Oh Captain! My Captain!

The role of a captain can be very important on a soccer team. I say “can be” because on some teams, the captain does nothing more than the coin toss. My perspective is that the captain has a great deal of responsibility and should have certain characteristics that help her to lead.

Job Description: The captain is the liaison between the players and the coach. She is also the “coach on the field”. It is her responsibility to give players direction and keep the team focused on the task at hand. Away from the field, she should represent the team in positive ways. Other players and community members should see the captain as a representative of what all players in the program should strive to be.

Guidelines: There are many ways to lead others. Although I will make several suggestions about how to lead, one key component is that you need to be yourself. You may need to be a better version of yourself, but acting like someone else is not the answer.

  • ·        Arrow to the Action: Inherent to the word leader is the idea of going first. A captain/leader should never ask someone else to do something that they are not willing to do themselves. Captains set the example. If they lead by saying but not doing, they will be found out eventually.
  • ·        We before Me: A captain needs to put the good of the group before the good for herself. The role of captain is one of giving and not receiving. It requires a person who can control their desire for individual recognition. It does not mean that the captain receives no individual attention, but the team comes first and she knows that.
  • ·        The Diplomat: As the liaison between the team and the coach, the captain needs to understand what problems need to be brought to the coach and which need to be handled within the team. She is not a spy or an informant, but a representative that is the voice and ears of the team.

Not all coaches will view the captain in the way that I do, so it will be important to understand the role under your particular coach. It is possible that your coach only wants captains to do the coin toss. If that is the situation, recognize that you can do more. Despite your coach’s view of the role, your teammates may be looking for more from their captain.

If captain is a role that you aspire to hold at some point, look at the leaders that you respect. Take stock of the attributes and actions of those leaders and assimilate the positives into your personality when possible.  Remember something else.  You don’t need the actual title to be a leader.

America Needs to SOCCER!

Most of the time soccer is a noun but today I’m going to use it as a verb.  Of course when you are creating a new word, it’s important to define it.  Here is my explanation of the term.

The action of “soccering” is not the act of playing soccer.  We already know how to say and do that.  And NO it doesn’t mean acting like you’re injured when no one did anything to you.  The action of soccering is the real life application of the virtues that are possessed within the game.  In soccer, players must make real time decisions about what to do, based on the stimuli that they take in from both teammates and opponents in order to achieve the outcomes of simultaneously reaching a goal while defending their own.  The soccer paradigm puts the impetus of decision onto eleven individuals acting as a collective rather than following the pre-scripted orders of an overseer.  Although positioning and style of play may be directed, principles and judgment are the main directors of decisions.

America needs to soccer!  It needs to take back the very impetus that this country was founded upon.  Regular people doing things as a collective that move us all forward and protect us against failing.   We need regular citizens who want to be self-determining within the existing system and help to influence that system.  At the moment we seem to be overwhelmingly passive and extremely willing to look for someone else to be accountable rather than looking to be responsible ourselves.

We can soccer by trying to improve our lives and the lives of those around us.  We can soccer by changing our perspective from a “they” to “we” mentality.  We can soccer by doing the right thing even if we know that no one else will notice but us.  We can soccer by deciding to take a chance on something that might not work, rather than doing it “the way we’ve always done it.”  There are so many ways to soccer but the thing about soccering is that it has to start with you.  You can’t tell someone else to soccer.  You can only show them how by doing it first and being an example.

Below is a long description of the historical paradigms where this thought came from.  If you are inspired to do something right now, then don’t read the bottom, act now, read later.

Why do I believe that America needs to soccer?  The historical successes of the United States have in large part been attributed to a football paradigm.  Land acquisition and forward progress are the hallmarks of the All-American sport.  In the past, both politically and economically, we have pushed forward in the name of progress and it has served us well.  Manifest Destiny is the perfect example. Presidents and other decision-makers laid out a playbook for the American people to score a touchdown on the Pacific coast.  Americans led the charge across the continent through wars and promised economic success, the way football players might listen to a play called from the sidelines.  The Space Race, the Arms Race, the Cold War and Industrial Revolution were all perfectly suited to the football paradigm.  So why change?

