Play the miss

Forget despair. I’m not talking about that. Everyone understands that despair is worse than useless. What I’m talking about is a refusal to hope, which is entirely different. And the problem with a refusal to hope is this: you will not be in a position to act or take advantage of the situation in the event that things happen to break your way.

I’ve played soccer for a long time. Although it’s been literal decades since I was a goal-a-game striker, I still score more often than I’m usually expected to, both in practice and in games, mostly due to my decades of experience in front of goal. And what primarily distinguishes the sort of scorer known as a fox-in-the-box is a form of anticipation.
The less experienced striker will always focus on the defender’s actions. And when he’s at a proximity disadvantage, he assumes that the defender, or the keeper, is going to succeed whatever it is that he intends to do. So, the striker slows down if he sees he can’t get there in time to contest the ball, or if he’s more aggressive, he moves toward where he expects the defender to move the ball or to block off a passing lane.
You can often identify a dangerous scorer when a striker looks as if he’s lazy, or perhaps even a little bit retarded. As the defender clears the ball, he runs right past, looking almost as if he doesn’t know what just happened. When the goalie leaps in the air to grab a high ball, he doesn’t jump, or even try to get in the goalie’s way. When his teammate shoots on goal, he doesn’t run toward the action, but diagonally, away from the action and outside the posts.
It often looks clueless, but what the striker is actually doing is assuming that the other player is going to make a mistake and he is acting as if the other player isn’t even there. If the defender misses or mishits the ball, the striker will run right onto it. If the goalie misjudges the height of the ball, the striker will have the ball in front of an empty net. If the shot is deflected, the striker will be in a position to get the rebound and possibly an easy shot on a wide-open net.
About seven years ago, I scored the goal that won the league championship for my team when a midfielder fired a fast diagonal pass on the ground toward the right corner of the 18-yard box. There wasn’t much time left and the grass was wet, so instead of cutting left inside the last defender, which would have allowed me to have the first crack at the ball at the cost of a difficult first touch that would also bring me closer to the other defenders, I just ran toward where the ball would be if the defender didn’t manage to block it and hoped that he would miss it, knowing that the wet grass was going to make the ball slide faster than normal. He slid to intercept it, as I knew he would, but he didn’t quite manage to get a foot on the ball, (or on me, since I jumped as he slid to avoid getting taken out) which left me one-on-one with the goalie. The goalie was already coming out and moving to right, so I simply hit a low shot to the left with my first touch. Goal. Game. Championship.
When you don’t play the miss, you’re usually not in a position to take advantage of it when it happens. This is why you should always utilize hopium rather than deride it, even though you know perfectly well how low the percentages are. Because even if the percentages of a miss are low, the percentages of scoring when there is a miss are very, very high.