Thursday, May 29, 2008

Lessons from the UK track.

I've been taking this track and field class for the past 3 1/2 weeks. Not by choice; it's required by my major. The teacher is a man named Dr. Taylor. He's a little firecracker of a guy. Doesn't take any crap but also has a unique sense of humor. He isn't very sympathetic, so I think that a lot of people don't like him. I, however, appreciate his honesty and high expectations.

He has tried to teach us the various field techniques: discus, shot put, long jump, and high jump. I have picked up bits and pieces, but I don't think anyone has learned enough to go try out for even a high school track team. The running is a bit painful, mainly because I haven't sprinted that hard in a while. I was timed in the 400m yesterday and the 800m today. Ouch. It was a good pain, though. I happen to be one of very few people that appreciate the burning lungs and aching legs. It makes me feel alive. I miss that.

Needless to say, Dr. Taylor hasn't taught me very much about track. He's tried. But I think 4 weeks just isn't long enough and most of it is based on every one's natural ability, or lack thereof.

He does, however, have some funny ways of teaching me some life-lessons. The entire second week, for example, the weather was pretty bad. On this one particular day, it was gray, cloudy, windy, and cold. After our warm up he had a big smile on his face and said, "Ohhh, I see the sun coming out!" I looked up into the sky: dark, cloudy. I said, "Dr. Taylor, what are you talking about? I don't see any light, let alone sunshine!" With that same huge smile on his face he said, "The sun shines everyday in my world." Making the best of what he's been given and seeing the 'silver lining behind every cloud.' So wise :)

Last week, at the end of class, he started talking about washing dishes. He said, "You know, last night I had to wash the dishes. I didn't put them in the dishwasher, though. No. I washed them by hand. If I had put them in the dishwasher they may not have been cleaned all the way. Dishwashers probably only give 85%. I cleaned by hand because I didn't want to miss any spots. I wanted them to be clean. I wanted to give 110%." Why show up to anything if you aren't going to give everything? It's easy to 'coast' and only give half-effort. In the end you are only cheating yourself, and probably pissing-off the people around you. Dishes. Life. Brilliant.

Today's life-lesson was probably my favorite. There is a kid in my class who hurt his leg. Dr. Taylor walked up to him and said, "If this were the 'big game,' (referring to soccer), what would you say to your coach? You would tell him to put you in, right?" The kid didn't really answer him but I said, "Well what if he tries to run today and the 'big game' (thinking of a soccer game) isn't until next week? If he hurts it today he won't even be able to play in the important game." Dr. Taylor smiles at me and says, "No. The 'big game' (referring to life) is everyday. You better show up every single day and try like it's your last 'game' because you might get hit by a bus tomorrow. Then what's the use in saving yourself for next week?" We don't know how many days we have left. I forget that a lot. Sometimes I think I'm invincible. We can't show up and not try because it may be our last chance, without us even knowing it. The BIG GAME. Life. Right again, Dr. Taylor.

So I've been waking up at 7am for the past 3 1/2 weeks of my summer. Not only to feel that lovely burning sensation in my lungs and to embarrass myself by not being able to clear the high jump pole; but also to pick up a few life-lessons. They may be subtle and sound a bit ridiculous and annoying to some people. But they are legit, from a guy who's been around and seems to know what he's talking about. I'd say that's a bit more important that learning how to throw a shot put.

Monday, May 26, 2008


Sometimes I look around at all the stuff I have and think of how blessed I really am. I wonder why, with all the pain and suffering and need around the world, I am sitting here in my college house with a car sitting out in the driveway, a cell phone, heating/air conditioning, clothes, and a refrigerator full of food. Why am I so blessed?

I am reading this book called "With Justice for All" by John Perkins, a man who has had a huge impact on urban ministry. He has a true heart for the poor. Meeting the needs of the poor and then sharing the gospel with them. Just like Jesus. To do this, he says, we must go and live in community with the people we are ministering to. Perkins states, "Jesus relocated. He didn't commute to earth one day a week and shoot back up to heaven. He left His throne and became one of us so that we might see the life of God revealed in Him." Perkins also says that if we are missing the point that Jesus makes about "the least of these" then we are missing the gospel.

As I'm reading this book it is becoming quite evident to me how passionate Perkins is about ministering to the poor. For some reason, this just doesn't hit my heart in the same way. This sounds selfish but I'm just being honest. I don't know if it's because I am missing something, but I guess I don't have this burning desire to go and minister to the poor and to "the least of these." This bothers me.