The reason for change is that the football paradigm is fundamentally flawed in a few different areas.  The idea of neverending progress is unrealistic.  At some point stock prices level off, profits decline and progress slows and stops.  In a paradigm that preaches forward motion as the truest indicator of success, it is not surprising that we have: insider trading, big CEO bonuses for bailed out companies and strategic layoffs to protect profits.  Individuals, companies and the government have all pushed toward their given marker of success whether it be money, land, power or prestige.  These success markers are not inherently evil or negative but their acquisition without thought to the human equation has created an imbalance in our perspective on success.

There are also the separations in the football paradigm.  The coach is the one who calls the plays.  The offense scores the points and the defense stops the other team.  Although all are members of the same team, it is easy to point the finger at another individual or group when things go wrong.  In the Industrial Revolution this system was completely acceptable.  Henry Ford brought forth the assembly line.  He took men who were making fifty cents per day and paid them five dollars per day because of his efficiency.  People were more than willing to be a cog in that machine because it was a better life than what they expected.  They were linemen but were happy to be that.  Now with modern technology and globalization that deal doesn’t work anymore.  That deal is being shipped overseas and no one wants to be a lineman anymore.  Everyone thinks they’re a quarterback and expects to be paid like one.

America needs to soccer because you’re part of the problem and part of the solution.  You’re on the field.  The decisions that you make on a daily basis matter.  The President, the senator, the governor, your boss, your wife, your children, your friends, your teachers are part of it all but so are you.  So before you point the finger, point the thumb.  What can you do today to SOCCER?

The 12-Hour Pat on the Back

Almost nothing lasts forever. We as humans like to believe in forever but it is a concept that may truly be beyond us.  Since our world and our lives are inherently temporary, perhaps we need to embrace it.  Maybe the recognition that the good things in our lives won’t last forever could actually make us appreciate them that much more.  The ups and downs, the ebbs and flows are the natural order of the world.  Heartbeats, sleep, tides and the seasons are all natural cyclical events that add balance to the world.

With my players I often talk about the 12-hour pat on the back. After a winning effort, there is usually a very short window for celebration before it is necessary to look forward to the next challenge.  I tell them to feel good about their accomplishment but they only have about twelve hours to enjoy it.  It is not meant to rob them of the joy but rather to embrace it for the short time that it should truly exist in the forefront.  Breathing artificial life into something that was always meant to be temporary can devalue the experience.  It is the experience and the feeling associated with it that carries the most value.

After the season, they can look back and take stock of all they have done. With any luck they will have several of those moments to remember.  Those memories are about as close as we get to forever.

The Art of Self-Rejection

The beauty of the art of Self-Rejection is that it is so easy. You only need yourself and the dream of something inside of your head. They are your paint and your canvas. Then it is possible to create a beautifully horrible landscape of all of the things that could go wrong. You will be laughed at, shunned, ignored, or defeated. And there it is inside of your head, a masterpiece of nothing. Nothing real at least.

On the other hand, in the real world you can chance real rejection. Perhaps you do get laughed at, shunned, ignored or defeated but maybe you succeed.

The road of self-rejection always leads to regret. The road of taking the chance could lead anywhere but you have to travel it to find out.

Self-Image and Self-Imagination

At the moment, I am still in mourning.  The loss of the US Men’s National Team to Belgium was extremely emotional for me.  It is possible that I take these things too seriously but in the end the reason that I do is that sport is a metaphor for life.  Soccer especially seems to encapsulate the struggles that we all endure through our time here on Earth.  All of the pundits will give their opinions about what happened with the USMNT and here is mine.

