One of guys, Chimwemwe, broke his leg during a game back in October last year. Though is was a real bummer, it brought the team much closer together. Visits to his dorm room, prayer times for him, and helping him get around on crutches were some of our sweetest times as a team.

3) Beating the youth team of a local professional club, the Silver Strikers, 2-0.

4) Prayer times before games with our opponents.

5) At the end of the year, the guys initiated a prayer and worship time for Mondays before training. It came as a result of a few leaders on the team realizing that we needed to keep God at the center of what we do on the field. I was so excited that they brought this forward. We're looking forward to Monday devotions continuing this year.

6) Watching late night Champions league games in the student center together.

7) Pre-game meals in the cafeteria, especially on Friday because beans, rice and mustard-leaf spinach are on the menu!

Lessons learned:

1) The guys don't mind running but they hate pushups and abdominal training. There's only one guy who doesn't mind and he used to be a soldier in Malawi!

2) My guys expect me to play in the game with them. I tried to limit my playing time last yaer, but the captain and vice-captain were quick to ask me to return. I'll be honest, I don't mind one bit.

3) After these games, I realize that I am 27 years old, on my way to 30. I hurt a bit afterwards and usually the next day too.

4) I am much more a player than a coach. I don't always have the answers for our tactical deficiencies, and I can't always make the right subs at the right time. But the guys are gracious and since I played Div. 1 soccer, I guess I'm the most qualified guy around.

5) I'm so grateful for these guys, their commitment to Christ, and their willingness to include an azungu like me in their lives. I am very blessed.