Friday Deep-The First Touch

Posted on December 27, 2009

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Few words have a place in sports like the word ‘touch’.  In fact, I can scarcely think of a sport that doesn’t have a place for it.  A center in basketball can be said to have a soft touch around the rim.  A quarterback can throw a deep pass to the corner of the end zone with great touch.  Even a billiards player can be praised for his touch as he strikes the ball with expertly managed force, drawing it back after impact to set up his next shot.  It may be used similarly in other contexts, but ‘touch’ has a singular niche in sports.

In all these cases the word refers to a sense that’s deeper than fundamental mastery.  ‘Touch’ hints at a level of skill underneath power, which any player can muster up given the right circumstances.  Do you have touch to go with it?  Subtlety, control, delicateness, fineness of movement, composure- do you have it?  Has your mastery of your sport gone to this level?  How’s your touch?

Above all other sports, it seems to me that soccer has claim on the word ‘touch’.  Everything revolves around it in one way or another.  Think of what it encompasses- the ball rolled at sprinting feet, controlled in a tight space, brought down as it falls from the sky, placed neatly where the keeper can’t get it.  And what do we shout at the TV, and tell our friends?  “His touch let him down”, “That guy has a jackhammer touch”, and the most important “Great first touch.”  No other sport can lay claim to this necessity for ‘touch’.

As I said before, when we talk about touch we’re talking about mastery: a level of sophistication that implies not just a deeper skill but a deeper understanding.  When we see a player with great touch, they jump out of the game to us, like popcorn exploding from a pan.  Why?  What is it about a player with great touch that stands out to us?

When I play soccer, I am a “power” guy all the way.  My mind just works that way.  What’s the solution to any situation on the field?  More.  More of anything, speed, strength, effort, etc.  It doesn’t matter what- just muster up more, and give it.  Life is this way too.  If I need something, what can help me?  More.  More energy, more sweat, more pressure.  We’ve all seen the player who’s giving his all in a failing effort, running himself into the ground with skills and tactics that will never work.  We can see on this face on the same question we often ask, when we’re doing the same thing.  “Why isn’t this working?”

What I crave on the soccer field is the same as what I crave in life: a great first touch.  I want to have those refined skills for myself- to have the subtle motions of a well-lived life, without the wasted effort and squandered energy.  This is what players with great touch do for us, why they stand out.  They show us a better way.

I want to be that way; I also know that I am not.  So what does that mean for the rest of us?  The clumsy ones, the slow learners, the faint of heart?  We look at our lives and we know that ‘touch’ does not define them.  Our energy is often wasted.  Our pursuits are frequently foolish.  Our life-skills are raw and unrefined compared to other people.

I always come back to Peter.  If you follow his story in the Bible, he never quite gets the hang of it.  Time and again, Peter is the one who speaks too quickly, never thinks things through, frequently gets it wrong.  Yet Jesus says that he will build his church on Peter.  And Peter- the denier, the coward, the fool- preaches the simple Gospel message to 5000 on Pentecost, and leads the new church in Jerusalem.

Peter lived a life that often showed a lack of ‘touch’.  And yet God took his life and turned it into one of skill.  This is the redemption story the Bible tells us that we’re in- that even as we try and fail and try again to live a life with ‘touch’, God takes those efforts and shows us how it’s done.  His touch- gives touch.

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