Each of us has a self-image.  We see ourselves in particular ways because of past experiences and our view of how we fit into the world.  This self-image can serve us in many positive ways.  It sets up an identity that we work to maintain consistently.  We know who we are, what we do and where we stand.  It creates comfort for us and those around us because everyone knows what to expect.  The issue with a self-image is that it can become stagnant.  Although it creates comfort, it does not particularly allow for progress, which requires change.

In the minds of the USMNT, there lies an old self-image of an underdog team.  Their coach has called for a new identity that looks for them to be more assertive in their approach.  Klinsmann has imagined that they could be something different.  His picture of who the USMNT should be is ambitious.  It was not fully realized by all of the players.  I’m not sure that they completely believed in the new image.  The moments where they seemed to play best were when they were losing, embracing that old image of the underdog.  In order to get where they want to go, the USMNT will need to imagine that they can be more.  The image won’t show up in reality until it has been accepted mentally.  Over the next four years Juergen Klinsmann will continue to profess this new image to his players and the country.  We will see if US Soccer is able to let go of what it was in favor of what it can be.  It is a process that we must all go through in life, letting go of who we were in favor of who we will be.

As you sit here reading, think of yourself but not as you are right now.  Think of your best self.  Use your “self-imagination” to come up with a picture of who you are at your peak.  Most likely it isn’t where you are right now.  How do you get there?  You make that picture your self-image.  See yourself, as you want to be, and then take the actions that the new image requires. Write it down and read it every day as many times as you need to until it is burned into your brain.  Be you but be the best you that you can be.

Why I’m Nothing Without My Wife

It’s often the things that we can’t see that have the most power.  Gravity has no color.  The wind hides from our eyes.  These invisible forces influence us in ways that we may take for granted or only give a fleeting thought.  Imagine your life without them and you get a picture of what chaos would look like.  These invisible forces hold our world together like my wife does for me.

The bond between my wife and I is invisible.  However it has had a profound effect on my life and who I have become.  It is like the acrobats in the Cirque de Soleil who use each other as ladders to climb to higher and higher heights.  All that I have achieved is because of my wife.  Each time that I smile it is in at least small part because of my wife.  I get over sad times faster because of her influence.  She gives me strength and masks my weaknesses by who she is.

As I sit here ten years removed from our vows, I think of the promises that we made to each other.  Why would I not make those promises for what I have received in return?  I got the deal of a lifetime.  I love you Beck!

The Fearometer

Fear, one of our most basic emotional states, has served us through the millennia to keep us alive.  Few of us are in daily peril from the elements or predators anymore.  So our fear mechanism has little real cause for use.  So we sometimes indulge the fear mechanism in very benign circumstances.  Although emotions are not perfectly quantifiable, I would suggest that we take some time to truly assess our fears and their intensity.  Where would most of our fears of today rate on the Fearometer?

Fears are very personal.  However when I think through history and all of the possible situations that could cause a fear level of TEN, being a soldier on a boat about to storm the beach of Normandy is always at the top of the list.  Waiting for a door to open to almost certain death is something that I’m not sure that I could handle.  By comparison, my daily fears seem extremely small and petty.

So where do your fears rank?  Is talking to that special person and asking them out really a TEN?  Or is it a FIVE that you’ve turned into a TEN?  Since most of our fears are societal and not natural, inflation is something that is bound to happen.  We make things bigger and scarier in order to protect ourselves.  But from what?  A moment of discomfort?  The truth?  In the end you need to decide if your Fearometer is working well for you or is it paralyzing you?

Regret is momentary pain that you have chosen to make permanent.

Memorial Day

Today is the day that is set aside to memorialize the men and women who have died in military service of this country. Like many holidays, the meaning is often overshadowed by the modern traditions. Although we all enjoy a day off from work or a barbecue with family and friends, these momentary things mask the greater meaning of the day. This year especially, the meaning is near the surface for me.