And then I'm sitting in my house the other day watching 'American's Next Top Model.' I never really watch t.v. and this show quickly reminded me why I don't. As the show went on I began to get really angry. Angry because of how accurately this show represents our culture. Make up. Materialistic. Selfish. Superficial. Oblivious. Did I mention selfish?

More than anything, this show opened my eyes even more to the bubble that I live in. We don't want to deal with anything, so we have all these magic remedies for everything and anything. Take this pill. Drink this. Buy those clothes. Put on this make-up. Go on this diet. We just cover everything up until we are so covered-up that we don't even know ourselves anymore. We just become numb to everything. And apathetic.

So...back to what Perkins said about ministering to the poor and, in essence, what Jesus did while He was here on earth. I think that I don't have the same passion that Perkins has because I am so freaking oblivious to what is going on in the world around me. I have this made-up idea that everyone on earth lives the way that I do. I need to wake up because I am only part of a small percentage of people that lives in the excess that I know. I am very uneducated about what is going on in the world around me. This is my fault. It is also my fault because of what my culture has taught me. Here's a quick fix...just take this and the pain/hurt/suffering will go away. If it comes back...just take some more. Unfortunately, I've bought into this and I am now caught in this bubble. A bubble that allows me to think of the world how I want to think of it, rather than as it truly is. A bubble that I can't see out of, but other's can see in. A bubble that makes me feel safe.

As I mentioned before, I often sit in my little bubble and question why I am so blessed. Why do I get to have all of this great stuff? Why do I have money and food and clothes and a house and a car? Why am I so blessed?

Jesus says that, "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven." Dang. Guess who that 'rich man' is? It's us. It's me. It's you. It's our culture.

Inside of this little bubble of ours, we stockpile so much 'stuff.' Because of our selfishness and stupidity we think that we are the ones that are blessed. We need to get over ourselves. That 'rich man' is us. I don't want to be the rich man. I want to be humbled. I want my eyes to be opened. But I keep covering everything up with 'stuff.'

What makes me think I am the one that is blessed? The more I think about it the more I realize that I am not the one who is blessed. If anything, I am in more need than I can even realize because I am in my own way.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Little eyes are watching.

So there is this park just up the street from my house. It's called Woodland Park. Next to the tennis courts there is a little fenced in rectangle with a big wall dividing it in half. It is used by tennis players to hit the ball off the wall to practice their hitting. So even if you don't have a partner, you can still play tennis. Boring, right?

Anyway...I, of course, use this wall for soccer purposes rather than tennis. I like to go up there and just shoot the ball against the wall. Yes I know I'm a dork. No worries.

I was up there one evening last summer just juggling and shooting the ball against the wall. I noticed a little girl and her father watching me. She was leaning up against the fence, her eyes as wide as can be. Just watching. Mesmerized. They watched me shoot this soccer ball, over and over again against the wall, for about twenty minutes.

I decided to walk over and talk to them. I introduced my self and found out that she was 10 years old and played travel soccer for a team in Lexington. They were asking me about myself. I told them where I grew up and that I played soccer for UK. This little, adorable, 10 year old girl looked up at me like I was famous. Seriously. I go to school and play soccer and this little girl thought I was freaking Mia Hamm.

I invited her to come out on the court and play some soccer with me. She was a little shy and said, "no." haha, but then her dad urged her a bit and she eventually came out on the court with me. I passed and juggled with her for about fifteen minutes. The dad thanked me and she walked away with the biggest smile on her face.

Wow. That was humbling. What I do everyday is 'normal' to me, (i.e. class, practice, lifting, games). But to her and to millions of other little girls...what I do is their DREAM. They would do anything to play division 1 college soccer. They would put on a UK jersey in a heartbeat.

I have run out onto that field every Friday and Sunday in the fall for the past four years. Everytime I look up into the stands there are little girls with huge smiles on their faces, screaming our names, and lining up for autographs after the games. Why? Because to them, we ARE famous. We are who they want to be. We used to be just like them.

This is just so awesome to me because it puts a different perspective on what I do. Knowing that these little girls are watching ME. Knowing that they want to be like ME. It makes me think about how much influence I can have using soccer. All these girls instantly look up to me just because I play soccer. It's also scary because its up to me (and all of us) to choose HOW we influence those looking up to us. It can go either way, really.

This reminds me of a quote. I'm not sure who said it, but..."A society looking up to athletes as heroes needs heroes looking up to God."

Beautiful. And so true.

This year I have had the opportunity to coach some of those girls, just like the one at the park. Although a bit older, they still look up to me in the same way. However, they know me now, so I'm not as cool. hahaha. Anyway...the trust that I have built with my team, through soccer, has spilled over into life-stuff. That sounds corny, but some of them actually ask for my advice/help/guidance with stuff off the field. School. Friends. Family. Boys. God.

