Covered in sweat, legs aching with shin splints, my buddy Tim and I made our way back from Penn Park after another evening of soccer.
“You know something?” Tim said as we limped and tottered.
“I want to get better at playing soccer.”
I laughed, which slightly offended Tim. “What are you laughing about? I’m serious,” he said, “I want to play better.”
“I know you’re serious,” I replied. “It’s just, you’re shit out of luck, dude.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Whenever I celebrate my dad’s birthday with him, he has this thing he says every single time, and it’s a total fuckin’ buzzkill. We’ll be like, ‘Happy Birthday Dad!’, and his response, without fail, is, ‘Thanks, I’m a year older, dumber, slower, and uglier.’”
“Dude, what the fuck.”
“Yeah, my family’s fucked up. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that you’re at your peak right now. It’s all downhill from here. You’re getting older, dumber, slower, and uglier by the day.”
“Hans, you’re not making me feel any better.”
“That’s because I’m not trying to.”
“Wait a minute, hold on now. How can you say it’s ‘all downhill’ from here? I don’t physically peak until twenty-six, twenty-seven.”
“No, that’s been scientifically been proven.”
“Nah, man, fuck science, I’m a philosophy major. Let me explain. Physically speaking, you are as healthy as you will ever be in your life. You’re twenty-three. From here, you’ll be slower, more worn-down, and be generally worse. You know those hip problems you have right now? Those aren’t going anywhere, Tim.”
“But athletes don’t hit their peak until they’re in their late twenties, early thirties.”
“Yeah, but think about how much work they put into not only maintaining their fitness, but improving their skill. That’s all sports like soccer is, really. Skills. If soccer was about physical prowess, all the best players in the world would be twenty-two or twenty-three years old, when they’re at their physical peak. But we both know that’s not the case. What separates the good from the great is the player’s skillset, which is honed by daily practice, repetition, which take up most of their time. You know, time us ordinary folks don’t have.
“I’ll give you an example: LeBron James. The dude isn’t faster or stronger than he was when he was in Cleveland. The reason he is so much better is because his game has completely changed. From simply relying on his athleticism to get to the rim, he’s become deadly on the left block, he improved his perimeter game, he’s become more of a team player. Those are things that came about from practicing everyday to compensate for a declining athleticism. Can we do that? Hell no, unless you can find the time to practice that intensely. Our game, because we’re just a couple of fuckin’ amateurs, is dependent solely on athleticism, which right now is as good as it’s going to get.”
“In other words, you’re telling me I’m fucked.” Tim said.
“You’re not making me feel any better about myself.”
“I told you already, man, that was never my point.”
“You’re a real dick.”
We walked back towards campus, laughing and hurting.