Original Post: 9/19/2009
Three’n’in, we called it. Six decades ago, kicking a tennis ball in the Dublin neighborhood streets or sometimes just against the garden gate. Simple enough – an improvisational game of 2v2, 3v3, 4v4, whatever, with a gate or section of curb as goal, no keepers, and the attacking team going on “D” after running in three goals in a row. Few wanted “in”; being “out” was where the flair, creativity, outrageous trick attempts, “combo” play shone. Honest endeavor and loyalty to the game though demanded that defenders stuff the fancy flair merchants. No soft goals permitted.
Occasionally a larger rubber ball appeared, about the size of a softball, making chips and headers now added possibilities for “combo” and style. Layered over the game was the leap of imagination employed to take on the identities of our soccer heroes – “I’m Matthews, I’m Mortensen, I’m Lofthouse, I’m Wright, etc ….and then finally……“I’m Pele. Didi, Vava, Garincha…” as the Brazilians spilled blindingly into our collective sights during World Cup 1958. Shoes were scuffed (it was the pre-sneaker era!!), even Sunday ones, making it imperative to share the tattered cleaning rag or even rolled-up newspaper in a desperate attempt to pull off a clean-up sufficient to sneak past a mother’s despairing scrutiny.
Lunch time on weekdays revealed the same routine on sidewalks and streets by urban factories, as workers on break, having hastily hurled down tea and dreary sandwiches, would break into “Three’n’in” with the factory gates as goal area. Hob nailed boots bruised many a shin in the twenty minutes of escape before the obligatory return to the work bench, the assembly line, or in our case, the homework table or the chores penalty. It was worth every bruise and skinned knee ; revenge was only a day and sidewalk away.
Fast forward from that scene of my time in grassroots soccer (precious little grass, by the way!) through a career as college and amateur player (my first organized team, my first coach, my first game with nets – all features of my freshman year at Harvard), then college coach and finally TV commentator. It has been a wild and wonderful ride taken on the magic carpet of the world’s sport to now, where the likes of the Stade de France or Barcelona’s Nou Camp are but memories, beloved and savored for sure, but of a past from which to move on. And so do I, telling ESPN that this is my final season, but looking now to commit myself to a return to roots ( grass, dust, concrete, whatever) with the added critically important goal of capitalizing on soccer’s unique appeal to help advance social change for kids around the world who are desperately at risk. Their formal education options may be limited, but they KNOW soccer and know it passionately.
How to impact them in their daily challenge of decision making away from the soccer milieu ? www.coachesacrosscontinents.com is my answer and the effort to which I am throwing my commitment, hopes and energies. Happily the Harvard Soccer family is responding with its own multi-shaped enthusiasm. Together we can help children in developing regions around the world play soccer, learn life skills and become leaders in their communities. OK, so maybe it won’t be “Three’n’in” breaking out all over, but perhaps a new African version or an Indian spin-off on our simple game of sixty years ago will emerge and educate us too, offering us along the way a delight in the surprises that the joy of kids playing “the simplest game” will never cease to provide, even as they are guided to a life where they can exercise choice and embrace safety .
For more information on this wonderful organization that is being supported by both Harvard soccer programs and Harvard alumni, please visit: www.coachesacrosscontinents.com