The coolest part about coaching has been actually being involved with their lives. I'm not just some coach who only cares about soccer and about winning. I actually care about them and what is going on in their lives. While our common thread is soccer...I don't want them to just see me as some college soccer player. I want them to see my heart for God because, ultimately there is much more important stuff than soccer. I want them to understand that the reason I am the person that I am, the reason that I make the choices I make, the reason I treat people the way that I do....the reason for all these things is because of what God has done in my life and in my heart.

Back to the park. I don't care where I am. It can be on the UK field on a Friday night, or it can be in class, or it can be shooting a ball against a wall in some park. People are watching. They are watching to see what I do and how I do it. It's up to me to choose how to use the platform I have been given. It's up to me to take the light off myself and shine it on Jesus. Because, honestly, I am nothing without Him.

Friday, May 2, 2008


I coach a U16 girl team here in Lexington. This is my first time ever being a head coach of a team, not to mention my first time coaching girls older than 12. Needless to say, it has been, and continues to be a challenging learning experience. I have been blessed with an awesome, hard-working, coachable group of girls. I love coaching them and learn something new from them everyday.

My biggest challenge/frustration is learning how to coach so many different personalities. This is no new revelation, as I have been a part of a team since I can remember...but now I have a whole new perspective. One that requires me to actually try and figure out how to motivate each of those different personalities. By motivate I don't mean jump up and down and try to get them excited. By motivate I mean to tap into their COMPETITIVENESS.

Competitiveness. Let me start out by saying that I am one of the most competitive people you will ever meet. I understand that there is so much more to life than sports and winning. It's not so much the winning that I'm addicted to...I just absolutely can't stand losing. At anything. However, I do think that a lot of good comes from losing. It exposes weaknesses and allows you greater opportunity to improve. It is also a source of fuel to drive competitiveness. Competition stretches you and challenges you to accomplish things you never thought possible.

Before I start talking about my team let me just say that this frustration of mine is something found on almost every girls team, not just this one I coach. So I'm at our practice the other day watching my team play 2-versus-2. I'm standing there getting angry because they are not getting mad when they lose. Some of them lose with an "I don't care" mentality. Now, I know I sound ridiculous right now. Come on, Kelsey. It's a stupid 2v2 drill at practice. Well....yes, true...but, the attitude portrayed in the "little things" is a reflection of when we get onto the field during games.

So as I'm standing here getting angrier and more frustrated, I am trying to figure out how to FIX this. How do I MAKE them be competitive? How do I MAKE them get angry? How do I MAKE them set higher standards on the field? I almost snapped, but decided that could get ugly, so I let practice continue and for the remaining hour it continued in the same complacent attitude it had begun.

John Wooden, one of the greatest coaches of all time defines competitive greatness as, "A real love for the hard battle, knowing it offers the opportunity to be at your best when your best is required." Coach Wooden has a "pyramid of success," which is composed of many different qualities that make a great athlete. Where do you think "competitive greatness" falls? It's definitely not a corner stone and it's not even a building block. Nope. It's at the very top. The TOP. Meaning it takes so many other MORE IMPORTANT QUALITIES to reach it.

Driving home after that practice I couldn't help but laugh at myself. Here I am getting mad that I can't MAKE people be competitive. Wake up. There are other qualities that must be learned, molded, challenged, and refined in order to become the best athletes we can be. Work ethic. Loyalty. Self-control. Leadership. Discipline. Dedication. Condition. Poise. Confidence. The list can go on.

Dang. THOSE are the qualities that make a great athlete and, therefore, a competitive athlete. So initially, I was angry at the lack of competitiveness. The more I think about it, I am frustrated with a lack of EXPECTATIONS. Meaning...getting the most out ourselves, each and everyday. Whatever it is that we are doing, (in this case, soccer), we have an opportunity to get better everyday. It's like...why show up to a practice or a game if you aren't going to walk off the field absolutely drained, emotionally, mentally, and physically, with the satisfaction of knowing you literally have nothing left to give? If we don't push ourselves beyond our comfort zone, we will never know our limits.

So...back to me wanting to FIX all this. Let me rephrase my initial thinking. I know that each of these girls has so much potential. As a coach, it's my job to help them to reach their maximum potential. On the surface, this seems to be a lack-of competitiveness. Ultimately, however, the problem and solution lie in other, much more important areas. It is up to me to teach them and coach them in the areas...firstly leading by example.

The question now becomes how do I push them further than they ever thought possible? Or, as John Wooden puts it, how do I get them to "be at their best when their best is required"?