About a month ago, my Uncle Joe passed away. Although he served in the Air Force for many years, it was not a war but cancer that took his life. Despite the fact that he did not die serving our country, he is the person that will most be on my mind this Memorial Day. It was actually his funeral service that truly hammered home the unspoken meaning of this day.

Memorial Day is intended for us to remember the fallen and we should. I was recently speaking to a student about the “Fearometer” (subject for another blog). The basic concept is rating the amount of fear caused by a situation on a scale of 1-10. Personally I believe that being a soldier on a boat about to storm the beach at Normandy would be a 10. Walking into a situation of almost certain death is something that many of our service men and women have faced throughout history. The underlying motivation for overcoming that fear was protecting the freedoms that we enjoy every day including Memorial Day. So using this day to remember these brave souls who paid the ultimate price is completely deserved.

The unspoken meaning that my Uncle Joe’s passing made so clear to me is that in remembering those that have fallen, we need to realize what it means for us. There is space to be filled. The loss of my Uncle left a hole in the world that we all have to find some way to fill: not his job or his money but his spirit, his kindness. The unique gifts, he brought into the world. It is incumbent upon us all to fill in the space that he left behind. We cannot replace those who went before us but only hope to carry on their legacy by following the example that they set.

So remember today and remember to act tomorrow.

The PIR Equation

When I was in college, I was very fortunate to have a professor, Dr. Knowles, who took me under his wing. We would often have long chats about a variety of things. On one particular occasion we discussed this equation, which has served me well through the years.

The equation was P – I = R or Potential – Interference = Results. It was a simple enough equation that I’m pretty sure he borrowed from someone else. At the time that it was given to me, I was letting Interference run my life. This is a pretty common thing for any of us to do. Interference is easy because it is everywhere and it comes in so many forms that it is easy to focus on. Unfortunately in the PIR equation, the I is the only place that you don’t want your focus. If you emphasize the I in PIR, it is said PYRE as in the materials used to burn a corpse. You don’t want to focus on the I.

If you focus slightly on the P and emphasize the R in PIR, you end up with PURR, which is what you want your life to do. When you focus on your Potential and the Result in front of you, things will purr along.

No More Today or Tomorrow

As a language teacher, I think about languages all of the time. Language is a representation of thought. There are some words that do a very effective job of representing the concept that they portray. Some words do a very poor job. One of the good (and bad) things about speaking a language like English in a country like the United States is that the language is still very alive. We can decide on adopting new words and phrases and discard the unneeded

The words that we use represent the thoughts that we have and they also change the way that we look at the world. For example imagine trying to paint a sunset, with only blue paint. It would be almost impossible to create an accurate representation because the tools that you are working with limit your possibilities. Conversely imagine trying to paint a midnight sky with only yellow and orange. I think about this a lot when I hear languages like French and German. In my mind, I can’t imagine a punk rock song in French because the language doesn’t represent anger well. Nor can I imagine a romantic movie in German, the language sound just doesn’t seem to fit (I’m sure both of these things exist).

So my suggestion is to replace TODAY and TOMORROW. These are truly neutral words that carry no emotion with them. However they should. Today is all that we have. It should have a word that truly represents what we should be doing with it. My suggestion would be something like “SOWDAY” or “HUNTDAY”. In historical terms, farmers and hunters needed to do something today in order to eat tomorrow. They truly understood something that we’ve lost in modern times, the idea that now is precious. My replacement for tomorrow is “REAPDAY”. As we all know, tomorrow never truly arrives; it is always one day ahead of SOWDAY. Therefore it pushes gratification off into the future at all times. By using a word like this we would anticipate that now is not about taking, now is about doing. Receiving is in the future and only comes if we did the things we needed to do on SOWDAY. I actually prefer HUNTDAY but sow and reap go together better.

So even if you don’t change your vocabulary to include: HUNTDAY, SOWDAY or REAPDAY, I would suggest that you put the idea into your head. Today is your chance to do. Tomorrow is only your opportunity to get if you did the work today. Get out there and make today happen.