The Beautiful, Simple Game

The last four weeks have been heaven for soccer fans. Every four years, thirty-two countries meet (a record 204 countries started the qualifying process this time) for the World Cup finals, a month long tournament watched by billions of fans around the world. The championship game will take place this Sunday between the Netherlands and Spain, and which ever team wins will be bringing the World Cup trophy home to their country for the first time ever.

Soccer is often referred to as “the beautiful game” because of the incredible skill and grace displayed by players at the highest level. Another beautiful aspect of the game is the way it flows. The game is continuous without any interruptions for timeouts or commercials (except at half time). Substitutions are minimal, with each side in the World Cup allowed only three subs the entire game.

For me there is another reason that I find soccer to be such a beautiful game, and that is its simplicity. It is perhaps the most simple sport there is. All that is needed is a ball and a couple of make-shift goals and the game can be played. No fancy or expensive equipment is needed. And because almost everyone knows how to kick a ball, even young children can play the game.

There is something else amazingly simple about soccer and that is the set of rules for the game. There are only 17 rules for soccer, known as the 17 “laws” of the game. Compare this to American football which has 367 rules. That’s right, there are 350 more rules in American football than in soccer. This is probably why a football game requires seven officials, while a soccer game requires only three.

Like soccer, a well-lived life is both beautiful and simple. Living well does not require a great deal of rules or laws. The Boy Scouts of America recommend twelve laws to live by: be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. Jesus recommended two: love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength and all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself. It doesn’t get much simpler than that, or more beautiful.

I started playing soccer as an adult some twenty years ago. I still play every week, and only regret that I was not introduced to the beautiful game as a child. When I started playing it took me about ten minutes to learn all the rules. Thousands of hours of playing since then have increased my skills, but I still have a long way to go before I could consider myself playing something that could be described as beautiful!

And so it is with our desire to live a life of wellness and wholeness; it doesn’t take long to learn the rules (see those of the Boy Scouts or Jesus above), but it takes a life- time to learn how to execute the skills on a consistent basis. The World Cup will be over soon, but the players will continue playing the beautiful game as long as they are able. May we be inspired to do the same, living lives that are both beautiful and simple.

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