Monday, June 30, 2014

Abe Lenstra

The World Cup is in full swing and the Netherlands are in the quarter finals. Do you know what is happening in Holland right now? Do you haver any idea? The country is going nuts and children are watching their heroes. 

When I was a kid in the Netherlands, there was only one national sports hero, Abe Lenstra, and every boy wanted to be him. I'm not exaggerating; every boy. When I played street soccer with my friends, and I had the ball, I thought, 

'Lenstra goes left and the defender is with him. He fakes right, then goes left again. Oh my how Abe can trick defenders. He's free, he kicks HE SCOOOOOORRRREEESSSS!' 

How can I help you understand how huge this guy was to us boys? He was the idol of every Dutch boy? Who shall I compare him to, Michael Jordan? Yes, but he's Jordan times four because Holland didn't have football, baseball, or hockey. Besides the Eleven City Ice Skating Race, soccer was the only sport and its popularity dwarfed ice skating and everything else. Sports was soccer and soccer was sports. 

Here; let me try this. I played my last professional year in Italy, where soccer is also huge. On more than one occasion, during basketball practice, the guys would just start kicking the ball and playing soccer in the gym and the coach didn't stop it. It would last for ten to fifteen minutes. 

We always played on Sundays so, when we were on the road and in a bus on our way to the game, my teammates would ask the bus driver to turn on a soccer game on the radio. I couldn't believe it. Here I was getting myself mentally ready for a game and they were yelling, sighing, stomping, and cheering. Do you understand now. soccer is the only sport there, and so it was in Holland when I was a kid. And Abe Lenstra was the best, perhaps the best forward in the world at the time. 

My grandma knew my obsession with Abe and bought me his paperback book. I still have it although the cover is gone. At eight years old, I looked at that book every single night before I turned out the light beside my bed. The middle section had actual photos of Abe in action. I stared at those pictures and imagined it was me who dribbled the ball like a magician and it was me who SCORED.

You never know who you are influencing do you? Even Abe, who I never met, had an impact on me and thousands of Dutch youth. And here's the lesson. Although all I had was pictures of Abe Lenstra, it was enough for me to emulate, I did and became a professional athlete because of it. How much more of an influence do teachers have over their students every day. But it's not the books they read to their students, nor the glorious and exciting lessons they present that will influence children most.  As the anonymous poet wrote:

No written word no spoken plea,
Can teach our youth what they should be,
Nor all the books on all the shelves;
It's what the teachers are themselves. 


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