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A Million Kinds of Worth It: My Thank You Note to USSA

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Officials of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the United States Sports Academy recently celebrated the Opening Ceremony for the UAE Football Association (UAEFA) Academy for Sports Management (FAASM), known as the Football Association Academy (FAA). The new project is dedicated to the development of football (soccer) administrators in the UAE through a Football Club Operators License Program being offered cooperatively by UAEFA and the United States Sports Academy. The opening was held 24 April in Abu Dhabi. Shown left to right are Majid Abweh, Development Officer for the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA); H.E Yousef Yaqoob Al Serkal, UAEFA President; Stuart Larman, Head of Development for the Asian Football Confederation; Dr. Brandon Spradley, United States Sports Academy Director of Sports Management and Alumni Association Executive Director; Raymond Verheijen, Chief Executive Officer of the World Football Academy; H.E. Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, UAE Cabinet Member, Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development, and Chairman of the General Authority for Youth and Sports Welfare; Alexandre Gros, Manager of Development Asia at FIFA; H.E. Obaid Salem Al Shamsi, FAA Chairman; and Abdulla Al Ahmed, Senior Vice President for Business at Etisalat, the Emirates Telecommunications Corporation.

The contest. The examination. The battle against resistance – these are the things that sports helps us through. In overcoming, through the struggle – we can come to know that to journey is better than to arrive. This is an amazing lesson we learn, in big or small ways, through any type of participation in sports and recreation.

We can all identify with this, right? So, let’s give it a little context:  End of the semester madness. Across the world, from kindergarten to college, students are crushing to the end of their fall semester. Final exams loom. Final projects press and stretch individual ability. And among the varied student populations, kiddos of all shapes and sizes head down the grass, or through the snow, at charge speed – seemingly all with their hearts banging against their throats! Why? They are under the stress of examination. They are under the stress of justification. They are under the stress of the measurement of their skills, talents, and abilities – against a standard.

Adults who’ve been away from school may think back and miss those times, and are likely relieved not to have to go through them again. They’ve crossed the threshold – and lived past all that. They may still be tested or examined – but not like at school, so much. Yet, we all remember how the end-of-the-semester madness had a way of making our faces look older and strained – smeared with the scraps of expressions that were pressed on too hard and wouldn’t lift away – until that last bit of the school semester was complete.

I remember during finals week I used to tell myself – “ok, in four or five days this will all be over.” And then, when it was over – whoooo whooooooooo! What a great relief! And it recently occurred to me – that this dynamic has helped shape the joy of Christmas time, for generations! No matter what our role in this process now, whether as a student directly facing the press, or as an instructor under similar demands of grading, or as a parent of students squalling about the times, or as an outside observer relishing the “been there, done that” – no matter what our role, if we think about it in the right way…though the exercise of the end-of-the-semester madness can be exhausting, and throttle our fears – we realize, we need it like a drug.

In a parallel experience, I have recently had the opportunity to work with a range of adults seeking soccer certification in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). As such, I’m writing this note from Dubai, where we have just concluded a course that will enable the participants to enhance their efforts and improve their individual and collective perspective on the administration of sports in the UAE. I’ll be heading back to the states later today, and remarkably, what I’ll take back with me is overflowing…

Ever seeking the chance to appreciate the diversity of others, this trip has been, for me, a delight at max load. But, what a fine time to be displaced from the celebrations of home, to temporarily root up, and to travel half way around the world, eh? Well, I said “yes!” to that – and for that answer I have been gifted with an incredible learning experience. As the instructor in this scenario here, it is I who have taken a lesson. These charming Arabians have taught me – of the joys of their culture, of their lavish generosity, of their truly enchanting displays of affection, and of the tremendous value they have for others.

As I continue to reflect, I am certain that many more lessons will appear. But perhaps what is most profound is that I have been overwhelmed in the most positive sense – of the great value of learning to appreciate the differences of other people. Yes, it is a confirmation – of sorts – for I have long preached of our need to value the differences in others. And I truly see that as a major part of the solution to most of what ails our aching planet. So here, under the Arabian sun – having glimpsed these beautiful people – the world now seems bigger for me somehow. And the echoes of this will stay with me forever. Without doubt, this trip has been – a million kinds of worth it!

By Dr. Rodney J. Blackman

Dr. Rodney J. Blackman is the Chair of Recreation Management at the United States Sports Academy, and can be reached at rblackman@ussa.edu.

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