Football In Turkey

In my last post, I wrote about the calling God has placed on my life and how he brought me to Turkey by combining my love for the unreached with my love for football.  I've been in the country nearly five months now, and that I'm able to use both these passions right out of college is still a little bit surreal to me.  I thought my football playing days were done, but to have the opportunity to compete again is an incredible blessing and one I am not taking for granted at all.  I'm cherishing every moment this time around, and really loving every aspect of being back in the game, even the moments of pure exhaustion during conditioning.  In this post I'd like to write a little bit about what football is like here so it can be a little bit clearer what I'm doing, and how God is able to use this sport for his Kingdom here in Turkey! 

Upon arriving in Izmir, I expected to be participating solely in a player role.  However, from the beginning and without consulting me, the Turkish coaches on the team dubbed me the secondary coach, and so my role has been that of a player/coach.  My desire is mostly to play, and so it has been fortunate that there is another player/coach that is helping with the secondary who I've been able to tag team with a little bit.  Practice is kind of crazy as one never knows how many players will be in attendence; some practices I'll have a plan as to what I want to do with the defensive backs (DBs) for the day, but then only three DBs show up, and only 7 total defenders, so that plan gets scrapped and we make up something new as it's nearly impossible to do a normal practice plan with 3 and 7 players, respectively.  So far, the extent of my coaching has mostly been giving guys tips and corrections where needed, which I'm more than happy to do. 

Football is a bit primitive here, which is to be expected.  Equipment is lousy.  Many guys are wearing soccer cleats and old helmets and shoulder pads that don't fit great.  Before our last game guys were cutting leg pads out of foam and taping them together with masking tape...I'm very thankful I went ahead and acquired my own gear back in the US!  All the game jerseys are at least an XL, so our linemen look okay, but everyone else looks a bit ridiculous.  The pants they gave me for the game are also an XL, and I could have fit two of me in them.  When I put them on my knee pads were more accurately described as shin guards, and there was no belt to go along with it.  I was able to put a top layer of tape on them to get them to stay on and shorten the legs, but right away after the game I ordered some gamepants from the states which Paul, GoCorps founder, graciously brought over to me when he visited us a few weeks ago (which was a blast!).

The game obviously is not nearly as complex and understood as in the US, and our American coaches (5 in total) have been fighting a lot of pre-established mentalities and ways of doing things.  In the past, the team didn't condition a lot, they didn't sprint in the cold (as muscles could be pulled...), and they did not focus much on the little things that can make a huge difference (example: starting stance, first steps, where to keep your eyes, etc).  The mentality is a bit brawlish in nature; let's go out and just hit each other.  If guys buy into what our coaches are doing, though, I think the sky is the limit for this team, as we have a fairly talented roster, about half of which has at least a year's experience playing.  One of our Defensive Ends, our Free Safety, and our Running Back are particularly gifted, and I think all three of them could have played at a high level back home had they grown up playing the sport in the US.  We do have a few holes and depth at certain positions is a major issue, but overall I like our chances to be very successful as a team. 

However, while wins would be nice, they are not my ultimate goal in being here.  My prayer is that, through participating in this sport that I love here in Turkey, my teammates would all come to know the joy, truth, and peace found in Jesus Christ.